Today marks the 182nd anniversary of the debut of the Stourbridge Lion, the first commercial steam locomotive in the U.S. The Lion burst onto the stage in the tiny town of Honesdale, PA in 1829. The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company purchased the locomotive to haul anthracite coal from eastern Pennsylvania to New York City. It was one of four British locomotives purchased for the route which was part rail, part canal. Three locomotives, including the Lion were built by Foster, Rastrick and Company in Stourbridge in 1828. Cost of the Lion: $2,915.00. (The fourth, the Pride of Newcastle was built by Robert Stevenson and Company.)
The locomotive performed well on its first run, but was nearly twice the 4 ton weight that the D&H had specified and was simply more locomotive than the rails could handle. After a second trial run, the locomotive was retired to the shops in Carbondale. The locomotives were all retained until at least 1834, when records show attempts to sell the engine to the Pennsylvania Canal Company. In the previous five years however, steam locomotives had risen far above the status of mechanical curiosity. With far more modern designs and domestic production, the Lion’s useful days as a locomotive were over.
Parts of the locomotive were scavenged for scrap over the coming years. The boiler remained in operation as a stationary power until 1849. In 1883 the D&H borrowed the boiler for display at the Exposition of Railway Appliances, during which collectors stole anything that could be stripped from the historic engine. What remained was finally given a proper home in the Smithsonian in 1890.
A replica was constructed using what was left of the original in 1932 by the D&H. Today it can be seen at the Wayne County Historical Society in Honesdale. You can add your own replica of the very beginning of American steam operation to your layout with Lionel’s Heritage model!