The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration

Allen Family Papers, 1818-1925.


Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630

1 linear foot
Horatio Allen, a noted civil engineer and inventor, was born in Schenectady, N.Y., on May 10, 1802. His father, Dr. Benjamin Allen, was then professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Union College.

Horatio graduated from Columbia College in 1823 with high honors in mathematics. Deciding upon a career in engineering, he spent a year on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Around 1825 he joined the staff of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company as a resident engineer. When the company decided to import locomotives for use on its connecting railroad, Allen was sent to England in 1828 to procure them. Four locomotives were contracted for, the first in the United States. One, the STOURBRIDGE LION, was tested at Honesdale, Pa., on August 9, 1829, and Allen had the distinction of being the first man to operate a locomotive in the western hemisphere. However, the locomotives proved to be too heavy for the track structure and were not used in revenue service.

Upon completion of the Delaware & Hudson, Allen accepted the position of chief engineer of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, which was planning to build from Charleston to a point opposite Augusta, Ga. Allen pushed to have the company adopt locomotive power, and under his direction the West Point Foundry in New York City built the BEST FRIEND OF CHARLESTON, the first locomotive produced for sale in America.

Allen remained in Charleston until 1835, after which he and his new bride, Mary M. Simons, travelled abroad for three years. On their return, they settled in New York City, where Allen was named principal assistant engineer of the Croton Aqueduct. He was also serving as a consulting engineer to the New York & Erie Railroad. In 1842 he became one of the proprietors of the Novelty Iron Works, a noted builder of marine engines. Allen retired from active business in 1870, but continued with consulting work. In his later years he devoted much time to education, particularly the teaching of astronomy, for which he wrote a textbook and constructed several instruments. He died on December 31, 1889 at South Orange, N.J.

The Horatio Allen papers consist of fragments handed down in the family of his sister Mary Louisa Allen and her husband Edmund C. Evans. Associated with them are fragmentary papers of other Allen family members and genealogical materials.

The bulk of the papers is represented by Allen's personal correspondence (1818-64) and biographical materials collected by his family. There is also a small collection of Allen's business papers, particularly concerning his work on the New York & Erie Railroad. There is also a long letter written to J. Elfreth Watkins of the Smithsonian in 1888 giving his views on the early history of the locomotive, along with a list of his patents. The outgoing family letters frequently discuss Allen's business activities along with domestic matters, and there is ample evidence of his intellectual training and beliefs. Allen's letters to his father cover his period of studies at Columbia. His letters occasionally include observations on political events such as the Nullification Crisis. The papers include copies of three of Allen's published works: SUN, PLANET AND STAR INSTRUMENT (1883), THE RAILROAD ERA: FIRST FIVE YEARS OF ITS DEVELOPMENT (1884), and ARITHMETIC (1884).

Another important item is a 342-page notebook prepared by Horatio Allen's son. It provides an extended biography of Allen down to 1833, combining reminiscence with transcriptions of letters (some still in the collection, others lost) and of Allen's journal now at the Baker Library.

The rest of the collection consists of fragmentary papers of Horatio Allen's great-grandfather, father, wife, daughter and siblings. Of these, the most interesting pieces are a letterbook of Dr. Benjamin Allen (1798-1800) covering the period following his graduation from Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and describing both his intellectual and social life. Among Benjamin Allen's writings are an 1823 Fourth of July patriotic oration, a short paper on education, and descriptions of eighteenth-century Rhode Island. There is also a diary of Horatio's older brother Theodore (1820-24) containing observations of an intellectual and moral nature.

Among the miscellany are printed articles relating to the history of the STOURBRIDGE LION and the D&H Railroad and of the locomotive named for Horatio Allen by the D&H in 1924. There are also two poems on a famous marine disaster, the 1854 wreck of the Collins Line steamer ARCTIC, whose engines were built by Allen's Novelty Iron Works. Horatio's brother, George F. Allen, survived the sinking of the ARCTIC, but George's wife, infant son and several in-laws perished.

SUBJECTS:  Transportation
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