Stourbridge Lion

Stourbridge Lion was the first locomotive to operate in North America. The locomotive was commissioned by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, and built by Foster, Rastrick, and Company in Stourbridge, England.

The rich railroad history of the United States began on a short stretch of track in northeastern Pennsylvania. Built by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company to transport coal over the Moosic Mountains, to the canal at Honesdale, the railroad originally began as a gravity railroad. This type of railroad used gravitational forces to move coal wagons over several inclined planes until reaching the canal. Horses were planned to haul the coal wagons on the flat portion of the line, however, with the successes of steam power in England, the viability of locomotive traction was ever prevalent.

Locomotives proved to encompass greater reliability and speed than horses, however, the new technology was unproven and untrusted in North America, which led to a series of canals being constructed to transport people and goods throughout much of the eastern part of the United States. However, locomotives have been proven in England, where the world’s first commercial railway, the Stockton & Darlington, was beginning to take shape. The railways in the United States would begin similar to England, hauling coal to a canal, which during this time either employed horses or stationary steam engines.

Clyde O. Deland/Public Domain

The American railway story begins with the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, and their need to transport coal wagons across a 16 mile stretch of flat land in northeastern Pennsylvania, hauling coal to the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Stationary engines and inclined planes were suitable for the mountainous regions of the line, however, the portion along the flat land was either going to employ horses or locomotive traction.

The Birth of the American Railroad

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was formed as a response to the restrictions that were placed on coal imported from Britain. Thus, Philadelphia native William Wurts sought to construct a canal to connect the coalfields at Carbondale to Kingston, New York, thus supplying coal to the city. A railroad was then constructed to carry coal over the Moosic mountains to the canal at Honesdale. However, this early railroad utilized gravity, via a series of inclined planes and six stationary steam engines with a winch to move the coal wagons, additionally, this railroad was a separate entity, the Delaware and Hudson Gravity Railroad. However, sixteen miles of flat land lied between the mountains and the canal, and discussion commenced on what motive power would transport the wagons. The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company implied that horses would cost $71.87 per day, whereas a steam locomotive would cost $41.30 per day. With this convincing statistic, the steam locomotive was considered.

With the steam locomotive gaining popularity in England, Wurts sent his deputy engineer, Horatio Allen to England to inquire about steam traction. Allen, a graduate of Columbia University, worked together with John Jervis to construct the gravity railroad. A trusted individual, Allen was given permission to place orders for locomotives if he was convinced of their ability.  Allen visited Newcastle, where he found himself at the famed Robert Stephenson & Co., as George Stephenson and his son Robert were considered the locomotive experts of the day. Allen was convinced with the work of the Stephenson’s, as during this time, they were producing locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and he was impressed with their construction, as he placed an order for one locomotive, the “Spirit of Newcastle”.

Original Stourbridge Lion Boiler,Smithsonian Washington D.C.
Mike Bischak

Allen eventually stumbled upon the town of Stourbridge, where he met engineer John Urpeth Rastrick. Rastrick held various patents for steam engines, and was an active advocate for locomotive traction, thus, Allen ordered three locomotives from his firm, Foster, Rastrick and Company, one of which was to be Stourbridge Lion. The locomotive was named after the town in which it was constructed, and the illustration of a lion’s head on the front of the boiler gave it the name “Stourbridge Lion”. The locomotive cost the railroad $2,914.90, and was ordered simultaneously with two other locomotives. Allen’s specifications for the locomotive consisted of having a weight no greater than 4 tons, although, upon delivery, the locomotives were nearly double this weight. Additionally, while in England, Allen placed an order for iron strips, which were to be laid across the wooden track of the short railroad for added adhesion and to increase the robustness of the infrastructure.

The locomotives arrived in the United States in 1829, however, Stephenson’s locomotive, “Pride of Newcastle”, was the first to arrive. Of these four locomotives, Stourbridge Lion would be the only locomotive to turn a wheel. Stourbride Lion’s historic run would attract crowds of onlookers, expecting the locomotive to fail. The crowd was worried the locomotive could be susceptible to explosion and other hazards, thus, nobody except Allen rode on the locomotive’s footplate.

Piloted by Horatio Allen, the locomotive’s first run was a six mile journey, round trip, and began and returned at Seelyville, a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. The locomotive reached speeds of 15 mph on the return trip, establishing the viability and efficiency of locomotive traction. The locomotive performed adequately, however, the brittle wooden rails cracked under the immense weight of the locomotive.

Due to the weight of the locomotives, steam traction was never utilized on the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company’s railroad. The railroad was not willing to update the brittle timber rails, and horse traction became the standard motive power. The Stourbridge lion was stored, ans usable parts were taken from the locomotive until only the boiler remained. However, in 1889, the locomotive boiler was retrieved by the Smithsonian Institution, where the boiler and other artifacts believed to be from the locomotive were assembled and displayed in their “Hall of Transport”. Currently, the boiler and accompanying artifacts are on display at the famed Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.


The technicality of the locomotive was simple. The single flue boiler included a chimney, (later called smoke/exhaust stack), was placed in the front section of the boiler drum. The pistons were connected to “grasshopper beams”, which are beams that pivot at one end instead of centrally. At the ends of the grasshopper beams, a connecting rode powered the rear axle, and a coupling rod powered the front axle. Although initially requested to weigh no larger than 4 tons, the locomotive officially weighed in at 7.5 tons, with the tender weighing in at 2.6 tons.

BuilderFoster, Rastrick and Company
Whyte Configuration0-4-0
Gauge4 ft 3 in
Driver Diameter48 in
Weight7.5 tons (tender 2.6 tons)(Locomotive & Tender-9 tons)
Firegrate Area8 square feet
Boiler48 in
Cylinder Size8.5 in x 36 in


Although Stourbridge Lion had only one trial run, it built the foundation for locomotive traction in the United States, proving it was a viable and worthy replacement for horses. A year and a half after the run of the Stourbridge Lion, the Baltimore & Ohio’s famous “Tom Thumb”, built by Peter Cooper was introduced in Baltimore, further establishing the steam locomotive’s place in American transport. The advent of the steam locomotive in the United States shrunk the size of the country immensely, allowing people to travel throughout the country’s entirety in a matter of hours or days, as opposed to months. The  Stourbridge Lion introduced steam locomotion to the country, and formed the foundation that made rail travel the ideal form of transport for many years.

As for Allen, after realizing that the Delaware & Hudson Gravity Railroad had no intentions of utilizing steam locomotives, he joined the Charleston & Hamburg Railroad, connecting the rural areas of Georgia with Savannah. Allen joined the railroad and acted as chief engineer, and encouraged the directors of the railroad to adopt steam locomotives to operate the line. Allen’s efforts persuaded the directors, and the very first locomotive constructed in the United States, “Best Friend of Charleston” was constructed by the West Point Foundry in New York. Allen was also involved with the construction of the Erie Railroad, and helped engineer various structures for the railroad.

Because of the Stourbridge Lion, railroads in North America became established and viable entities, allowing people and goods to travel faster than ever before. The railroads largely contributed to the establishment of the west, consequently, the country experienced unprecedented growth and prosperity. Stourbridge Lion’s career, although very brief, changed the North American landscape forever.



Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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