Surely steam-powered travel was not in Peter Gabriel’s mind when he wrote his 1992 song Steam. But cutting edge travelers of 1869 may have been eager to step into (or rather, sit behind) the cloud of steam produced by the one, the only…”The Wonderful Steam Man!”
While going through a few boxes of uncatalogued graphics, I came across these interesting clippings about and an 1869 flyer advertising a revolutionary new way to get from point A to point B.
This particular contraption was invented by P. Dederick and I. Grass of Newark, New Jersey. “Steam Man” was a steam-powered carriage led by a human-shaped machine. Its body held a boiler that was connected to a piston and series of levers and cranks. When enough steam was generated, the piston activated the attached mechanisms and the machine walked forward.
Steam-powered travel was hardly a new concept in 1869. Robert Fulton, a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is widely recognized as the inventor of the first commercially-viable steamboat in America in the early 1800s. However, decades earlier, several inventors, including Virginian John Rumsey and John Fitch, who born in Connecticut but eventually settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, began working on their own steamboat designs. Fitch completed his design in 1787, and his steamboat (pictured below) was among the first to successfully navigate the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey. Fitch and Rumsey battled over patents for their boats; and Fitch eventually won a patent just for his design. Despite his success, Fitch didn’t possess enough money to fund the construction of his steamboats.
Fulton’s success in the steamboat business no doubt inspired others to invent ways to expedite travel. The “Steam Man” was just one example that never quite took off; even though, as you see from this clipping below, the idea stuck around into the decade that saw the invention of the automobile.
HSP has several collections relating to people and their inventions, including the John Fitch papers (#208), the Mary Hallock Greenewalt papers (#867), the Penrose Robinson Hoopes papers (LCP), and the Christian F. Gobrecht papers (#241) For a interesting look into the history of machines like Steam Man, check out these sites: http://www.bigredhair.com/robots/index.html and http://cyberneticzoo.com/?page_id=164.