Most of the early steamers built in America were either constructed by the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York (near NYC) or reassembled there after having been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean from England. The DeWitt Clinton was no different. It was the third U.S.-built locomotive in the country behind only Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb (which was not built at West Point) and the SCC&RR's Best Friend of Charleston.
The steamer had been ordered by the Mohawk & Hudson's then chief
engineer, John B. Jervis, who was already very familiar with the new
machines. Prior to coming over to the M&H in 1831 he had worked for
the D&H and sent his apprentice, Horatio Allen, to learn more about
steam locomotives to ultimately decide if it was worth purchasing one or more for use on the railroad. This led to the D&H acquiring the Stourbridge Lion and three others.
The D&H declined to use steam power despite the Lion proving its worthiness. Upon its inaugural run the DeWitt Clinton was able to complete the 16-mile journey between Albany and Schenectady
in a record 38 minutes to the astonishment of its passengers. A
similar trip over the nearby Erie Canal required hours due to more than a
dozen locks and a longer general route. The locomotive featured a
design that became the standard for the future; a horizontal boiler with
a horizontal smokestack ahead and an area behind where the engineer
operated the contraption. Of course, in those very early days things
like cabs, pilots, and other later technologies had yet to be invented.
The Clinton, however, did sport an early tender, essentially a small flatcar carriage where fuel was stored.
Additionally, it used a somewhat matching set of early passenger cars, which were basically customized horse carriages; patrons riding aboard would either be seated inside the cars or on rumble seats placed on the roofs. The trip transpired without incident and the DeWitt Clinton
remained in use on the M&H for only a few years before being
scrapped by the railroad in 1833. However, a complete replica,
including cars, was built by successor New York Central for the 1893
Columbian Exposition in Chicago which was entirely operational. It was
used by the railroad for on-an-off again promotional purposes until
being purchased in 1934 by Henry Ford for his famed museum in Dearborn,
Michigan, where it still resides to this day next to the behemoth
Chesapeake & Ohio Class H-8 2-6-6-6 "Allegheny".
To learn more about the history and trial run of the DeWitt Clinton please click here. For more reading about
New York's history with railroads you might want to pick up a copy of A History of Railroads in Western New York
by author Edward Dunn, which, as the title implies explores the western
regions of the state and its rail heritage. Also, another book of
interest is The Rail Lines of Southern New England: A Handbook of Railroad History
by author Ron Karr. In
any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing one, or both, of
these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.