Source Freedley, Edwin T., Philadelphia and its Manufacturers, 1858


The Norris Locomotive Works originated in 1834, in a small 
shop, employing but six men, whose united wages was but thirty- 
six dollars per week. The power was furnished from an adjoining 
wheelwright shop, by a connecting shaft through a hole in the 
wall. Previous to this, in 1831, Mr. Wm. Norris, in connection 
with Colonel Stephen H. Long, General Parker, George D. Wetherell, and Dr. Richard Harlan, had formed a company for building " 
Locomotors," (as they were then called,) intended for the 
use of Anthracite coal as fuel. The first Engine was built under 
the immediate supervision of Colonel Long, at the Phoenix Foundry, 
Kensington. On the 4th of July, 1832, steam was raised, 
and it was tested on the New Castle and Frenchtown Rail-road. 
The trial proved their first attempt a failure, in consequence of 
the limited grate and fire surface. The Locomotive would run a 
mile at fair speed ; but would then stop short, until a fresh supply 
of steam was generated. 


At these works it is said an Engine was first constructed, capable 
of ascending heavy grades with loaded cars. This feat was 
performed by the "George Washington," in 1836. This success 
excited attention everywhere to the superiority of Philadelphia 
Locomotives, and orders from Europe were received. In 
1837, the Gloucester and Birmingham Railway, England, was 
supplied with seventeen Locomotives from these works, some of 
which are still in use. 


The present works are very extensive, embracing numerous 
buildings situated on Hamilton, Fairview, Morris, and Seventeenth 
streets, on the locality formerly known as Bush Hill. In 
the year 1853 over one thousand hands were employed in them ; 
and with the improvements in buildings, tools, &c., made since 
1853, they can now accommodate over fifteen hundred hands.


There are several leading principles observed in the administration 
of these works, which appear calculated to insure their 
highest efficiency, and the best quality in their productions. One 
is the manufacture, upon the spot, not only of the Engines, but as 
for as possible, of the materials also of which they are composed. 
AH the forged work — Tires, Tubes, Springs, Brass and Iron Castings, 
Chilled Wheels, and other parts, are here made in the best 
manner, and with the aid of every fixture to be found in establishments 
supplying separately each of these items. Another 
is the greatest possible substitution of machinery for manual labor. 
The tools are adapted, in a special manner, to the execution of 
each portion of the work ; and each class of tools is specially appropriated 
to distinct portions of the work. Another is the entire 
independence of the different departments of the works from 
each other. Hardly any two distinct branches of labor are carried 
on together in the same apartment; but, at the same time, 
there is the utmost facility for all necessary communication between 
the separate departments. In the materials used for the 
Engines, wrought iron is used wherever practicable, and to the 
exclusion of cast iron. Hammered charcoal iron is used for the 
boilers; thick brazier's copper is used exclusively for the tubes; 
and tough scrap is used for all important forgings. 


Up to the present period nine hundred and thirty-seven Locomotives 
have been constructed at the Norris Works ; the average 
for the last ten years being about forty Locomotives per year. 
Of this number, one hundred and fifty-six were on foreign account, having been shipped to England, France, Austria, Prussia, 
Italy, South America, Cuba, &c. 


The cost of a Locomotive, complete, varies between $6,000 and 
$12,000, although the price is somewhat confused, from the practice 
of taking stock or bonds of a road in total or part payment, 
and often at some nominal price, without reference to their real 
value. The weight of a large first-class Locomotive, whether for 
freight or passengers, reaches as high as from twenty to thirty tons, 
exclusive of the tender. It is expedient in practice to use large 
Locomotives and haul heavy trains, in preference to the reverse, 
as the expense of attendance, and, to a certain extent, of repairs, 
is no greater for a large than for a small engine. 


The workmen employed in the Locomotive establishments of 
Philadelphia are a very superior order of mechanics, of whom the 
citizens of Philadelphia may justly be proud. The greatness of 
their mechanical creation is, in some respects, a prototype of 
their physical and mental characteristics. 



Norris Locomotive Works

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Norris Locomotive Works was a steam locomotive manufacturing company based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that produced about a thousand engines between 1836 and 1860. It was the dominant American locomotive producer during most of that period, and was even selling its popular 4-2-0 locomotives to European railways. The firm's factory complex was located in the area around 17th and Hamilton Streets on several acres of what had been the famous Bush Hill estate. The site was near the right-of-way of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, which crossed though that part of Philadelphia just north of Callowhill Street. (This route was later owned by the Reading Railroad.)


The company was more or less started in 1832 as the American Steam Carriage Company by William Norris (1802-1867) and Col. Stephen H. Long (1784-1864). The two men had experimented in locomotive building for years and as early as 1829 had designed a locomotive to burn anthracite coal. Norris and Long also built an engine called the Black Hawk, which performed with partial success on the Boston and Providence Railroad, and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in the early 1830s. Long, a famed engineer, explorer and military officer, later left the firm and William was joined by his brother Septimus, who patented several locomotive-related inventions.


The two brothers reformed the enterprise into the Norris Locomotive Works. On July 10, 1836, they ran a test of a 4-2-0 locomotive on the Belmont Inclined Plane of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. This was one of the most historic events in railroading history. The two-track incline ran from the Schuylkill River for 2,805 feet towards present-day Belmont Avenue, rising one foot in 15 for a total of 187 feet. Named George Washington, the 14,400 pound locomotive hauled a load of 19,200 pounds (including 24 people riding on tender and one freight car) up the grade at 15 miles per hour. This engine, the first to ascend a hill by its own power, proved that a steam locomotive could climb an ascending grade. So remarkable was this accomplishment that reports in engineering journals emphatically doubted its occurrence. A second, more formal trial with an even greater load proved the engine's capabilities on July 19, 1836.


Norris built the Lafayette for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad the following year. Named after the Marquis de Lafayette, this 4-2-0 engine was the first locomotive to feature a leading truck and may have been the first standardized production model locomotive. Innovations included the positioning of cylinders ahead of the smokebox and the four-wheel swiveling pilot truck. The Lafayette established the configuration steam locomotives would follow until the end of the steam era.


In 1847, the Norris Works built the first ten-wheel locomotive in America: the Chesapeake. Operated by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, this was also the world's first 4-6-0 locomotive. It weighed 22 tons and had 14½ by 22 inch cylinders and driving wheels 46 inches in diameter. Initially a wood-burning locomotive, the Chesapeake was converted to burn anthracite coal in 1862, and ran for about another fifteen years. Some authorities claim that Septimus Norris came up with the design, but other sources attribute it to master builder John Brandt.


There were nine Norris brothers altogether, with six of them having been involved in locomotive building at some point. William Norris' enterprise was renamed Norris Bothers when brothers Richard and Octavius joined it in 1844 during a period of financial distress and reorganization that included William's gradual departure from the business. The firm later became Richard Norris and Son. Other locomotive factories, operated independently (and unsuccessfully) by various Norris brothers, later opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Schenectady, New York.


The Norris Locomotive Works sold many locomotives overseas, as noted above. Indeed, this company was the first American exporter of locomotives—and perhaps of large mechanical devices generally. As early as 1840, thirty percent of the firm's production until then had been for foreign markets. Norris machines operated in England, France, Germany, Prussia, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Saxony, Canada, Cuba and South America. (The Copiapó, built in 1850 for Chilean railroad, was the first locomotive in all of South America.) These engines influenced contemporary and subsequent locomotive design in many of these countries.


Furthermore, William Norris had several large-scale operating models constructed as presentation pieces to sovereigns of several nations. These include Tsar Nicholas of Russia and King Louis-Philippe of France, whose pleasure with the model he received was so great that he gave Norris a gold medal and a handsome gold box. A quarter-sized 4-4-0 locomotive and tender were built for Commodore Matthew C. Perry to deliver as a gift on his second expedition to Japan in 1854. A railway—which also included a passenger car made by another builder and a mile of track—was set up near Yokohama. The Japanese were soon treated to the first train ride available in the Far East!


Richard Norris and Son was the largest locomotive manufacturer in the United States, if not the world, during the 1850s. Employing many hundreds of men, the factory consisted of some ten buildings spread over several city blocks at what is now the campus of the Community College of Philadelphia. The firm reached its peak in 1857-58, after which time, the Norris family seems to have lost interest in the business. Manufacturing quality and output fell during the Civil War and the plant closed in 1866, but deliveries continued for a year or two.


The property lay idle until the adjacent Baldwin Locomotive Works—which had surpassed Norris as the largest locomotive builder in America—acquired the site in 1873. The Norris buildings stood until 1896 when part of the property was cleared for construction of the third U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. (Still standing, that building is now part of the Community College of Philadelphia.) Today, there is no trace of either the Norris or Baldwin factories in that part of downtown Philadelphia.


For more on the Norris Locomotive Works, see Brian Reed, The Norris Locomotives, LOCO Profile 11, Volume 1 (Windsor, Berkshire, England: Profile Publications Ltd., 1971) and John H. White, Jr., Once the Greatest of Builders: The Norris Locomotive Works, Bulletin 150 (Westford, MA: Railway & Locomotive Hist. Soc., Spring 1984).




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