Stevens, John

Stevens, John
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b. 1749 New York, New York, USA
d. 6 March 1838 Hoboken, New Jersey, USA
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American pioneer of steamboats and railways.
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Stevens, a wealthy landowner with an estate at Hoboken on the Hudson River, had his attention drawn to the steamboat of John Fitch in 1786, and thenceforth devoted much of his time and fortune to developing steamboats and mechanical transport. He also had political influence and it was at his instance that Congress in 1790 passed an Act establishing the first patent laws in the USA. The following year Stevens was one of the first recipients of a US patent. This referred to multi-tubular boilers, of both watertube and firetube types, and antedated by many years the work of both Henry Booth and Marc Seguin on the latter.
A steamboat built in 1798 by John Stevens, Nicholas J.Roosevelt and Stevens's brother-in-law, Robert R.Livingston, in association was unsuccessful, nor was Stevens satisfied with a boat built in 1802 in which a simple rotary steam-en-gine was mounted on the same shaft as a screw propeller. However, although others had experimented earlier with screw propellers, when John Stevens had the Little Juliana built in 1804 he produced the first practical screw steamboat. Steam at 50 psi (3.5 kg/cm2) pressure was supplied by a watertube boiler to a single-cylinder engine which drove two contra-rotating shafts, upon each of which was mounted a screw propeller. This little boat, less than 25 ft (7.6 m) long, was taken backwards and forwards across the Hudson River by two of Stevens's sons, one of whom, R.L. Stevens, was to help his father with many subsequent experiments. The boat, however, was ahead of its time, and steamships were to be driven by paddle wheels until the late 1830s.
In 1807 John Stevens declined an invitation to join with Robert Fulton and Robert R.Living-ston in their development work, which culminated in successful operation of the PS Clermont that summer; in 1808, however, he launched his own paddle steamer, the Phoenix. But Fulton and Livingston had obtained an effective monopoly of steamer operation on the Hudson and, unable to reach agreement with them, Stevens sent Phoenix to Philadelphia to operate on the Delaware River. The intervening voyage over 150 miles (240 km) of open sea made Phoenix the first ocean-going steamer.
From about 1810 John Stevens turned his attention to the possibilities of railways. He was at first considered a visionary, but in 1815, at his instance, the New Jersey Assembly created a company to build a railway between the Delaware and Raritan Rivers. It was the first railway charter granted in the USA, although the line it authorized remained unbuilt. To demonstrate the feasibility of the steam locomotive, Stevens built an experimental locomotive in 1825, at the age of 76. With flangeless wheels, guide rollers and rack-and-pinion drive, it ran on a circular track at his Hoboken home; it was the first steam locomotive to be built in America.
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Bibliography
1812, Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Rail-ways and Steam-carriages over Canal Navigation.
He took out patents relating to steam-engines in the USA in 1791, 1803, and 1810, and in England, through his son John Cox Stevens, in 1805.
Further Reading
H.P.Spratt, 1958, The Birth of the Steamboat, Charles Griffin (provides technical details of Stevens's boats).
J.T.Flexner, 1978, Steamboats Come True, Boston: Little, Brown (describes his work in relation to that of other steamboat pioneers).
J.R.Stover, 1961, American Railroads, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Transactions of the Newcomen Society (1927) 7: 114 (discusses tubular boilers).
J.R.Day and B.G.Wilson, 1957, Unusual Railways, F.Muller (discusses Stevens's locomotive).
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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