S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com DUDGEON Automobile Page keywords = Dudgeon Roper steam carriage wagon automobile car Smithsonian Institution National Museum American History Long Island Nassau County Oyster Bay Locust Valley New York Richard Sylvester Roxbury Verbiest Cugnot Oliver Evans Trevethick Waterman Kirkland Gibson

Updated:   24 May 2017; 13:15  ET
[Page converted 27 Feb 2011;

    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]
URL:  http://sbiii.com/dudgeon.html
[was at "home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/dudgeon.html"]

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
"changing materials with high-intensity sound"

[consultation is on a fee basis]

Technical and Historical Writer, Oral Historian
Popularizer of Science and Technology
Rail, Auto, Air, Ordnance, and Model Enthusiast
Light-weight Linguist, Lay Minister, and Putative Philosopher

note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's


DUDGEON Automobile
(more properly "Steam Wagon" or "Steam Carriage")

If you love history, you might wish to visit the HISTORY page.

This page is unindexed and now continues on Dudgeon Continuation page 1,
with a Richard Dudgeon Genealogy and Richard Dudgeon, Inc. (the firm),
and where I moved DUDGEON HELP!.


The DUDGEON Steam Automobile of 1853*

or 1855* or 1857* or 1866*

or 1868* (or Steam Wagon)

{etcetera, etcetera, etcetera}

1866 Dudgeon at the Smithsonian
{Frontispiece courtesy of T. Kuehhas, Director of the
Oyster Bay Historical Society and Editor of its magazine,
The Freeholder.}

note-rt - Having moved from Lonmg Islamd, NY, to the Boston 'burbs in 2010

WOW!  Did you know that there was a working steam automobile called the "Dudgeon" (the builder's family name, not as in "high" - only a gudgeon would think that) built immediately before* and/or after* the Civil War right here in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York {not so}, and that there are two cars still around {not so}, one in the Transportation section of the Division of the History of Technology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History {true}, and one, still working, purportedly in Oyster Bay (but actually in Providence, Rhode Island) {not so}?  The latter supposedly ran on the streets in this decade (no way, José!)!

* - Informative Graphics Corp. has an instructional website with a page (authoritative but undocumented) on automotive history which puts old Richard back before the Civil War, stating that "Another American inventor, Richard Dudgeon, was experimenting with steam-mobiles.  One was destroyed in a fire in 1858 {emphasis mine} in the famous Crystal Palace in New York City; another, built about ten years later, was banned from the streets by the civic leaders"; this jibes with some local accounts - we shall see.

* - Our local historian (22 Feb 99) more or less agrees, stating that the first car was built in 1855 and burned in the Crystal Palace fire in 1856!  He also states that a second car was built in 1857 that was later located in Richard's son Frank's barn on Hamilton Avenue in Oyster Bay in the 1920s.  He also confirms that the cars were built in Dudgeon's shop at 24 Columbia Street in Manhattan, not Oyster Bay (curses, foiled again!).

I got an e-mail from a local county historian, who sent me the URL of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) page on the Dudgeon, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/rakeman/1866.htm where I found this glorious painting of the "Red Devil Steamer" by Carl Wakeman:

Carl Wakeman's
[Image of Carl Wakeman painting from FHA site.]

and this fantastic text:

"In a catalogue advertising hydraulic jacks which he had invented, Richard Dudgeon wrote, in 1870, 'Above I have given a good wood engraving of my last steam carriage, as a number have expressed interest or curiosity in it.'

'This is not in the way of business or advertising at all.  After seventeen years of effort and conviction of its utility, I have learned that it is not fashionable, or that people are not ready for it.'

'Without any patent about it, it will go all day on any good wagon road, carrying ten people at 14 miles an hour, with 70 pounds of steam, the pump on the fire door open, if desired.  One barrel of anthracite coal is required to run at this speed for four hours.  It weighs 3,700 pounds with water and fire to run one hour.  It will go 20 miles in an hour on a good road.  It is perfectly manageable in the most crowded streets.'

In spite of all that could be vouchsafed in its favor, however, the disillusioned inventor of the steam carriage, shown in the accompanying illustration, at last had become reconciled to the fact that the public was not interested.  In 1855 {emphasis mine}, Dudgeon had astounded New Yorkers by riding from his home on East Broadway to his place of business at 24 Columbia Street in the first steam carriage which he had assembled.  It was built as the result of a wager between himself, a determined Scotsman, and two of his associates.  The 'Red Devil Steamer' aroused immediate newspaper criticism, 'The running of the wagon is accompanied by a great deal of vibration and noise, for there are four exhausts, as in a locomotive, and the solid wooden discs that serve for wheels pound the road heavily'  The commotion frightened horses so badly that the irate drivers appealed to the city authorities who issued a city permit limiting the operation of the steam carriage to one city street only.  A few years later the machine, while on display in the Crystal Palace, was lost in the fire which razed the imposing edifice.  Sensing keenly the need for mechanical road transport in an industrial age, Dudgeon constructed his second steam carriage in 1866.  Again he encountered the outspoken opposition and derision of drivers and riders of horse-drawn vehicles.  Restricted as before in its range on city streets, Dudgeon moved his family and steam carriage to Long Island.  There the vehicle became a familiar sight with a Negro {sic} boy running ahead to warn travelers of the danger that followed.  Dudgeon ran the vehicle many hundreds of miles.  The longest trip was from Locust Valley, Long Island, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the fastest speed was a mile covered in one {minute} and fifty-two seconds {32mph}.  Dudgeon's device, however, failed to gain popular favor.  It was a brain child born out of due time.

Dudgeon's failure followed a repetition of the popular apathy encountered by Thomas Blanchard, who manufactured a steam road car in 1825 {emphases mine}.  The machine ran along the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, proved to be a sturdy hill climber, was endorsed by the State Legislature, was gaped at from the sidewalks, some few intrepid souls took a ride but the public at large would have none of such a strange contraption." {end of quotation, grammar and all, from FHA site}.

1825?  There's no end to the surprises that turn up on the Net!

In addition, the historian noted sent me this actual contemporary photograph:

1866 Dudgeon 'Red Devil Steamer' on the road
[Image from THE AMERICAN CAR SINCE 1775 by the editors of Automobile Quarterly, 1971.]

The article which this photo accompanied says that Dudgeon began work on the first car in 1853, finished it in 1857, lost it in the Crystal Palace fire on 05 Oct 1857, and used his plans and drawings (which are implied to survive!) to build the next car (the RI car).

I remembered (and now have confirmed) the name of a photographer who claimed to have photographed the Oyster Bay car within the past decade (it could well be "score" now); I just (01 Jun 1999) traced this person down, left word, and hope to hear some one of these days. [That never came to pass - SB,III 25 Oct 2011]

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's Road Transportation exhibit page states, "The oldest self-propelled road vehicle is a steam-powered carriage built in 1866 by Richard Dudgeon of New York City {sic}".

The local Oyster Bay Historical Society seemed to have had a different slant on old Richard Dudgeon; they (we) felt he developed and built the car out here on Long Island, not Manhattan Island, but the very-specific text from the FHWA, above, makes that claim look more than a bit dubious.

1866 Dudgeon Currently on Display

See frontispiece, above.

Richard Dudgeon's great-grand-daughter (see below) reports (25 Mar 1999) that the 1866 steam carriage is now on long-term display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in their Road Transportation Hall, first floor east, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.) {well, it sure wasn't out when I was down there last, ca. 1997}.

Status Report:  I contacted both our local historian and the Smithsonian and can only also serve by standing (sitting?) and waiting!  The former responded, as noted above, with the welcome news that we have a thick file on the Dudgeon for me to peruse when I get around to it, but I have not yet heard from the latter.

Now, here's a twist; a page from an old calendar (perhaps ca. 1980) has a nice rendering of the steam wagon and a write-up, reproduced here (01 Jun 1999), which is also somewhat at odds with what I have been told locally.  To quote Alice, "Curiouser and curiouser!"

{from a calendar - provenance unknown}

Calendar Text:


    "Built in 1866 in New York by Richard Dudgeon and two partners, this forerunner of the modern automobile was affectionately known as the "Steam Wagon".  The first model, evolved by the same group of men in 1853, was burned in the Crystal Palace fire in New York, 1858.

    Complete with cedar wheels and iron tires, this vehicle was long stored in a shed at Peacock Point when the Dudgeon family lived there, and later in a barn on what is now the Grimes' property.  It rode in triumph in the 1923 Locust Valley Memorial Day parade and is now in the hands of a collector of antique autos in Providence, Rhode Island.

    Motoring in the 'Steam Wagon' necessitated a horse and wagon to travel ahead for the steam boiler required frequent refillings with the coal and water which the horse and wagon carried.  Complications notwithstanding, this vehicle was capable of the amazing speed of fourteen to twenty miles per hour at full steam."

{emphases mine - SB,III}

If this version is true, the photographer is probably (most certainly) not old enough to have taken a shot of the wagon on parade in Oyster Bay pre-WWII!  The text had to have been written by a local resident of Oyster Bay village or its immediate surrounds, so the calendar was probably local.  However, our local historian assured me on 28 Sep 1999 that the local Dudgeon really ran in the streets of Oyster Bay in the past 15-20 years (ca. 1965-1980).

The vehicle pictured is not at all what I had expected (which was a sort of high buggy with a tiny steam engine underneath); instead this is truly a roadable locomotive.

  Wonder which end is the front?  There's really not much question; it almost has to be the cylinder/smokebox end.

I had erroneously stated that the engine was "one with rarely-used rocking cylinders (note how they are at differing angles on the frontispiece photo), which obviated the need for elaborate rodding but must have leaked steam badly as they rotated around a gland on the steam delivery pipe".  Well, it is wrong, WRONG, WRONG!  A volunteer at the Smithsonian who has been all over the Dudgeon advised (20 Dec 2001) that the "cylinders are fixed in cast iron saddles, and have crossheads and connecting rods" and, further, that it has a "crosshead and con-rod, along with the Stephenson link that allowed timing and reversing".  He also confirms that the "smokestack end is definitely the front".  "The steering is a double thread screw shaft set in a swiveling ball joint in the sprung front axle - very flexible, very ingenious".

The Dudgeon Steam Carriage Stamp

From a link to the History Channel site:  "1991 Early Automobile Appears on Stamp.  The United States Postal Service issued a four-cent stamp commemorating the Dudgeon Steam Wagon, a steam-powered vehicle built in 1866 by steam pioneer Richard Dudgeon."  Th-th-that's all, folks!  Not another word about it, but, as of Sep 2000 (thanks to a Dudgeon great-great-grandaughter), I now have the stamp:

Dudgeon 4¢ Stamp
[12 Sep 00 photo of Dudgeon 4¢ Stamp by and © 2001 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved.]

Would you believe?  There is a Richard Dudgeon, Inc., selling and renting hydraulic systems (jacks, pumps, controls) to the "construction (manufacturing and transportation) industry".  This Richard Dudgeon, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, makes an absolutely fantastic 700-ton load cell-cum-hydraulic jack, weighing only 79 pounds, used to lift segments of giant antennae in NASA's Deep Space Network!   rev (24 May 2017)

Our local historian also stated that our same Richard Dudgeon invented the hydraulic jack; now that I thought I'd have to look into!  The great English engineer of the mid-19th Century, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built a set of the largest hydraulic rams ever (at the time) to launch my favorite ship of all time, his "Great Eastern", the ship that he started in 1854 and which was too big to launch in 1857 and finally made it to the water in 1858 [see my Naval and Maritime page].  Of course, we now know the steam Dudgeon was the same man who was the hydraulic jack (not Jack) Dudgeon.

The present-day Dudgeon firm now has a History page on which they state {slightly edited} "Richard Dudgeon, Inc. was founded in 1850 in New York City.  In 1851, Dudgeon was granted a patent for a 'portable hydraulic press', a jack that proved vastly superior to screw jacks used at the time."  Well, that sure seems to tally and the firm sure sounds like "our" Richard's!  They now acknowledge their heritage; posting both the painting and the stamp@ images.  For more about them, see Richard Dudgeon, Inc. on my Dudgeon Continuation Page 1.

[Oh, my!  That unprovenanced stamp image sure looks amazingly like my photo, above!]

The Dudgeon is mentioned in the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942.

All steam automobile links have been moved to my new Steam Automobiles page.

Most people know of the Stanley Steamer of the early 20th Century and most real car buffs know of the Doble Steam Car of the 1920's and 30's, but there were many older (even far older) steam cars, now covered in part on the Steam Automobiles page, q.v.

Feb 99 - only my home, automotive, history, and RR pages come up on some major search engines, yet I had this page spidered by all!  If something more about the Dudgeon does't turn up soon, I'll be driving around in a HIGH DUDGEON!

Another search engine link (Feb 99), to a dead site, featured British General Burgoyne confronting "Richard Dudgeon", the rebel he's expected to execute, in a Belfast Maskers production of George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple; guess I'll have to read my Shaw!

From genealogical links, it appears that Dudgeon may well be an old Irish name; other links point to Scotland.

Well, there's this interesting tidbit, anyway!  I was in Locust Valley (in mid-Feb. 1999) with elderly friends of great probity (and he's a decendant of early settlers) and somehow the Dudgeon came up; "Fanny Dudgeon's house is right nearby!"  We passed it on the way home, 143 Buckram Road in Locust Valley; "That's it!"  [It is unmistakeable for its "bank barn" construction - it's is the only one set into the hillside, diagonally opposite and west of the library, on the northwest corner of Buckram and Baldwin (the steam loco Baldwin) Avenue].

Dudgeon Tea House ca. 1930 Dudgeon House
(Left photo from Oyster Bay Historical Society;
right photo by and © 1999 S. Berliner, III - Feb 1999 - all rights reserved)

The left-hand photo is one from the Spring 2000 issue of the Oyster Bay Historical Society's FREEHOLDER, labelled as "An old Locust Valley residence on Buckram Road used as a tea house, c. 1930".  Note that the porch is now gone but the chimney detailing remains.  The sign reads:


The story goes that the estimable Fanny (Mrs. Henry Dudgeon) was supposedly busted for running a numbers game in her home (wonder what she put in that tea?).

This happened ca. the mid- or late-1930s.  What it has to do with our Richard and his steamer almost escaped me, but they WERE related.  Mind you, this is partly hearsay and has NOT been fully verified (not yet).  Well, not quite, but Fanny's husband, Henry was Richard's grandson (the son of Richard's son Frank) and Fanny was apparently not overly belovèd of the family.

Oh, oh!  The personal or human interest side of this family is getting a wee bit lurid; I am told by our local historian (28 Sep 99) that Richard's son (Frank?) may have murdered his mistress or some such around the turn of the century (oops - we now have a choice of turns - this one was ca. 1900).  He'll look for old clippings.  Wait up!  The county historian also sent me a clipping from the 22 Jun 1938 Herald Tribune about our Fanny; I'll reproduce it when I get permission but basically it involves her winning a law suit for possession of the 1866 steamer and confirms that it had last run in 1903; the AQ article says the LI car ended up in Providence, Rhode Island, in the possession of George H. Waterman and Kirkland H. Gibson.

Still, let us not be to hard on our Fanny {did I really write that?}; she sued for, and won, ownership of the car and, after it was on display at the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York City (I don't remember seeing it and I was there both years), sold it to Waterman and Gibson in Rhode Island.  Mr. Gibson then donated it to the Smithsonian.  So, however indirectly, thanks, Fanny!  Wait a cotton pickin', dog bone minute, here!  If Kirkland kept his car through WWII in RI and donated it to the Smithsonian, and the original car burned up in the Crystal Palace fire, then there is no other surviving car.  So, what Dudgeon ran in Oyster Bay relatively recently (post-WWII) and was stored in an Oyster Bay barn (unless, of course, this was all actually just before Fanny sold it.)?

It may be that Fanny was NOT Mrs. Henry (who was more likely "Ethel"); their daughter-in-law, maybe?  I'm NOT a Dudgeon family genealogist and don't propose to become one!

143 Buckram Road's been fenced in; here it is on 07 Jun 2004:

Dudgeon House 07 Jun 2004
07 Jun 2004 photo by and © 2004 S. Berliner, III - Feb 1999 - all rights reserved)

Uh, oh!  Gotta get me back there; check out that chimney location!

26 Oct 2011 - I spoke with a great-grand-niece {?} of the estimable Fanny; 25 Oct is Fanny's birthday and that chimney was indeed moved from the center of the house to the end.

DUDGEON GENEALOGY - on Dudgeon Continuation Page 1.

Oh, hang!  At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, on 25 Aug 99, I ran across this

1865 Roper!

1865 Roper Steamer in HFM
(Photo by and © 1999 S. Berliner, III - Feb 1999, all rights reserved)
[Thumbnail image; click on picture for larger image.]

Sylvester H. Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, started making lightweight steam-powered vehicles in 1855!  The museum displays this 1865 model and a photo of an 1866 "steam carriage".

Turns out that the Smithsonian has an 1869 Roper, "Sylvester Roper's 1869 steam bicycle", on display
right "around the corner" from the Dudgeon, and "its distant descendant, a 1914 Pope motorcycle"
{steam - presumably}.

Far more on ancient steamers that appeared here, going back into antiquity, has been moved to my Steam Automobiles page.

One of the nicest things about putting up a page like this is the wonderful people you run across; I (Feb 1999) heard from Richard Dudgeon's great-great-grand-daughter!  The lady has one of the postage stamps noted above and has "seen a picture of the steam wagon in a book called 'Oldtime Steam Cars'".

Et encore, another Dudgeon checks in; one Dan L. Dudgeon (who'd like to know where to get one of those stamps) wrote (23 Jan 2000) that he thinks the name is indeed Scottish and that it was also used in Shakespeare's Macbeth (not assuming I didn't know) as the descriptive of the handle of a dagger (actually, I hesitate to admit that I didn't know).

And yet again; this time (06 Feb 2000), I heard from the granddaughter of the sister of a grandson of Richard Dudgeon (would you believe!).  In this case, the lady reports that "Richard Dudgeon built a miniature model of his hydraulic jack and gave it to his children".  Her "mother donated this to the Smithsonian 2.5 years ago" and she "delivered it" herself.

A great-great-grandaughter checked in (02 Jul 2000), mother of the last noted lady, confirming Richard's birth in Scotland (Tain, to be exact - she has the family Bible).  Richard's youngest child, William Miller Dudgeon, was the father of two children, Helen (the lady's mother) and Archibald (her uncle); it was Archibald Dudgeon who headed Richard Dudgeon, Inc., manufacturing hydraulic jacks, pumps, and tube expanders.  He sold the company when he retired; it is now located in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  I heard from the dear lady again on 13 Jul 2008 and she graciously allowed me to note her name here; she is Cornelia Lee Marr, daughter of Helen Dudgeon Lee and niece of Archibald Dudgeon, her uncle, "who had so much to do with {her} upbringing in New York".

O.K., comes one David Alan Dudgeon of Michigan (28 Aug 00), asking about a Dudgeon Dagger; do any of you Dudgeons or descendants out there know ought of a "Dudgeon Dagger" (one assumes it's a Scottish knife like a dirk, not a vehicle like a Stanley Steamer).

The great-great-grandaughter of Richard Dudgeon who contacted me originally did so again in Sep 2000 and I've put her in touch with another great-great-grandaughter who wanted to reach her.  How's that for service?

On 22 Apr 2001, I got this from a man in Maine (slighlty edited):

"In the early 50's, when G. Waterman and K. Gibson owned it {the Dudgeon}, Joe Knowles took it to Lincoln {Massachusetts} to check it and to get running.  Wood fire of course - no ash pan - so if parked on pavement - pavement caught fire!  Ha, ha.  It was O.K. at 85#, but came to life around 100#, and would spin the wheels easily at 100 to 125# on grass.  On pavement, the vibration uncomfortable.  Steering was the problem, not speed!!!  The exhaust note is a unique 'cunk, cunk' [hollow] sound.  I still recall it in my head vividly.  Joe and Frank Johnson did most of George's work in Lincoln and Weston, Massachusetts.  Now the object of this - Frank across the street came over with his 8mm camera to play so there is a chance there actually exists short footage of me and Joe driving the Dudgeon - live steam!!  It was a fun day; I wish I could record from my brain to this page in living color and sound.  I have also owned the 1895 S Roper bicycle for several years , another absolutely fascinating piece, which, incidentally, weighs about 105# [dry] !!! - - - Do you know of Richard D. Rice - steam wagon of 1859 in Hallowell, Maine?  Or Ed Field, Lewiston, Maine, 1887 steam wagon; a really good runner!!!" - {emphases mine - SB,III}

A great-great-great-grandnephew checked in on 23 Sep 2002 and Helen's grandson on 05 Aug 2003.

[What with all the truly-wonderful Dudgeons who have contacted me, a most unfortunate incident soured this record on 07 Dec 2015 - see Page 2.]   new (08 Dec 2015)

I really should warn those with a serious interest in the Dudgeon automobile that there are many links out there to one Edward Dudgeon, who was in the U. S. Navy from 1942 through 1945, and who testified about the alleged disappearance of the destroyer USS Eldridge, DE 173, from Philadelphia harbor, due to mysterious devices brought on board under extreme security precautions, and the alleged disappearance of two sailors from a nearby tavern!  A previous link is now dead but Wikipedia now has a great debunking article, new reference link, (24 May 2017).  Oh yeah!  Herr Gauss would turn over in his grave!
  rev (24 May 2017)

This page is unindexed and now continues on Dudgeon Continuation page 1,
with a Richard Dudgeon Genealogy and Richard Dudgeon, Inc. (the firm),
and where I moved DUDGEON HELP!.

Science and technology fans; see my Science and Technology page.

Cyclops fans; see Cyclops on my Automotive page!


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


See Copyright Notice on primary home page.

Please visit the main Automotive Page, et seq.

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