The Stevens family of Hoboken was a great engineering and inventor family of America. Colonel John Stevens was among the greatest engineers and naval architects of the 18th-19th century, was Treasurer of New Jersey during the active period of the Revolutionary War and labored throughout his life for the application of steamboat navigation and railroad locomotion.
Colonel John Stevens, considered by many to be the father of American railroads, was an early advocate for steam-powered railroads for improved transportation. He traveled to Europe to conduct research on railroads in the early 1800s. In 1810, when plans for the Erie Canal were being discussed, Colonel Stevens began to campaign for his railroad ideas. He suggested to the New York legislature the advisability of constructing a railroad across the Hudson River to Lake Erie, instead of building the Erie Canal. In 1812, Colonel John published a pamphlet on steam railways vs. canals; it was the first American publication on railroads. In 1825 he built a steam locomotive with multitubular boiler, which he operated on a circular track at twelve miles an hour, carrying passengers at his own expense on his property in Hoboken. This was the first steam locomotive that ever ran on a railroad in America.
In 1804, Colonel Stevens and his sons built the first successful twin-screw propeller steamboat. the Little Juliana, which was completed in 1804, and demonstrated his high-pressure steam boiler, twin screw propeller configuration, and innovative engine. The Little Juliana successfully navigated the Hudson River and amazed onlookers.
Colonel John Stevens and his wife Rachel had 13 children. The most well-known of their clan were John Cox Stevens (1785-1857), Robert Livingston Stevens (1787-1856), and Edwin Augustus Stevens (1795-1868), the founder of Stevens Institute of Technology. Colonel John Stevens won land (now known as the town of Hoboken) in an auction in 1784 for $90,000. He soon brought his family over the Hudson River in the early 1800s and established a family home known to the locals later as “Castle Stevens.” When Edwin A. Stevens passed away in 1868 he delegated in his will a bequest to establish an “institution of learning,” which laid the groundwork for Stevens Institute of Technology, firmly anchoring the Stevens family legacy in Hoboken. The Stevens Institute of Technology is America’s first college devoted to mechanical engineering.
Stevens Family Collection
The Stevens Family Collection consists of manuscripts, pamphlets, correspondence, ephemera, articles, and photographs documenting the Stevens family of Hoboken. In addition, we have many artifacts, furniture pieces and paintings once owned by the Stevens family in our collection. Some of these items are permanently on display in the Mary Stuart Stevens Baird room on the first floor of the Samuel C. Williams Library.