Link to Legacies Home Page Link to National Museum of American History About Legacies Tour the Exhibit Most Intriguing Objects Most Popular Objects Take the Collector Quiz A Treasure House A Shrine to the Famous A Palace of Progress A Mirror of America From Artifacts to America Exhibit Search Buy the Book Smithsonian Press--Legacies--3Palace of Progress--John Bull locomotive, 1831

Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, by Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
You are here: Palace of Progress > Nineteenth-century Collections

John Bull locomotive, 1831
John Bull locomotive, 1831

The John Bull was built by Robert Stephenson and Company in England and purchased by the Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company in 1831. Previously American railroads had tried to build their own locomotives, but the Camden and Amboy decided to buy a locomotive type that had already proven itself. The John Bull was used by the railroad for many years. In 1876 its historical value was recognized when it was displayed at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in an exhibit organized by J. Elfreth Watkins. When Watkins became curator of transportation at the Smithsonian in 1884, he acquired the locomotive for the museum. It has been on display almost continuously since then. In 1981, for its 150th anniversary, it was operated for one last time, gaining the title "oldest operable locomotive." In 1985 it was flown to Dallas for an exhibition, adding another "oldest" to its name: the oldest locomotive to fly in an airplane.

In 1893, the Smithsonian agreed to loan the John Bull, which it had acquired from the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1884, back to the railroad for display at the World's Columbian Exposition. The trip from Washington, D.C., to Chicago was a great public relations success; brass bands greeted the locomotive and its train at stops all along the way. At the fair thousands of visitors rode in cars pulled by the antique engine. (See black and white photo.)

See also: Locomotives, Transportation, Popular Objects

Return to the Legacies Home Page

Privacy  |  Terms of Use