Tom Thumb (locomotive)

Last updated
Tom Thumb
Tom thumb peter coopers iron horse 6092027.jpg
A 1927 replica of Tom Thumb, the first American-built steam locomotive
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
Builder Peter Cooper
Build date1829
   Whyte 2-2-0
Length13 ft 2 34 in (4.03 m)
Height12 ft 9 in (3.89 m)
Fuel type anthracite coal
Boiler27 in × 66 in (690 mm × 1,680 mm)
dia × high
Cylinder size 5 in × 27 in (127 mm × 686 mm)
dia × stroke
Performance figures
Power output1.4  hp (1.0 kW) horsepower [1]
Operators Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Tom Thumb was the first American-built steam locomotive to operate on a common-carrier railroad. It was designed and constructed by Peter Cooper in 1829 to convince owners of the newly formed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) (now CSX) to use steam engines; it was not intended to enter revenue service. It is especially remembered as a participant in an impromptu race with a horse-drawn car, which the horse won after Tom Thumb suffered a mechanical failure. However, the demonstration was successful, and the railroad committed to the use of steam locomotion and held trials in the following year for a working engine. [2] :11



The first railroads were little more than tracks on roads; horses pulled wagons and carriages with their wheels modified to ride on the rails. Trains could not be moved by steam power until the steam engine could be mounted on wheels. The first steam locomotives were built in England, the birthplace of steam power, and the first locomotives in America were imported from England. Soon, however, Americans began to plan their own locomotives. [3]

Design and construction

Tom Thumb was designed by Peter Cooper as a four-wheel locomotive with a vertical boiler and vertically mounted cylinders that drove the wheels on one of the axles. The "design" was characterized by a host of improvisations. The boiler tubes were made from rifle barrels [2] :11 and a blower was mounted in the stack, driven by a belt to the powered axle. [2] :12 [4] The engine was fueled by anthracite coal. [5]

Cooper's interest in the railroad was by way of substantial real estate investment in what is now the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. Success for the railroad was expected to increase the value of his holdings. [2] :11

Construction was carried out in the machine shop of George W. Johnson, where the 18-year-old James Millholland was apprenticed. [6] Millholland would later become a prominent locomotive designer in his own right.


The Tom Thumb replica in action. Tom Thumb locomotive 20c replica.jpg
The Tom Thumb replica in action.
1831 drawing of a locomotive (likely the Tom Thumb) in Baltimore. Steam Engine - an ad in Matchetts Baltimore Director 1831.jpg
1831 drawing of a locomotive (likely the Tom Thumb) in Baltimore.

Testing was performed on the company's year old first main track line going southwest between Baltimore and Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City, Maryland) which sits along the upper branch of the Patapsco River Valley which feeds the lower Patapsco which is the "Basin" (now called the Inner Harbor) and the Harbor and Port of Baltimore which flows southeast to the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Two tracks had been constructed, which led the owners of Stockton and Company, a local stagecoach passenger and freight service to challenge the revolutionary new locomotive to a race, and on August 28, 1830, the famous legendary race was held [7] [8] [9] (but sources differ slightly on the date with variations including August 25 [10] and September 28 [11] ). The challenge accepted, Tom Thumb was easily able to pull away from the horse until the belt slipped off the blower pulley. Without the blower, the boiler did not draw adequately and the locomotive lost power, allowing the horse to pass and win the race. Nonetheless, it was realized that the locomotive offered superior performance. [5] [7] [8]


Tom Thumb replica alongside B&O EMC EA/EB #51, 1937. Both locomotives are on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Capitol Limited EMD EA and Tom Thumb 1937.jpg
Tom Thumb replica alongside B&O EMC EA/EB #51, 1937. Both locomotives are on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

Because Tom Thumb was not intended for revenue service, the locomotive was not preserved. Cooper and others associated with the railroad's early days left detailed descriptions, though, which enabled the general dimensions and appearance to be worked out. In 1892, a wooden model was constructed by Major Joseph Pangborn, a western newspaperman and publicist, who also had models made of many other early locomotives. [12] In 1927 the B&O hosted a centennial exhibition near Baltimore, titled "Fair of the Iron Horse", and had a replica constructed for the exhibition. [12] [13] This replica followed Pangborn's model and therefore differed considerably from the original, being somewhat larger and heavier, and considerably taller (note that the dimensions given above are those of the replica). Also, instead of the blower in the stack, a much larger blower was mounted on the platform to provide a forced draft, and the support frame of the cylinder and guides was considerably different.[ citation needed ]

The replica remains on display at the B&O Railroad Museum. The museum lists the replica as "operational", and the locomotive makes special appearances each year. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ellicott City, Maryland Census-designated place in Maryland, United States

Ellicott City is an unincorporated community and census-designated place in, and the county seat of, Howard County, Maryland, United States. Part of the Baltimore metropolitan area, its population was 65,834 at the 2010 census, qualifying it as the largest unincorporated county seat in the country.

Steam locomotive Railway locomotive that produces its pulling power through a steam engine

A steam locomotive is a type of railway locomotive that produces its pulling power through a steam engine. These locomotives are fuelled by burning combustible material—usually coal, wood, or oil—to produce steam in a boiler. The steam moves reciprocating pistons which are mechanically connected to the locomotive's main wheels (drivers). Both fuel and water supplies are carried with the locomotive, either on the locomotive itself or in wagons (tenders) pulled behind.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Rail system in the United States of America

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first common carrier railroad and the oldest railroad in the United States, with its first section opening in 1830. Merchants from the city of Baltimore, which had benefitted to some extent from the construction of the National Road early in the century, wanted to continue to compete for trade with trans-Appalachian settlers with the newly constructed Erie Canal, another canal being proposed by Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the James River Canal, which directed traffic toward Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia. At first the B&O was located entirely in the state of Maryland, its original line extending from the port of Baltimore west to Sandy Hook. There it connected with Harper's Ferry across the Potomac into Virginia, and also with the navigable Shenandoah River.


A 2-8-8-4 steam locomotive, under the Whyte notation, has two leading wheels, two sets of eight driving wheels, and a four-wheel trailing truck. The type was generally named the Yellowstone, a name given it by the first owner, the Northern Pacific Railway, whose lines run near Yellowstone National Park. Seventy-two Yellowstone-type locomotives were built for four U.S. railroads.

<i>John Bull</i> (locomotive) British-built railroad steam locomotive

John Bull is a British-built railroad steam locomotive that operated in the United States. It was operated for the first time on September 15, 1831, and it became the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world when the Smithsonian Institution operated it in 1981. Built by Robert Stephenson and Company, the John Bull was initially purchased by and operated for the Camden and Amboy Railroad, the first railroad in New Jersey, which gave John Bull the number 1 and its first name, "Stevens". The C&A used the locomotive heavily from 1833 until 1866, when it was removed from active service and placed in storage.

B&O Railroad Museum United States historic place

The B&O Railroad Museum is a museum exhibiting historic railroad equipment in Baltimore, Maryland, originally named the Baltimore & Ohio Transportation Museum when it opened on July 4, 1953. It has been called one of the most significant collections of railroad treasures in the world and has the largest collection of 19th-century locomotives in the U.S. The museum is located in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's old Mount Clare Station and adjacent roundhouse, part of the B&O's sprawling Mount Clare Shops site begun in 1829, the oldest railroad manufacturing complex in the United States.

Camelback locomotive

A camelback locomotive is a type of steam locomotive with the driving cab placed in the middle, astride the boiler. Camelbacks were fitted with wide fireboxes which would have severely restricted driver visibility from the normal cab location at the rear.


Under the Whyte notation for the classification of steam locomotives, a 0-6-6-0 wheel arrangement refers to a locomotive with two engine units mounted under a rigid locomotive frame, with the front engine unit pivoting and each engine unit with six coupled driving wheels without any leading or trailing wheels. The wheel arrangement was mostly used to describe Mallet locomotive types.

<i>Novelty</i> (locomotive) Early experimental locomotive

Novelty was an early steam locomotive built by John Ericsson and John Braithwaite to take part in the Rainhill Trials in 1829.

Ross Winans

Ross Winans (1796–1877) was an American inventor, mechanic, and builder of locomotives and railroad machinery. He is also noted for design of pioneering cigar-hulled ships. Winans, one of the United States' first multi-millionaires, was involved in national and state politics, a southern-sympathizer and was a vehement "states' rights" advocate. His outspoken anti-federal stance as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, the lower chamber of the General Assembly, led to his temporary arrest on board a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train returning from an early session of the legislature held in the western Maryland town of Frederick to avoid the Union Army-occupied state capital of Annapolis in April–May, 1861, to consider the possibilities of state secession, during the early decisive period of the American Civil War. Winans was related to James McNeill Whistler through marriage.

Phineas Davis was a well-known clockmaker and inventor who designed and built the first practical American coal-burning railroad locomotive.

<i>Atlantic</i> (locomotive)

Atlantic was the name of a very early American steam locomotive built by inventor and foundry owner Phineas Davis for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1832. It is in fact the first commercially successful and practical American built locomotive and class prototype, and Davis' second constructed for the B&O, his first having won a design competition contest announced by the B&O in 1830.

On the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, locomotives were always considered of great importance, and the railroad was involved in many experiments and innovations.

The Mount Savage Locomotive Works was a railroad workshop established at Mount Savage, Maryland, US. The Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive shops were established in Mt. Savage in 1866, under the direction of James Millholland. The original locomotive shop was constructed of stone and was 90 feet x 250 feet in size with a 33-foot-high roof. An adjoining car shop, built at about the same time, was also of stone and was later extended with a wooden structure. These buildings still stand in Mt. Savage.

Ellicott City station United States historic place

The Ellicott City Station in Ellicott City, Maryland, is the oldest remaining passenger train station in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world. It was built in 1830 as the terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line from Baltimore to the town then called Ellicott's Mills, and a facility to service steam locomotives at the end of the 13-mile (21 km) run. The station, a National Historic Landmark, is now used as a museum.

Mount Clare (Maryland) United States historic place

Mount Clare, also known as Mount Clare Mansion and generally known today as the Mount Clare Museum House, is the oldest Colonial-era structure in the City of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. The Georgian style of architecture plantation house exhibits a somewhat altered five-part plan. It was built on a Carroll family plantation beginning in 1763 by barrister Charles Carroll the Barrister, (1723–1783), a descendant of the last Gaelic Lords of Éile in Ireland and a distant relative of the much better-known Charles Carroll of Carrollton, (1737–1832), longest living signer of the Declaration of Independence and the richest man in America in his later years, also the layer of the First Stone of the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, just a short distance away in 1828.

Canton House United States historic place

Canton House is a historic office building located on the northeast corner of Water Street and South Street in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. It is a ​4 12-story Colonial Revival-style building, with seven bays across the front façade of Water Street to the south and three bays across the side facing South Street to the west. The first story level is in marble and brick is laid in Flemish bond from the second story up. It has a sloped peaked roof with two dormer windows facing west to the side. The main entrance features two fluted Corinthian stone columns.

Mount Winans, Baltimore Neighborhood of Baltimore in Maryland, United States

"Mount Winans" is a mixed-use residential, commercial and industrial neighborhood in the southwestern area of the City of Baltimore in Maryland. Its north, south and east boundaries are marked by the various lines of track of the CSX Railroad. In addition, Hollins Ferry Road running to the south towards suburban Baltimore County in the southwest and further connecting with adjacent Anne Arundel County to the southeast, draws its western boundary.

<i>William Mason</i> (locomotive)

William Mason is a 4-4-0 steam locomotive currently on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. It was built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, carrying that railroad's number 25. The locomotive is named in honor of its builder, William Mason, who built around 754 steam locomotives at his Mason Machine Works firm in Taunton, Massachusetts, from 1853 until his death in 1883. The engine had been one of the oldest operable examples of the American Standard design, and is the fourth oldest Baltimore and Ohio locomotive in existence, the oldest being the 0-4-0 no. 2, the Andrew Jackson from 1836, second oldest is the no. 8 0-4-0, John Hancock built later that same year, and the third being the 0-8-0 no. 57, Memnon of 1848. While operable, William Mason had been one of the oldest operational locomotive in the world, and the second oldest in the western hemisphere, after Robert Stephenson's 1831 John Bull built in 1831 for the Camden and Amboy Railroad, which is the world's oldest surviving operable steam locomotive.


  2. 1 2 3 4 Sagle, Lawrence (1964). B&O Power: Steam, Diesel and Electric Power of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1829-1964. Medina, OH: Alvin F. Staufer.
  3. Hamilton Ellis (1968). The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Railways. The Hamlyn Publishing Group. pp. 24–30.
  4. "First locomotive built in America". Railway Age. Simmons-Boardman Publishing: 58. September 2006. ISSN   0033-8826.
  5. 1 2 Stover, John F. (1987). History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN   0-911198-81-4.
  6. White, John H. Jr. (1968). A history of the American locomotive; its development: 1830–1880. New York, NY: Dover Publications. p. 455. ISBN   0-486-23818-0.
  7. 1 2 "Peter Cooper's Locomotive". The Manufacturer and Builder. IV (2): 32. February 1872. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  8. 1 2 Dudley, P.H. (February 1, 1886). "The Inception and Progress of Railways". Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences: 142. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  9. "1830 - The Iron Horse Wins". Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
  10. Reizenstein, Milton (1897). "II - Beginning of Construction, Baltimore to Harper's Ferry(1828-1834)". In Adams, Herbert B. (ed.). The Economic History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad 1827-1853. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p. 299. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  11. Hughes, Thomas (1886). "VII - The "Tom Thumb"". Life and Times of Peter Cooper. London: MacMillan and Co. p. 100. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  12. 1 2 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, Baltimore, MD. "History of the Museum." Accessed 2013-04-18.
  13. Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD (2000). "The Fair of the Iron Horse." Accessed 2013-04-18.
  14. B&O Railroad Museum. "Collections: Tom Thumb." Accessed 2013-04-18.

Further reading