Model of the Steam Locomotive, Tom Thumb

Model of the Steam Locomotive, Tom Thumb

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This is a 1/2" scale four-wheel model of Peter Cooper’s Tom Thumb, which operated on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1830. Few contemporary details about the locomotive’s construction have survived. The model is based on Peter Cooper's recollection printed in the an 1875 issue of the American Railway Master Mechanics Association. The model shows a verticle boiler, a verticle cylinder and piston and a stack.
After making a modest fortune in glue manufacturing in New York City, Peter Cooper purchased property in Baltimore on which he constructed the Canton Iron Works. He was therefore anxious about the future of the newly opened Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, since only a successful line would increase the value of his land holdings. In England, where the railway was first developed, companies operated steam locomotives over farely straight lines. B&O officials believed that their route’s sharp curves were unsuitable for locomotives, and operated trains hauled by horses instead. Cooper, by contrast, insisted that steam locomotives were not only practical but necessary if the line was to make a profit. To argue his position, he constructed a small locomotive that hauled trains carrying B&O Railroad officials during the summer of 1830. The Tom Thumb’s ability to traverse the sharp curves of the line with a speed of 18 mph proved Cooper’s point, and steam locomotives were adopted on the B&O the following year.
Currently on loan
Object Name
locomotive, 1830
model, locomotive
Other Terms
locomotive, 1830; Rail
date made
Tom Thumb locomotive constructed
Associated Place
United States: Maryland
United States: Ohio
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 4 7/8 in x 3 1/8 in x 6 5/8 in; 12.3825 cm x 7.9375 cm x 16.8275 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Railroad
America on the Move
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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