The Locomotives of the 1850s
An image essay of design elements from a little modeled period of American Railroading

As part of researching model ideas, I noticed that images of antebellum locomotives were few and scattered. The 1850s was an important and major transition period for railroads in North America. Not only were the number of rail miles exploding exponentially, but locomotive design was evolving from the experimental types of the 1830s and early 1840s towards what most of us today think of as a 'steam locomotive'... Yet, it is rarely represented or modeled. Even such historically important locomotives as the "General" and Golden Spike engines are usually rendered in their later rebuild configurations and paint.

The following photographs have been borrowed as a representative sampling of locomotive designs from various railroads and builders of the period to help people more appreciate this important period of our rich railroad heritage. I make no claims of ownership. Many of the images are actually larger than they appear here to better serve people who may wish to study them more deeply. It is my sincere hope that you will find them as fascinating as I did.

Allen aka 'Mik' - Dec 1, 2010

A Grand Trunk locomotive of 1859

Remains of an 1850-55 era Bache Brothers Lumber locomotive
retrieved from the Suwannee River near Luraville, Florida in 1979

Milwaukee Road #1 built in 1848 by Norris in Philadelphia

Milwaukee Road #75 built 1850 by Schenectady Loco Works

A Boston Locomotive advertisement  ca 1852

"Toronto" The first Canadian built locomotive.
Constructed in 1853 for the Ontario Simcoe and Huron Railroad Union Company (became Northern Railway of Canada in 1858)

Pacific Railroad locomotive Gasconade, ca. 1855

'Champlain' was a fine engine designed by a Mr. McQueen for the Hudson River Railroad in 1849

'Paterson ' was a standard Rogers passenger locomotive design in 1853

"Ottowa" an 1854 Hinkley, as she appeared in 1861

cylinder and frame of the Luraville locomotive believed to be a Danforth-Cooke

Cab detail of the Luraville locomotive

Left 3/4 view of Luraville locomotive

Right side Luraville locomotive. Most engines of the time were of a similar 4-4-0 configuration with 4 small pilot wheels and 4 driving wheels.

Pilot truck detail

frame and axle detail

B&O's 1856 "Wm Mason" at Chicago RR Fair 1948. Mason favored clean architectural lines over what he felt was the 'clutter' of other builders. However, his perfectionism would also often delay the actual building of locomotives at his works

Aftermath of a boiler explosion circa 1850. Not only were the designs evolving, so were materials and safety appliances. While often horrific when they happened, the numbers of locomotives increased hugely after the 1850s, but the number of incidents per mile travelled would decrease dramatically in the following decades.

Boston Locomotive Works advertisement, ca. 1850.

JN Brays #2, an 1856 Baldwin, still in service in 1922

O gauge (1:46) model of the famous "General"
as she actually appeared during the Andrews Raid

A war damaged 1850s locomotive at Richmond, Va.
shows what was under all her fancy woodwork

A Norris 10-wheeler of 1847. Locomotives of this period were quite colorful, if a bit less ornate than those produced in the decades that followed. They represented a significant investment, and the owners were proud of them. It would not be until much later that drab utilitarian black would become the norm.

A Rock Island locomotive of the mid-late 1850s

General model right 3/4 view

General model details

Typical Baldwin design of 1853

Norris Locomotive Works ad of 1847

William Mason's first locomotive 1853

Portland Company's  Passenger Engine ad, 1856.

Wm Mason design of 1855

"Tiger", an 1856 Baldwin

"Amazon" an 1856 Mason

A long firebox Winans Camel of the 1850s

Michigan Southern Railroad's "Governor Marcy" built by Schenectady in 1851

Unfortunately,  no 1850s railroad page would be complete without mentioning wrecks. Prior to 1853 accidents were rare and minor. The increased traffic, light construction,  heavier trains and higher speeds after that point led to many horrific crashes such as this one that occured near Camp Hill, Pa on July 15, 1856. Over 60 people were killed, and 100 more injured, many of them Catholic schoolchildren in a head on collision between two passenger trains

Raleigh-Gaston Railroad President W.R. Vass and locomotive, 1850.

Another Winans 'Camel' 0-8-0

B&Os "Hero", a more conventional looking 0-8-0
built by Thatcher Perkins in 1848

Hudson River RR's "Irvington" 1852

Cumberland Valley RRs "Pioneer", a light passenger locomotive of 1851

Phantom view of a standard Canadian Pacific locomotive of the 1850s

The Stephenson's Link reverse gear was common  on 1850's locomotives

Virginia & Tennesee RRs "Roanoke" in 1854

1850s Ohio & Mississippi RR locomotive

"Adam Brown", a British built Canadian locomotive of 1854

Norris & Brothers "Tioga" of the late 1840s

Thanks for looking!

Return me to the Allegheny Valley pages