Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > History of Science, Mathematics, Technology > 168. Robert Stephenson and Company

168.  Robert Stephenson and Company, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  "America." Watercolor drawing, signed with perforated initials "F.S.K.," 1828? RBML, Parsons Railroad Prints R5

William Barclay Parsons (CC 1879, Mines 1882) is best remembered as the chief engineer for the Rapid Transit System of New York, opened in 1904. However, he was also a great collector of books and prints. After his death, his family presented his book collection to The New York Public Library, but his collection of some 235 transportation prints came to Columbia. The collection includes prints dating from 1820 to 1880, covering primarily railroad transportation in Europe and the United States.

General Parsons purchased this watercolor of the legendary locomotive, originally named the "Pride of Newcastle," at the American Art Association sale (December 18, 1930) of the collection of Cornelius Michaelsen, who had purchased it in London. "America" was built by the firm of Robert Stephenson and Company, and was similar to the firm's "Rocket" built for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway that won the Rainhill locomotive trails in 1829. The fate of the "America" remains a mystery. It may have exploded on July 26, 1829 during its maiden run near Honesdale, Pennsylvania. If so, it would have been the first commercial steam locomotive to run in the United States. Its sister locomotive, the "Stourbridge Lion," made its first run successfully on August 8, 1829.

Gift of Mrs. William Barclay Parsons and Family, 1934

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