The Stevens Brothers' Railroad

Edwin Augustus Stevens and Robert Livingston Stevens

It was Robert Livingston Stevens, as innovator, and his brother, Edwin Augustus Stevens (1795-1868), as business administrator, who realized their father's dream of establishing a commercially successful railroad-the first in the United States. As early as 1810 the colonel started to promote his scheme in correspondence, several years after the English had used small locomotives to haul coal. Then, in 1812 the father published a widely distributed pamphlet entitled "Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantage of Rail-ways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation," in which the colonel considered every phase of railway transportation, including engineering aspects and costs of construction.

Dismissed at first as a visionary dreamer, the colonel doggedly lobbied with the New Jersey state legislature until he had obtained the first American railroad act authorizing his company to erect a railroad from the Delaware in Trenton to the Raritan at New Brunswick. His idea was to connect the railroad with his ferry service from Trenton to Philadelphia. In 1823, again before any passenger railroad had been created anywhere, he obtained from the Pennsylvania legislature another railroad act for a line running from Columbia, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia- an act which historians of the Pennsylvania Railroad consider the forerunner of the act establishing their company.

Although the time limits ran out on these acts, both routes were later laid with track. Subsequently, in 1826 at the age of 77, the colonel and his sons built a demonstration prototype locomotive on a circular track in Hoboken, the first American built locomotive, to promote his scheme.

From that point on, his sons vigorously entered the railroading business to supplement their ferry and steamboating lines. Urgency was added to the implementation of the plan for a railroad after 1823 when the Stevenses had established their Union Line transportation company which ferried passengers from Manhattan to Perth Amboy where an overland stage ran to the Trenton terminus for steamboat service to Philadelphia; with through ticketing. The trip took 10 to 11 hours instead of the days it took before the advent of the steamboat.

However, a rival route had been established by ferry to Jersey City and overland by stage to Trenton. The Stevenses wanted to capture the 2,000 passengers per week which paid some 1,000 per year on both routes. Robert and Edwin were determined to seize this market by building a fast and comfortable railroad over the shortest possible route, Perth Amboy to Bordentown, to connect with their steamships.

Teaming up with Robert F. Stockton, the Stevens brothers worked out of a hotel in Trenton while lobbying and negotiating for a new charter. Stockton was a politician, entrepreneur and adventurer whose more flamboyant personality complemented the Stevenses' talents in engineering and business. After two years of effort, a charter was granted in 1830 which gave exclusive rights to two transportation companies in return for taxes on traffic and other emoluments. The Stevenses were granted the Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company and Stockton was granted the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company which was to run along the same route as the railroad. The state obtained a tax on all passengers and freight as long as no other railroad was given rights to lay track within three miles of the C and A.

The C and A Lines

The act also authorized the C and A to sell capital stock for 1,000,000 which was fully subscribed the day it was offered in April 1830, by the company's officers, R.L. Stevens, president and E.A. Stevens, treasurer. This legislation for monopoly was strengthened by 1832 by a new act which prevented the building of any railways across the state between New York and Philadelphia without the consent of the C and A and Stockton's canal company which merged. In return the state received 1,000 worth of stock and was to obtain not less than 1,000 per annum in transit taxes.