S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Steam Automobile Page keywords = Doble Stanley Dudgeon Roper steam wagon automobile car Verbiest Cugnot Oliver Evans Trevethick

Updated:   06 Oct 2011, 10:25  ET
[Page created 06 Oct 2001; converted 06 Oct 2011;

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


Steam Automobile Page

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

This page, spun off from my DUDGEON {Steam} Automobile page (on 06 Oct 2001), is unindexed but see STEAMER HELP! below.

I really should warn those with a serious interest in steam automobiles that this is only a passing interest of mine.  Please don't expect this page to be an authoritative and complete treatise on steam cars.

Steam Automobiles

1866 Dudgeon
[Image from THE AMERICAN CAR SINCE 1775 by the editors of Automobile Quarterly, 1971.]

1853 or 1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon
[Why quibble?  What's a few years?]

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 the Civil War?  Yup!  See my Dudgeon page.

I no sooner got all involved in the Dudgeon when, 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"
{descendant, yes - steam, no (gasoline)}.

That Roper cycle has "rocking cylinders, pivoted at the top end opposite the piston rod.  It used a cylinder valve, with flexible hoses to carry steam from the boiler to the valve, and from the exhaust to the steam blower in the chimney.  The same system was used on the 1865 Roper car in the Henry Ford Museum".
[information courtesy of Neil Stanley (would you believe?)]

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 (my all-time favorite steamer), but how many know of Swiss-born Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's cumbersome, three-wheeled, steam artillery tractor which lumbered around in Paris in 1769 at around 2 to 6 mph, for all of 15 minutes, maximum, had the entire mechanism on top of the front wheel, making it all exceedingly cumbersome and tippable (and is preserved today in the Paris museum):

1770 Cugnot
(Image from History of the Motor Car, Brooke Bond Picture Cards)

or Oliver Evan's Oruktor Amphibolos (amphibious digger), which actually ran in the streets of Philadelphia in 1804 (it was actually a 30'-long very early steam dredge that delivered itself to the river on giant iron wheels hooked to the paddle mechanism, thus becoming the world's first amphibious vehicle!):

1804 Evans Oruktor Amphibolos photo    1804 Evans Oruktor Amphibolos sketch
(Images from Amphicar Net News, by kind permission - all rights reserved)   new.gif
{One assumes the photo is of a model - no?}

In 1801, in Cornwall, Richard Trevithick, built a road steamer, and improved on it in 1803, with 10' diameter wheels and a 12mph speed; the British were off with a whole slew of road steamers, double- and triple-deckers, like out-sized horse coaches, which blew up with great regularity until outlawed a few years later.  At this point (somewhere), along came Richard Dudgeon!  But now we have to contend with Mr. "Thomas Blanchard, who manufactured a steam road car in 1825" {above}!

According to the SAE Bookstore, there is an even older vehicle, the Verbiest Steam Turbine Vehicle, a steam-turbine-powered model which ran in the 1600s!  Per the SAE, "in the early 1670's, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688), a Flemish Jesuit missionary in China and head of the observatory of Peking, built a small working model of steam turbine-powered vehicle which he demonstrated at the Chinese imperial court and which may be considered as the oldest precursor of the automobile".  A 1995 book by Horst O. Hardenberg describes Verbiest's model.

I can't find a direct link, but here is a page about the The Steam Automobile Club of America, dedicated to the preservation of steam automobiles.  They publish a newsletter, "The Steam Automobile Bulletin".

Also (22 Feb 99), I ran across a link to the MOBILE STEAM SOCIETY (established 1969), Oak Ridge, Tennessee; a not for profit corporation organized to design and build a modern steam car.  The car, a 1963 VW bug, has been operating since ~1978.  Unfortunately, the link was broken {did they run out of steam?}.

Looking up something unrelated in my 1945 "Tanks and Armored Vehicles, by Lt. Col. Robert J. Icks, Duell Sloane and Pearce, New York, I ran across a reference I'd completely forgotten.  In 1861, Charles S. Dickinson invented and Ross Winans (the famed locomotive builder) built a "Steam Battery" or "Winans Steam Gun", a semi-armored, four-wheeled, steam-propelled wagon mounting a steam cannon.  The latter came in many sizes and was practical but the wagon, built in Baltimore, and sent to Harper's Ferry for Confederate use, was captured by the Feds, tested, and deemed impractical (so what else is new?).

There's far more to this story - see Winans on my Ordnance Continuation Page 2.

Let's hear it for Verbiest, Cugnot, Evans, and Trevethick (etc.)!  At least there's no argument on which of them was first.

Variation by SB,III

One of the earliest land speed records was set by Camille Jenatzy (known as the "Red Devil" for his fiery red beard) at Achères, France, in a huge steam car of his own design named "le Jamais Contente" (The Never-Satisfied).  He managed to top 60mph for the first time, officially, (at 65.7mph), in 1899 - DAMNATION!  That car was an electric (and no one caught this!):

1899 Jamais Contente
(Image from History of the Motor Car, Brooke Bond Picture Cards)

Curses!  Foiled again (ah, the vagaries of memory)!

That Doble steamer, built between the wars by Abner Doble, was one of the finest cars ever made, with outstanding design and quality married to superb custom coachwork; this is also from memory and requires some looking up.  As I recall, it had a flash boiler of considerable capacity and needed no warming up; you turned her on and went, smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly.

The 1865 Dudgeon Steam Wagon was on display at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum (The Museum of Transportation) in Brookline (Boston area), Massachusetts, at one time [I visited the museum on 15 Apr 2004 and again in 2011 after moving to the Boston area and it is still a gem!].  One of the Andersons' cars on display is a very old Gardner-Serpollet steamer.   rev.gif (06 Oct 2011)

One of the nicest things about putting up a page like this is the wonderful people you run across; I heard from Richard Dudgeon's great-great-grand-daughter!  saw pictures of the Dudgeon in a book called "Oldtime Steam Cars'".  I also heard from the grandaughter of the sister of a grandson of Richard Dudgeon (would you believe!).  A great-great-grandaughter checked in, mother of the last noted lady.

The great-great-grandaughter of Richard Dudgeon who contacted me originally did so again Sep 00 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 01, I got this from a man in Maine (Dudgeon material edited out for this page):

"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}

Guess what turned up right after the new (2002) year?  A working replica Roper steam bike!  Better yet, Bob Jorgensen, who built it, is now working on a steam runabout!

What with all the twists and turns of the Dudgeon story, I really had to redo that page entirely; thus, to avoid it overloading, this page.

The Dudgeon was to some extent linked to Long Island (New York); I completely forgot that we had two steamers there well into my adulthood.  I refer to the two out at Henry Austin Clark, Jr.'s Antique Automobile Museum out in Tuckahoe (Southampton, NOT the one up the Hudson); a 1911 Stanley and a 1927 Buffalo Springfield, both of which were auctioned off on 09 Sep 1972.

I really should warn those with a serious interest in steam automobiles that this is only a passing interest of mine.  Please don't expect this page to be an authoritative and complete treatise on steam cars.

For more on steam and a few more links, see my Science and Technology and Big Steam pages.   rev.gif (06 Oct 2011)


A genealogist from California asks (12 May 2001) "Do you know when the first steam cars were introduced into Scotland?" - she is asking because an ancestor of hers was killed sometime before 1903 in "...one of the first steam cars to ply between Paisley and Glasgow (Scotland)..."; to order his Death Certificate, she needs to know in approximately what year that was.

Well, along (06 Oct 2001) comes the Archives and Collections Society (ACS), of Picton, Ontario, Canada, primarily into maritime matters, with an inquiry about "a 'lost' Stanley Steamer (or Stanley Steam Car) which was the property of Louis Rottenburg (son of Paul Rottenburg, one of the founding benefactors of the Glasgow Opera) - this car being reputedly the first 'motor car' in Scotland.  It may have been donated (approx 1910-1920) to a Glasgow Museum."  I have put the two parties together; if anyone has any information re either inquiry, please advise me.

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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