The Franklin Institute Logo
Case Files logo

Baldwin Locomotive Works: Evolution of the American Locomotive, 1907

Old Ironsides

At that time, the railroads in the entire United States amounted to around 250 miles of wooden track with cars that were pulled along the track by horse teams. Transportation was mainly by horses on toll roads and water-borne transit became available with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Steam trains would be the next development in linking the United States countrywide.

In the museum display in 1831, Baldwin's model locomotive pulled cars with four passengers around a circular track. The popularity of this display prompted a local railroad company to order a full-scale version. Fortunately Baldwin was able to look at one of the scarce imports before building his own version. Baldwin moved his assembly shop to larger premises close to Philadelphia city limits, jobbed out the manufacture of larger parts he could not handle and, within six months, assembled the wood and iron locomotive known as "Old Ironsides." Its successful test run took place on November 23, 1832; weighing six tons, it pulled 30 tons at 28 miles per hour on a level surface.

There were some technical drawbacks in "Old Ironsides" which displeased the owners and temporarily discouraged Baldwin's manufacturing progress, although he continued experimenting and designing locomotive improvements and doing sundry machine work, as well as maintaining his business in stationary steam engines. His partner, Mason, had departed in 1829, unconvinced of the promise in the new endeavors.