John Bull Locomotive
1831, American History Museum
Tinkering turned a British train into a booming American industry.
When New Jersey railroad owner Robert Stevens wanted a new steam train in 1831, he ordered one from England. A steamboat mechanic assembled the parts, but the vehicle derailed easily, so he added an extra pair of front “guide wheels.” The innovation was a huge success, and the railroad bought 15 more locomotives, this time made in America with guide wheels. The John Bull launched the era of U.S. manufacturing prowess: By the end of the 1830s, America was exporting its engines around the world.