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York, One of the Earliest Railroad Manufacturing Towns; Phineas Davis

Seal of The Borough of York (Prowell’s 1907 History of York Co., PA, Volume 1, Facing page 644)

York, Pennsylvania can claim the title as one of the earliest railroad manufacturing towns due to the efforts of Phineas Davis.  York even honored Phineas Davis by placing his locomotive on the seal of the borough.  Does anyone know how long this seal design was used?

Davis was responsible for the first practical American coal-burning railroad locomotive.  It was designed, built and completed in York by 1831 for a competition staged by the then recently formed B & O Railroad in Baltimore.  The Phineas Davis design was aptly named “The York.”  The greater York area did not have a rail connection for another 7-years; therefore “The York” had to be carted by horse or oxen to Baltimore for the competition.


Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Marker on the Northwest corner of King and Newberry Streets in York, PA

“The York” was judged far superior to the four prototype designs it competed against.  It was the only design that met all of requirements that the B & O specified.  This success prompted the B & O to commission Phineas Davis to design an improved version.  It was that improved version in 1832, which achieved commercial success.  Davis named his improved design “The Atlantic.”

Ultimately “The Atlantic” design was purchased from Phineas Davis by the B & O; they hired Davis and constructed 20 of these locomotives at their Mount Clare Shops.  The design was nicknamed “Grasshopper” due to a distinguishing feature; the vertical pushrods.

“The Atlantic,” an 1832 B & O “Grasshopper” Locomotive (Howden’s 1907 The Boys’ Book of Locomotives, Facing page 4)

The “Grasshopper” locomotives were the locomotives of choice on early B & O rail lines.  Nonetheless their success was short lived.  The open air, vertical boiler design rapidly gave way to the covered cab, horizontal boiler locomotive design we know today.  Nonetheless, “Grasshoppers” continued to be used to push cars around the B & O rail yards until the 1890s.  The B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore contains an operational “Grasshopper” locomotive.

Links to related posts include:

The York shop where Phineas Davis built steam locomotives


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