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john stevensEnlarge John Stevens (1749-1838)

In his seventy-sixth year, John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey, was just as much the energetic tinkerer that he had been for most of his life. "It is really surprising," wrote his wife, Rachel, to one of their sons, "that your Papa at his age should be so very active; as much so as ten years ago. He enjoys good health and his faculties don't seem in the least impaired."

His wife, in fact, may have been understating the case, for at the moment this onetime proprietor of a steamboat business was hard at work designing and building a steam-driven locomotive. And with the locomotive running around a circular track on his estate, he turned to obtaining a New Jersey state charter for the Camden & Amboy Railroad & Transportation Company. By 1831, with Stevens's son Robert at the throttle, a steam engine was inaugurating service on the first opened segment of Camden & Amboy track. Within another year the company was offering rail service across New Jersey.

Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, circa 1830
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of H. H. Walker Lewis in memory of his parents Mr. and Mrs. Edwin A. S. Lewis