Matthias W. Baldwin

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Matthias W. Baldwin
Baldwin-Matthias-1899.jpg
Born (1795-12-10)December 10, 1795
Elizabethtown, New Jersey
Died September 7, 1866(1866-09-07) (aged 70)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Matthias William Baldwin (1795–1866) was an American inventor and machinery manufacturer, specializing in the production of steam locomotives. Baldwin's small machine shop, established in 1825, grew to become Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of the largest and most successful locomotive manufacturing firms in the United States. The most famous of the early locomotives was "Old Ironsides", built by Matthias Baldwin in 1832.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Matthias W. Baldwin was born December 10, 1795 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He was the youngest of five children born to a prosperous carriage builder named William Baldwin.[2] Following his father's death in 1799, executors of the Baldwin estate proved unequal to the task, however, and his widow and children were left in difficult financial circumstances owing to their poor management.[3]

Although he received a very satisfactory common school education, Baldwin's inclination and aptitude related to mechanical tinkering from an early age.[3] Toys would be deconstructed and reassembled to learn their inner workings and spare bits and pieces of machinery would be put to new use in a makeshift workshop inside his mother's home.[3]

Baldwin's first stationary steam engine, built in 1828.

In 1811 the 16-year old Baldwin was made an apprentice jewelry maker to the Woolworth Brothers of Frankford, Pennsylvania.[3] Apprenticeship in these days was a virtually coercive relationship marked by long hours of labor and miserable compensation. In 1817, shortly before the fixed term of his indenture was completed, Baldwin moved together with his mother to the urban mecca of Philadelphia.[3] There the budding jewelry maker was snapped up by the firm of Fletcher & Gardner, one of the leading jewelry manufacturers of the city.[3]

Baldwin proved to be a valuable journeyman employee over the course of the next two years.[3] In 1819 Baldwin cut the cord with Fletcher & Gardner and began to work as an independent silversmith.[3] Baldwin quickly proved himself a skilled and innovative craftsman, and soon developed a revolutionary new technique for making gold plate.[3] Rather than the painstaking application of gold leaf to base metal, Baldwin's method of manufacture made use of soldering a piece of gold to the base metal and rolling the two together until the requisite thickness was attained.[4] Baldwin's technique came to gain wide acceptance as the industry standard, although unfortunately for him it was never protected through acquisition of a patent.[4]

Machinery maker[edit]

During the middle 1820s demand for jewelry and silverware suddenly experienced a dramatic decline, forcing Baldwin to search for a new occupation.[3] In 1825 Baldwin went into partnership with a machinist named David Mason to form a company which made industrial equipment for printers and bookbinders — tools, dies, and machines which had previously been exclusively imported from Europe.[3] The pair became involved in the manufacture of printing cylinders and perfected an improved process for the etching of steel plates.[3]

The needs of the growing firm demanded both larger quarters and an improved power source.[3] In 1828 Baldwin devised and constructed his first steam engine — a stationary device which produced 5 horsepower of output and which remained in use in the shop for four decades.[3] Baldwin's engine was not only the most powerful of its day but it incorporated mechanical innovation to power rotary motion which ultimately came to have application in transport, including marine engine design.[3] The original engine still survives in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

Demand for steam engines proved to be great and Baldwin and Mason quickly supplanted their printing machinery business with an engine-making division.[3] Within a decade the firm would be regarded as the top engine maker in the country.[3]

Locomotive builder[edit]

Baldwin's "Old Ironsides" engine, manufactured in 1832.

Baldwin put his knowledge of stationary steam engines to new use in 1831 when he constructed his first experimental steam locomotive. Based on designs first shown at the Rainhill Trials in England, Baldwin's prototype was a small demonstration engine that was displayed at Peale's Philadelphia City Museum. The engine was strong enough to pull a few cars that carried four passengers each. This locomotive was unusual for the time in that it burned coal, which was available locally, instead of wood.

The next year Baldwin built his first commissioned steam locomotive for the fledgling Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad.[5] This engine, nicknamed Old Ironsides, traveled at the rate of only 1 mile per hour (1.6 kmph) in initial trials made on November 23, 1832 but the machine was later refined and improved so that a peak speed of 28 mph was attained.[5] It weighed over 5 tons, with 54" diameter rear wheels, 9.5" cylinders with 18" stroke and a 30' diameter boiler which took 20 minutes to raise steam.[6] This locomotive was a 2-2-0 (Whyte notation) type, meaning it had one unpowered leading axle and one powered driving axle. Although contracted for $4,000, owing to performance shortcomings a compromise price of $3,500 between the railroad and the budding Baldwin Locomotive Works was ultimately agreed upon and received.[7]

Personal[edit]

A statue of Baldwin in front of Philadelphia City Hall.

Baldwin was a devout member of the Presbyterian Church and a consistent donor to religious and secular charitable causes throughout his life.[3] In 1824 he was a founder of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.[3]

In 1835 he donated money to establish a school for African-American children in Philadelphia and he continued to pay the teachers' salaries out of his own pocket for years thereafter.[3] Baldwin was an outspoken supporter for the abolition of slavery in the United States — a position which was used against him and his firm by competitors eager to sell locomotives to railroads based in the slaveholding South.[3]

Baldwin was a member of the 1837 Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention, at which he emerged as a defender of voting rights for the state's black male citizens.[3]

Baldwin married a distant cousin in 1827, Sarah C. Baldwin. Together, they had three children.

One of his last philanthropic efforts was the donation of 10% of his company's income to the Civil War Christian Mission in the early 1860s.

Death and legacy[edit]

Baldwin died September 7, 1866 at his country home in Wissinoming, today a Philadelphia neighborhood which was at the time located just outside of Philadelphia proper.[3]

At the time of its founder's death his Baldwin Locomotive Works had produced some 1,500 steam locomotives.[5] The company would continue as a leader in this field, producing a total of approximately 75,000 steam locomotive engines before terminating their production in 1955.[5]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Virginia.edu, "Early Railroads" Old Ironsides; img. 6.
  2. ^ Wolcott Calkins, Memorial of Matthias W. Baldwin. Philadelphia: Collins, 1867; pg. 12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Matthias William Baldwin," in National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Volume 9. New York: James T. White & Co., 1899); pg. 476.
  4. ^ a b Calkins, Memorial of Matthias W. Baldwin, pg. 23.
  5. ^ a b c d "Matthias William Baldwin," in Lance Day and Ian Mcneil (eds.), Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. London: Routledge, 1995; pg. 39.
  6. ^ Kerr, James W. (1983). Baldwin Locomotives. Vermont: DPA-LTA. p. 4. ISBN 091929510X. 
  7. ^ Baldwin Locomotive Works, History of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831-1920. Philadelphia: Martino-Pflieger Co., 1920; pg. 10.

Further reading[edit]

Company publications

Independent publications

  • John K. Brown, The Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831-1915: A Study in American Industrial Practice. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  • Wolcott Calkins, Memorial of Matthias W. Baldwin. Philadelphia: Collins, 1867.
  • Ralph Kelly, Matthias W. Baldwin (1795-1866), Locomotive Pioneer! New York: Newcomen Society of England, American Branch, 1946.
  • Frederick Westing, The Locomotives that Baldwin Built. Seattle, WA: Superior Publishing Co., 1966.
  • J.H. White, Jr., A History of the American Locomotive: Its Development, 1830-1880. New York: Dover Publications, 1979.