John Stevens of New York, inventor and engineer, graduated from King's College (now Columbia University) in 1768. He became interested in steam-powered navigation in 1787 and for the next fifty years was active in building and promoting steam boats and trains, securing numerous patents, and inventing such important developments as the screw propellor. He established the world's first steam ferry, between New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey and later built the first operating steam locomotive in the United States. Stevens secured a charter from the Legislature of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Railroad, from Philadelphia to Lancaster County.
The main component of this collection is a double-spaced typed document of 858 pages compiled by J. Elfreth Watkins, curator of the Section of Transportation and Engineering, U.S. National Museum, 1895-1903. The document, which is arranged in roughly chronological order, includes copies of John Stevens's correspondence as well as newspaper articles, technical papers, legal documents and other material relating to Stevens' professional work, 1808-1830. The correspondence includes letters to and from rival inventors such as Robert Fulton (commonly credited with building the first steamboat), and to several famous figures, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Martin Van Buren. Other documents in the collection are the original 1831 articles of incorporation of the Danville and Pottsville Railroad and a carefully detailed civil engineer John Wilson.
John Stevens Collection, 1808-1881, Archives Center, National Museum of American History