Jonathan Knight (railroader)

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Jonathan Knight
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 20th district
In office
March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1857
Preceded byJohn L. Dawson
Succeeded byWilliam Montgomery
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 20th district
In office
Preceded byRees Hill
Succeeded byIsaac Leet
Personal details
Born(1787-11-22)November 22, 1787
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
DiedNovember 22, 1858(1858-11-22) (aged 71)
East Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania
Political partyOpposition
OccupationCivil engineer

Jonathan Knight (November 22, 1787 – November 22, 1858) was an American politician who served as an Opposition Party member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania's 20th congressional district from 1855 to 1857. He also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 20th district from 1822 to 1828. He was a civil engineer who worked on the National Road and as the first chief engineer of B&O Railroad.

Early life[edit]

Jonathan Knight was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the tenth child of Abel and Anna S. Knight. In 1801, he moved with his parents to East Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania. He attended the common schools, worked as a teacher and purchased a farm.[1] He continued to do survey work and became a civil engineer. He was appointed by the state in 1816 to make and report on a map of Washington County, Pennsylvania. He was elected county commissioner and served three years.[2]

Railroad career[edit]

Knight assisted in the preliminary surveys of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the National Road between Cumberland, Maryland, and Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1828 he entered the service of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) to help create an engineering staff for the new company.[3]: 14  Later that year the B&O sent him to England to study railroad engineering. Upon his return in 1830, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the B&O and served until 1842. He worked with Dr. William Howard, Lt. Col Stephen H. Long[4] and led the design work of the B&O Main Line from Baltimore, Maryland to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the oldest common carrier rail line in the United States. He also led the engineering work on the B&O Washington Branch between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.[3]: 18 

Knight also engaged in agricultural pursuits and was secretary of the first agricultural society organized in Washington County.

Political career[edit]

Knight served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 20th district from 1822 to 1828.[2]

Knight was elected as an Opposition Party candidate to the Thirty-fourth Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1856, and for election in 1858. He resumed agricultural pursuits near East Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and died there in 1858. Interment was in Westland Cemetery in Centerville, Pennsylvania.[5]


Knightstown, Indiana was named in his honor.[6]


  • Knight, Jonathan. Report Upon the Locomotive Engines: And the Police and Management of Several of the Principal Rail Roads in the Northern and Middle States, Being a Sequel to the Report... Upon Railway Structures. Lucas & Deaver., 1838.


  1. ^ Middleton, William D. (2007). Encyclopedia of North American Railroads. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p. 574. ISBN 978-0-253-34916-3. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Pennsylvania State Senate - Jonathan Knight Biography". Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  3. ^ a b Harwood, Herbert H. Jr. (1994). Impossible Challenge II: Baltimore to Washington and Harpers Ferry from 1828 to 1994. Baltimore, MD: Barnard, Roberts & Co. ISBN 0-934118-22-1.
  4. ^ Jonathan Knight - First Chief Engineer of The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. B and O Magazine, Volume 5. May 1917. pp. 18–20. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  5. ^ "Jonathan Knight". Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  6. ^ United States Congressional Series Set, Volume 4864. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1905. p. 177. Retrieved 25 December 2019.


Pennsylvania State Senate
Preceded by Member of the Pennsylvania Senate, 20th district
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 20th congressional district

Succeeded by