Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Stourbridge Lion - America's First Steam Locomotive

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared about the Mount Vernon Gardens in New York City and the establishment of outdoor theaters. Heard from several of you about your own experiences with theaters outdoors and the fun memories. Thank you for chiming in.

If you missed that post, you can read it here:

Has anyone here ever ridden a steam locomotive? At one point in history, steam was the only power available to advance a heavy train. Today, we have electric, solar, and a variety of fuels. Today, let's go back to the very first steam locomotive in operation in the U.S., and one of the first in the world to operate outside of the England.

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The Stourbridge Lion

As a little girl, growing up not far from Philadelphia and Baltimore, I remember frequent experiences on board various locomotives from the past. So many of them have now been housed in museums and are no longer functional, but being able to actually ride one (even on a very short track) stands out in my memories from childhood. Who knows? Perhaps the enjoyment of these visits and little trips is a small part of what inspired me to write historical fiction. After all, the study and learning of history can all be boiled down to the question: What was it like?

For the Stourbridge Lion, a locomotive that weighed about 7.5 tons, life began in 1829 in Stourbridge, England, where this beast of a locomotive was built. It is named for the town where it originated and for the lion's face painted on the front. The Delaware & Hudson Railway in the U.S. obtained it shortly after, and it was shipped on board the John Jay to New York in May, where the first tests were performed while the locomotive was raised on blocks.

A Clyde O. DeLand painting depicting the historic first run
It was assembled at the West Point Foundry in New York where it was first tested under steam. Here, it was reported that it "became the object of curiosity to thousands who visited the works from day to day to see the 'critter' go through the motions only."

Can you imagine the excitement at the time of seeing such a large mode of transportation actually fire up and become fully functional? Nothing else in the world compared to it. In fact, a lot of focus at that time was on canal transportation, but the Delaware & Hudson Railway's chief engineer John Jervis had become interested in the steam power developments happening in England. That's what led to the purchase of the Stourbridge (and 3 other locomotives) and bringing it to the U.S.

A 1931 painting by Sheldon Pennoyer
After those tests on blocks, the Stourbridge was transported to Honesdale, Pennsylvania (far northeastern part of the state) to be tested on the D&H's newly built track. It performed admirably, traveling about three miles along the track, including on a raised section over the Lackawaxen Creek. Horatio Allen then reversed the locomotive back to its starting point.

According to an eye-witness, "the fire was kindled and steam raised, and, under the management of Allen, the 'wonderful machine' was found capable of moving, to the great joy of the crowd of excited spectators."

Although deemed a successful first run, the track that was built on which to run it was insufficient for the task. It simply couldn't consistently hold the weight of the 7.5 ton machine.

replica on display at the 1935 New York World's Fair
Unfortunately, this is where this locomotive's exciting journey comes to an end. The Stourbridge was deemed too heavy for the track which was built because the engineers used iron strips applied to wooden rails instead of all iron rails. As a result, the locomotive was never used for its intended purpose of hauling coal wagons. Within a year, American engineers began constructing their own locomotives of improved designs. The four locomotives shipped from England were used as sources of English wrought-iron bar stock until the middle of the 1840s.

Stourbridge boiler on display at B&O Museum in Baltimore
By 1845, all that was left of the Stourbridge Lion was its boiler. After being used in a foundry for five years, new owners acquired it and realized its historical significance. They eventually tried to sell it, but were unsuccessful. In 1883, the D&H borrowed the boiler to display at an exposition in Chicago. Unfortunately, "security around the boiler's transportation was lax; souvenir hunters pulled every loose item that they could off the now historic boiler, even resorting to hammers and chisels to remove portions of it." In 1890, the Smithsonian acquired the boiler and all original pieces.

Today, what remains of the Stourbridge is on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. I wish I could find the photo of me as a little girl standing in front of that display, but it's probably buried in a box somewhere in a closet at my parent's house. (grins) Maybe one day I'll see it again.

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For further reading, pick up a copy of the hardcover book written by Karl Zimmerman: The Stourbridge Lion: America's First Locomotive.

And in the fiction world, if the creation of the American railways and the expansion west fascinate you like it does me, don't miss a phenomenal 6-book series co-written by my dear friend, Tracie Peterson and Judith Pella. The first 3 books are part of the Ribbons of Steel series, and the second 3 books are Ribbons West. These books still remain on my shelves and are among my top favorite re-reads of all time!

Ribbons of Steel

Ribbons West

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* Have you ever ridden a steam locomotive or visited one? Where?

* What has been your experience with trains and/or locomotives?

* Do you have a favorite fiction story or nonfiction book about trains? What is it?

* What did you like most about today's post?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out. She is also an educational consultant with Usborne Books.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and Nova, their Shiba Inu mix, in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn.


  1. We visited Amish Country in Pennsylvania and rode a steam train in Strasburg. I've been wanting to take a scenic train ride here in Maine but we just haven't gotten to it yet. Thanks for the post.

  2. I've been to Strasburg as well, and ridden that historic train! I wholeheartedly recommend a scenic train ride. Make it a goal and set a plan, then make it happen. :)