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peter cooperEnlarge Peter Cooper (1791-1883)

Peter Cooper made a fortune in glue and iron manufacturing, and he was much loved for his civic philanthropies, most notably founding New York City's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. But he was also a mechanical tinkerer who believed that where there was a will there had to be a way. When he learned in 1829 that the B&O Railroad did not think that any locomotive had enough power to negotiate its sharply curved and hilly stretches of track, Cooper refused to accept that view. Instead, seeing the B&O's development as crucial in assuring the success of his extensive investments in Baltimore, he started to build his own locomotive, predicting that it could traverse the terrain in question at ten miles per hour. In fact, it did better than that. When his engine, nicknamed the "Tom Thumb," made its test run in Baltimore on August 24, 1830, it managed to transport some twenty-four passengers at approximately twelve miles an hour. Until then, B&O officials had thought that horses were the only feasible alternative for drawing their trains in the foreseeable future, but now the age of steam was suddenly upon them



Mathew Brady Studio (active 1844-1883)
Modern albumen silver print from a wet-plate collodion negative, circa 1862
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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