This Tech Was So New, the US Had to Import It From Britain

December 4, 1830

The Camden and Amboy Rail Road and Transportation Company (C&A), over a year-and-a-half after being organized with Robert L. Stevens as its president, began construction on its railroad line along the Delaware River at the borough (now city) of Bordentown, New Jersey. This railroad line was the first to operate in New Jersey and among the first in existence in the entire United States. 

Construction on the C&A was carried out for the most part by horse-drawn carriages. Since railroads were relatively new in the United States, a steam locomotive had to be brought over from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the C&A line.  The locomotive transported for this purpose was the British-built John Bull. C&A officials classified the locomotive as number 1 and renamed it “Stevens” after the company’s president.

John Bull

This locomotive, which is still popularly known as the John Bull, made its first run in 1831 and remained in regular service until 1866. In 1981, the Smithsonian Institution operated the John Bull near a section of the Potomac River within Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the locomotive’s first run. This temporary return to service made the John Bull the world’s oldest surviving operable steam locomotive.

Stevens, incidentally, was no stranger to innovative transportation when he became president of the C&A. He had already established himself as a pioneer in waterborne travel. He and his father John Stevens, for example, built the pacesetting steamboat Phoenix. While traveling between New York City and Philadelphia in 1809, the Phoenix became the first vessel of its kind to successfully navigate the open ocean.

Additional information on the Camden and Amboy Rail Road and Transportation Company(C&A) is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_New_Jersey_Railroad_and_Canal_Company and http://jcrhs.org/camden&amboy.html.

For more information on the steam locomotive John Bull, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bull_(locomotive).

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