John Stephenson

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John Stephenson

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Armagh, UK
Death: 1893 (83)
New Rochelle, NY, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of James Stephenson and Grace Stephenson
Husband of Julia Stephenson (Tiemann)
Father of Joseph B Stephenson; Stuart A Stephenson and Mrs Daniel W Pugh
Brother of Mary Quinan; Martha Stephenson and Hannah Stephenson

Occupation: Coach builder
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Stephenson

John G. Stephenson (1809 in County Armagh, Ireland - 1893 in New Rochelle, N.Y.), an American coachbuilder, invented and patented the first streetcar to run on rails in the United States. Stephenson also designed the New York and Harlem Railroad which was formally opened on 26 November 1832. Twelve days later a horse-drawn streetcar built at Stephenson's works and named John Mason after the president of the railroad company, started the public service. Stephenson is therefore remembered as the creator of the tramway.

John Stephenson, whose name has been for so many years connected with car building in America, and whose honorable record will forever be a part of the history of that branch of railroad construction, was born in the north of Ireland, on July 4, 1809 ; the son of James Stephenson and Grace (Stuart)


Stephenson, of English and Scotch descent. In 1811 the parents removed to America, and made their home in New York. The son received an academic education at the Wesleyan seminary in that city, and it was desired by his father that he should pursue a mercantile life, but the bent of his mind was in the direction of mechanics, and nothing could persuade him from following what he knew should be his proper field of labor. He was, accordingly, apprenticed to a coach-maker and in 1831, after attaining his majority, he set up in business for himself, chiefly as a maker of omnibusses, then a new business in the city. His shop was located at a point in the rear of Bower's stables, No. 667 Broadway ; and there, in 1831, he designed and constructed the first omnibus built in New York. In less than a year after the commencement of this enterprise —bold and ambitious in one so young —his property was swept away by fire, but he made another start, and this time he planted his business in Elizabeth street, where he built his first street railway car. An interesting history might be written of this branch of the railroad system, which is of recent origin and dates back for its beginning to a point within the memory of many men now living. The introduction of a street railway into New York city in 1831-2, created not only much excitement and comment, but also a new mechanical business—the manufacture of cars for use on such roads. In that business John Stephenson was the pioneer. When he received, from the New York & Harlem Railroad Company, the order for the car above mentioned, he constructed it after a design of his own, and named it "John Mason," in honor of the first president of the company, and founder of the famous Chemical Bank. This was the

first street railway car ever built. It was made to carry thirty passengers, ir three compartments. The driver's seat was on the roof, and it had passenger seats on the roof, which were reached by steps at each end of the car. The vehicle has been aptly described as "a cross between an omnibus, a rockaway, and an English railway coach," and had four wheels. This was first run on the road between Prince and Fourteenth streets, on November 26, 1832, carrying the president of the road and the mayor and common council of the city of New York. For this car Mr. Stephenson was awarded a patent. Other orders from the same company soon followed, and before long Mr. Stephenson found his reputation and business so far extended, that he was employed in building passenger cars for railways, as they rapidly increased in number and carrying capacity the country over. The street railway and street railway car, it may be said in passing, is a peculiarly New York product. They were in successful operation in that city for twenty-five years before appearing in any other city of the union, or elsewhere. George Francis Train, in his days of business activity, introduced a street railway into Birkenhead, England, in 1860, and also commenced one in London ; but it bred a riot, and a mob tore up the rails. They are now seen, it is needless to say, in all civilized countries the world over ; and the John Stephenson Company, Limited, manufactures street railway cars for North and South America, for Europe, Asia,

Africa, Australia, and the isles of the sea. Mr. Stephenson, in company with Mr. Slawson, is the inventor of the onehorse car, which is now in use in many cities. They were first introduced in New Orleans, just at the breaking out of the civil war, but only since the war have they come into use elsewhere in the United States.

The cars first constructed by Mr. Stephenson were furnished with only four wheels, but when eight wheeled cars were introduced by Ross Winans, of Baltimore, Mr. Stephenson found it expedient to extend his premises, and enlarge his operations. In 1836 he built a spacious factory at Harlem, and in 1843 bought the land on Twentyseventh street, near Fourth avenue,where his great establishment is now located— a monument to his labors and enterprise, and a mark of the advance of the line of manufacture in which he has been so long engaged. It now, in connection with its lumber yards, covers sixteen city lots. When he began in that section, it was in the rural district of the city; and its growth has been as phenomenal as that of the great city about it—being now the largest establishment of its kind in the United States. Mr. Stephenson, now at the advanced age of seventy-nine years, is still its active head, and in full possession of both bodily and mental vigor.

In creating this great enterprise, and in making it one of the avenues through which the manufacturing and industrial greatness of New York has been secured, Mr. Stephenson has not forgotten to do good and become useful, in other lines of labor. He is an earnest working member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, as his parents were before him. About 1816 he entered a Sabbath school just organized by Mrs. Divie Bethune, Mrs. Mary Mason and others, and from that time to this has been active in Sunday school work in various capacities ; having charge, only within very recent years, of a Bible class of forty members. He is passionately fond of music, and was a performing member of the Sacred Music Society, which some sixty years ago met in the Chatham Theatre (then a chapel) and was subsequently an active member of the Harmonic Society. He was for forty years the leader of a church choir of forty volunteer singers, chiefly from Sunday school classes, who had been trained under his direction. He has, also, made the collection of musical literature one of the pursuits of his leisure hours, and has in his library a large number of books, etc., of that character. Another avenue through which he was enabled to be useful, was as public school trustee of the Twenty-first Ward, which office he held for more than twenty years.

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John Stephenson's Timeline

July 4, 1809
Armagh, UK
Age 83
New Rochelle, NY, USA