Edwin Augustus Stevens

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Line engraving of Edwin A. Stevens published in The Stevens Ironclad Battery

Edwin Augustus Stevens (July 28, 1795 – August 8, 1868) was an American engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur who left a bequest that was used to establish the Stevens Institute of Technology.


Stevens was born at Castle Point, Hoboken, New Jersey, the son of Colonel John Stevens III (1749-1838) and his wife Rachel Cox (1761-1839). He was the sixth of eleven children, and among his older brothers were John Cox Stevens and Robert Livingston Stevens. In 1836 he married Mary Barton Picton, daughter of Rev. Thomas Picton of Princeton, New Jersey. They had a daughter, Mary Picton Stevens (May 19, 1840 – September 21, 1903), who went on to marry Virginia politician Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett and later Edward Parke Custis Lewis, U.S. minister to Portugal.

In 1854, after his first wife's death, Stevens married Martha Bayard Dod (May 15, 1831 — April 1, 1899). She was the daughter of Albert Baldwin Dod (1805-1845), professor of mathematics at Princeton University, and Caroline Smith Bayard, who was the daughter of Samuel Bayard (1766-1840) and granddaughter of Continental Congressman John Bubenheim Bayard (1738-1808). With Martha he had seven children: John Stevens IV (b. July 1856), grandfather of Millicent Fenwick; Edwin Augustus Stevens, Jr. (b. March 14, 1858); Caroline Bayard Stevens (b. November 21, 1859), who married Archibald Alexander and then H. Otto Wittpenn; Julia Augusta (b. May 18, 1863);[1] Robert Livingston Stevens II (b. August 26, 1864); Charles Albert Stevens (b. December 14, 1865); and Richard Stevens (b. May 1868).[2][3]

At an early age Stevens was entrusted by his father with the family business affairs, and in 1821 at the age of 26 he assumed full responsibility for the Stevens estate in Hoboken and other properties. Also in 1821, he developed the "Stevens plow," a cast-iron plow with a curved moldboard and replaceable heel piece. The plow was popular among New Jersey farmers. He went on to design many other technological innovations, such as the “twohorse dump wagon” for New York City; the "closed fireroom” system of forced draft for his family's steamboat fleet; and the "vestibule car" for the Camden and Amboy Railroad.[4]

Following the death of Colonel Stevens in 1838, Edwin and his brother Robert worked on a commission from the United States government to construct the nation's first ironclad naval vessel. After conducting tests to determine the amount of armor a vessel needed to defend itself against naval guns, the two brothers constructed a huge vessel known as the Stevens Battery. Though the craft was never fully completed, it nevertheless laid the groundwork for the modern armored warship. A scaled-down version, the USS Naugatuck, saw limited action in the Civil War. After the war, the Naugatuck and the Battery were sold for scrap.[4]

Stevens was part of the syndicate from the New York Yacht Club that built and raced the schooner-yacht America. His brother, John Cox Stevens, was the head of the syndicate and the NYYC's first Commodore. Edwin Augustus also served as Commodore of the NYYC, resigning in 1866.

Edwin died in Paris, France in 1868. His will left the bulk of his fortune to his wife and children, but also donated land adjoining the Stevens family estate, as well as $150,000 for the erection of a building and $500,000 as an endowment for the establishment of an "institution of learning". Because of the Stevens family's close ties with engineering, the will's executors decided it would be an institution devoted to the "mechanical arts".

This institution became Stevens Institute of Technology, which opened its doors in 1870.

The university has since expanded to an entire hilltop campus overlooking Manhattan, but the original building funded by Stevens' bequest is still in use: Edwin A. Stevens Hall continues to house much of the School of Engineering, the university's oldest school (there are now four).