John Stevens, Inventor
The son of a wealthy merchant and ship owner, John Stevens graduated from Kings College in 1768 and got a degree in law. But engineering, not law would prove to be his passion. During the Revolutionary War, he achieved the rank of Colonel after serving as Treasurer of New Jersey and Surveyor of Eastern New Jersey.
He purchased a large estate in 1784 in what is now Hoboken, New Jersey. He purchased a ferry service between Hoboken and Manhattan and became interested in Steam Engines, convinced that steam was the way to go for commercial shipping.
He petitioned his connections in the U.S Congress to write a patent law, resulting the the first U.S. Patent Act of 1790. He then patented his first major invention, a vertical multi tubular boiler (for steam engines) and then a screw propellor. He built a small propeller driven steam boat and crossed the Hudson River in it in 1804.
Having been edged out of commercial shipping on the Hudson by Robert Fulton, he sailed his steamship Phoenix to Philadelphia to take up commercial shipping on the Delaware River. This voyage from New York to Philadelphia in 1809 marked the first time in history that a steam-powered ship had successfully navigated ocean waters. The Phoenix was a sidewheel paddle steamer. Stevens had concluded that the paddle configuration with a low pressure boiler was safer in larger ships.
He then turned his attention to steam for rail roads. In 1812, when the state of New York appointed a group of commissioners to study a route for a canal connecting Albany and Buffalo, Stevens tried unsuccessfully to convince them that a steam powered railway would be more efficient and effective than a canal.
He then turned to his connections in Washington getting them to pass the American Railway act of 1815. In that same year, he was awarded the country's first railroad charter by the New Jersey State Legislature for a rail line between the Delaware and Raritan Rivers… which did not succeed.
In 1825, George Stevens built a small steam locomotive and ran it around a track on the grounds of his estate. In 1830 he established the Camden & Amboy Railroad & Transportation Company which became a successful commercial enterprise, operated by two of his sons, Robert Livingston Stevens and Edwin Augustus Stevens.
Another legacy is the John Stevens Institute of Technology, which thrives today in Hoboken. There is a wonderful video about John Stevens on their web site:https://www.stevens.edu/about-stevens/stevens-history/stevens-family