Steam Locomotive, John Bull

Knowing the best locomotives were made in England, Robert Stevens ordered one from Robert Stevenson & Company of New Castle for the Camden and Amboy Railroad which ran across central New Jersey. The "John Bull," named later for the mythical gentleman who symbolized England, was the result.
The locomotive was built as a standard 0-4-0 Planet class. Never seeing a locomotive before, Isaac Dripps, a young steamboat mechanic, assembled the engine from the parts that arrived in New Jersey in September 1831. It was tested that same month. The locomotive proved vulnerable to derailment. Dripps installed an extra pair of wheels, carried in a frame out front. Stevens called them "guide wheels"; they helped to steer the locomotive in curves and over uneven rails. The innovation worked so well that the Camden and Amboy bought 15 American copies of "John Bull" with the added wheels. By the end of the 1830s, American manufacturers were building locomotives and exporting to Russia and other countries that had vast terrain much like America.
The steam locomotive "John Bull" ran for 35 years, pulling trains of passengers and cargo between the two largest cities of the time, Philadelphia and New York. A short ferry ride connected Camden with Philadelphia and a longer ferry run connected South Amboy with New York. The locomotive propelled trains at 25 to 30 miles per hour.
Object Name
locomotive, full size
Date made
Camden and Amboy Railroad
Stevens, Robert
assembled by
Dripps, Isaac
Robert Stephenson and Company
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
wood (overall material)
copper (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 11 1/2 ft x 7 1/2 ft x 36 1/4 ft; 3.5052 m x 2.286 m x 11.049 m
Place Made
United Kingdom: England, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne
place assembled
United States: New Jersey
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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Work and Industry: Transportation, Railroad
East End First Floor Lobby
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


"The description should mention that this is the oldest locomotive in existence still capable of operation, as was demonstrated in 1981. Also, that the pilot truck added by Isaah Dripps (?) was adopted for use on virtually all American steam-powered locomotives except yard switcher types."

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