The George Washington, 1836

Source: John White, Jr.


This engraving purports to represent the George Washington. The remarkable performance of this machine in surmounting the Belmont incline on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in 1836 won an international reputation for its maker, William Norris of Philadelphia. However, contemporary evidence shows that the original machine differed in several important mechanical details, notably inside cylinders. The engraving does accurately portray a standard Norris locomotive of about 1840.

One of the most historic events in railroading history occurred on July 10, 1836, when the Norris Brothers ran a test of a 4-2-0 locomotive on the Belmont Inclined Plane of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. (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 engine hauled a load of 19,200 pounds—including 24 people riding on the tender and a freight car—up the grade at 15miles per hour. This engine, the first in the world to ascend a hill by its own power, proved that a steam locomotive could climb a grade while pulling a load. So remarkable was this accomplishment that reports published 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


Return to Pictorial Catalogue of Steam Engines


About the Hopkin Thomas Project


November 2009