Stephenson, John

b. 4 July 1809 County Armagh, Ireland,
d. 31 July 1893 New Rochelle, New York, USA.
Irish/American pioneer of tramways for urban transport, builder and innovator of streetcars.
Stephenson's parents emigrated to the United States when he was 2 years old; he was educated in public schools in New York, where his parents had settled, and at a Wesleyan seminary. He became a clerk in a store at 16, but in 1828 he apprenticed himself to a coachbuilder, Andrew Wade, of Broome Street, New York. His apprenticeship lasted two years, during which time he learned mechanical drawing in the evenings and started to design vehicles. He was employed for a year on carriage repair work and in 1831 he opened his own coach repair business. Within a year he had built New York's first omnibus; this was bought by Abraham Brower, Stephenson's former employer, who started the city's first bus service. Brower immediately ordered a further three buses from Stephenson, and a further horse-drawn car was ordered by the New York \& Harlem Railroad. He built the car used at the opening of the railroad on 26 November 1832, the first street railway in the world. Orders followed for cars for many street railroads in other cities in the eastern States, and business prospered until the financial panic of 1837. Stephenson's factory was forced to close but he managed to pay off his creditors in the next six years and started in business again, building only omnibuses and coaches to become recognized as the world's foremost builder of streetcars. His first car had four flanged wheels, and a body of three compartments slung on leather straps from an unsprung chassis. He built horse-drawn cars, cable cars, electric and open cars; by 1891 his factory had 500 employees and was producing some twenty-five cars a week. His first patent had been dated 23 April 1833 and was followed by some ten others. During the Civil War, his factory was turned over to the manufacture of pontoons and gun carriages. He married Julia Tiemann in 1833; they had two sons and a daughter. He lived at New Rochelle, New York, from 1865 until his death.
Further Reading
"The original car builder", 1891, New York Tribune, 10 September.
D.Malone (ed.), Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 9, New York: Charles Scribner.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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