Ross Winans

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Ross Winans

Ross Winans (1796–1877) was an American inventor, mechanic, and builder of locomotives and railroad machinery. He is also noted for design of pioneering cigar-hulled ships. Winans, one of the United States' first multi-millionaires, was involved in national and state politics, a southern-sympathizer and was a vehement "states' rights" advocate. His outspoken anti-federal stance as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, the lower chamber of the General Assembly, (state legislature) led to his temporary arrest on board a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train returning from an early session of the legislature held in the western Maryland town of Frederick to avoid the Union Army-occupied state capital of Annapolis in April-May, 1861, to consider the possibilities of state secession, during the early decisive period of the American Civil War. Winans was related to James McNeill Whistler through marriage (Whistler's brother George married Winans' daughter Julia).

Early life[edit]

Ross Winans was born in Vernon Township, New Jersey on October 17, 1796. His parents were William and Mary Winans. He married Julia de Kay (1800-1850) in 1820 and they had five children. He moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1820s and did business with the newly founded Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B. & O.).[1]

Following the death of his wife Julia in 1850, he married Elizabeth K. West (1807-1889) in 1854.[1]

Railroad Work[edit]

Winans came from a New Jersey family of horse breeders, but successfully made the transition to other forms of motive power.

In 1828 he developed a friction wheel with outside bearings which established a distinctive pattern for railroad wheels for the next one hundred years or so. In the late 1820s also he became associated with the B&O, eventually entering their service as an engineer. One of his first and more important tasks was to help the famous inventor and industrialist Peter Cooper, (1791-1883), of New York City build the new revolutionary "Tom Thumb" steam-powered locomotive, to eventually replace the horse-drawn rail cars then being pulled along the short route of the Baltimore and Ohio that had been built so far - from the city's waterfront temporary depot facing "The Basin" (today's "Inner Harbor") at East Pratt Street and South Charles Streets to the southwest 20-some miles to its first terminus at Ellicott Mills on the upper Western Branch of the Patapsco River. By 1831, he was appointed assistant engineer of machinery on the B. & O. He invented and patented an improvement in the construction of axles, or bearings on July 20, 1831. Also in this productive year he built the "Columbus", his first double-truck car, which he immediately patented, even though he was not the first individual to build one.

In 1835, Winans went into partnership with George Gillingham and in 1836 they succeeded to the 1834 lease of Phineas Davis and Israel Gardner of the B. & O. Company's shops at Mount Clare and continued the manufacture of locomotives and railroad machinery. "As far back perhaps as the year 1836, the firm of Gillingham and Winans, and, after the dissolution of that firm, I myself, down to 1841 or 1842, manufactured a Rail Road Wheel..." (letter #322).

In 1841, he opened his own shop adjacent to the B. & O.'s new Mount Clare Shops, along West Pratt Street, between Arlington and Schroeder Streets in southwest Baltimore, with that railroad as his primary customer. He was a pioneer in the development of substituting coal-burning steam locomotives, for the less efficient wood-burners. He was eccentric, and his locomotive business made him independently wealthy. His customer relations were simple—he built engines his way, and you bought them. Bored with the business, and having a design disagreement with the B. & O., he closed his shops, which were later leased to the Hayward & Bartlett iron and steel foundries. He went on to do significant work for the Czar’s railroad from the new imperial capital St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea to the old traditional medieval capital of Moscow in central Russia. All of the listed engines are type 0-8-0, called the "Camel." They were all acquired from predecessor roads. Engine sales to the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad (C. & P.) were recorded in 1863. James Millholland, the C. & P. Master Mechanic, was familiar with keeping these "Camel" engines running, and making improvements to them.

Winans set trends in locomotive and car design rather than followed them. His steam locomotives, popularly known as "Crabs," "Muddiggers," and "Camels" were used all over the fledging rail network of the in the burgeoning industrial northeastern United States, from the 1840s until after the turn of the 20th Century. The B. & O. was Winans' largest locomotive customer, with one hundred and forty locomotive deliveries going to that road. Winans had a disagreement with Mr. Hayes of the B. & O., which delayed delivery of some engines into 1863. Winans' second best customer was the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. These two customers represented 70 percent of his sales. Winans typically offered a thirty-day trial period at the customer site.

About two hundred and sixty-seven engine deliveries to twenty-six American railroads by Winans are documented during the period 1843–1863. The Winans engine designs impressed a Russian delegation, and he was asked by the Czar to build the Imperial railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Winans sent his two sons, as well as engineer George W. Whistler to Russia for several years for that project. Winans may have sold as much or more equipment in Russia as he did in the United States, with both future 20th Century "super-powers" now setting the stage by building up their industrial and transportation networks on a continental scale, unknown in the smaller countries and kingdoms of Europe. Winans' son Thomas returned to build a Russian style estate in west Baltimore, named "Alexandrofsky", surrounded by a somewhat forbidden-looking wall which also enclosed an eclectic sculpture garden. Further west, another country estate of Italianate design with fieldstone walls in future suburban Baltimore County overlooking along the Gwynns Falls stream valley named "Crimea", off the Franklintown Road. "Alexandrofsky", located near what is now the Hollins Market, built in the 1830s, was demolished a century later to expand the housing stock of the city and fill in the regular street grid of white marble-stepped brick rowhouses. "Crimea" was later sold to the city, using a substantial money bequest from Mr Leakin in the 1920s to be set aside for purchasing a large parcel of property for a future park somewhere in the city. The Crimea purchase and park development was added to the Gwynn's Falls Park with the added name of Leakin Park. The contents of the "Crimea" mansion were sold at auction. Luckily, twenty-three boxes of Winans papers and journals were donated to the Maryland Historical Society in the old Enoch Pratt mansion on Park Avenue and West Monument Street in Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood for safekeeping. The new municipal park was designated and designed as a "wilderness forest reserve" to preserve the natural foresting along the stream valleys Gwynns Falls-Leakin still maintains the original fieldstone mansion, with extensive porches and balconies, with a variety of interior uses. Surrounding the estate is the remnants of an intriquing cannon embankment with slotted places for carved logs resembling iron artillery pieces, supposedly Winans' attempt to deter Northern troops from camping on his grounds, a testimony to his infamous pro-Southern sympathies. Also a water wheel apparatus still exists along the stream for drawing fresh water uphill along with a small family cemetery now wooded in by the forest. The Carrie Murray Nature Center was recently established here in the early 1980s in remembrance of the mother of a famous Baltimore Orioles baseball team player Eddie Murray of the time, who donated it, to educate and enlighten visiting school children from the Baltimore City Public Schools. A clap-board Gothic stylish small chapel also exists on the grounds along the entrance road, Eagle Driveway from West Forest Park Avenue.

Winans' next important development in steam locomotive design was an 8-wheel connected freight locomotive in the early 1840s. In 1843, Gillingham and Winans built their own shop to maximize their profits. The company's most notable product was the "camelback locomotive". Winans quit the locomotive business in 1857 after a dispute with Henry Tyson, then head of motive power for the B. & O., over the use of leading bogies (trucks) on his locomotives. Winans generated a great many patents and was heavily engaged in litigation (legal lawsuits) over ideas he claimed as his own.

The majority of the Winans engines were burden (freight) as opposed to passenger type. Engines delivered after June 1848 are almost all of the Camel 0-8-0 type, favored by Winans. The early models are sometimes referred to as the "Baltimore engines". The "Camel" name derives from the first of class of that name, delivered to the B. & O. in 1848. All "Camel" engines were of the 0-8-0 wheel arrangement. Winans did not believe in the use of leading (pony) trucks.

The "Camel" engines were all low-speed, heavy haul units. The speed was limited to 10–15 miles per hour by the steam capacity of the boiler, and the lack of a pilot truck. However, at that speed, a single "Camel" could haul a 110 car train of loaded coal hoppers on the level. The most distinctive feature of the "Camel" was the cab atop the boiler. They had a large steam dome, slide valves, and used staybolts in the boiler. More than 100 iron tubes, each over 14 feet (4.3 m) long, were installed in the boiler.

A "Camel" was about 25 feet (7.6 m) long, with an 11-foot (3.4 m) wheelbase. There were three major variations: the short, medium, and long furnace models. The small units had 17" × 22" cylinders, and the others had 19" × 22" cylinders. The medium unit had about 23 square feet (2.1 m2) of grate area, expanded to more than 28 square feet (2.6 m2) in the large furnace model. The long furnace model had a firebox more than 8 feet (2.4 m) long, requiring lever-operated chutes for the fireman to feed the front of the fire. The fireman worked in the tender, as the firebox was behind the drivers. This design required that the drawbar passed beneath the firebox, and it typically heated to a cherry red color. Even after rebuilds with a more conventional cab design, the fireman worked in the tender. The standard Camel engine had 43" wheels, and was painted green.

"Camel" tenders were 8-wheeled, generally with brakes on the rear truck only. They held 5 tons of coal, and 812 tons (more than 2000 gallons) of water. Fully loaded, the tenders weighted 23 tons, only 4 tons less than the locomotive.

Ten "Camels" were delivered to the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, which was running its lines from the north near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania including one “engine sold them from Maryland Mining Co., $8000 cash.” Ten more sales were also recorded to the B. & S.'s successor line, the Northern Central Railway. Two units went to the Elmira & Canandaguia Railroad in New York, and were subsequently sold to the Cumberland & Pennsylvania. The P. & R. engine "Susquehanna" is described in detail in rail historian White's book (ref. 71). Two Winans engines went to the Huntingdon & Broad Top Mountain (H. & B.T.M.) Railroad in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1863. One unit blew up in 1868, with the loss of four lives. The H. & B.T.M. ran along the west side of Broad Top Mountain, best known for the narrow gauge line on its east side, the East Broad Top Railroad. The C. & P. interchanged with the H. & B.T.M. at State Line, Pennsylvania.

Most of the Winans "Camel" engines sold for around $10,000. Engine sales were expedited by syndicates of what we would now call investment bankers, such as Mr. Enoch Pratt. Banks did not yet have the accumulated capital to make loans for commercial purposes.

The records of the Philadelphia & Reading contain detailed information on "Camel" engine mileage’s and rebuildings. This line received a series of forty-eight deliveries from 1846 to 1855. By 1858, the P. & R. had racked up in excess of 3.5 million miles on its 44 engines, with the "Camel" fleet representing 20 percent of the P. & R. motive power roster. By the end of the Civil War period in 1865, 28 of its 48 engines had not yet been rebuilt. By 1870, only 4 of the 48 were not yet rebuilt, but these four had accumulated almost one million miles of road service. The average service life before a rebuild was about thirteen and one-half years. Similar data for the B. & O. gives an average service life of 8.5 years before rebuilding. A total of 15 "Camel" rebuilds are recorded at the C. & P. shops in Mount Savage, Pennsylvania from 1866 through 1875.

There are only three documented catastrophic failures in "Camel" engines. Non-catastrophic failures were more prevalent, but fewer were documented. Railroad historian/author Roberts (reference 48) gives the performance of a Winans "Camel" on the B. & O.’s 17-mile (27 km) grade, circa 1855, as 144 trailing tons. Rail historian James Dilts (reference 17) gives the performance of B&O engine 71 as 117 trailing tons up a 2.2 percent grade at 18 mph (29 km/h). Engine 71 was a Winans "Camel", built in April 1851. The Winans engine could haul 40 empty coal hoppers up the Eckhart Branch, based on a tare weight of 3 tons for the Winans-designed 6-wheel hoppers in use in 1854.

Civil War politics[edit]

During the Civil War Winans was elected a member of the Maryland House of Delegates (the lower house of the state legislature) for the 1861 special sessions called to discuss the issue of secession,[2] and was arrested twice due to his anti-Federal activities and speeches. On the day before the Baltimore riot of 1861, Winans moved a resolution "protest[ing] in the name of the people of Maryland against the garrisoning of Southern forts by militia drawn from the free States" and 'calling upon citizens of the state unite "to repel, if need be, any invader who may come to establish a military despotism over us." He was arrested shortly after the riot, was released, and elected again on April 24 as part of a States Rights ticket. Meanwhile, Winans' firm was reportedly preparing weapons and munitions for the defense of Baltimore against union troops. According to the American of April 23, "At the works of the Mssrs. Winans, the entire force is engaged in the making of pikes, and in casting balls of very description..." (Brown, 65). On May 14, one day after martial law was declared in Baltimore, Winans was again arrested while returning from a special session of the Maryland legislature in Frederick (the session in which the Maryland legislature considered, but ultimately rejected, secession). He was quickly released, after signing a "parole" guaranteeing his loyalty to the federal government. Winans' arrest, by Benjamin Butler's Federal troops, was one of the cases where Lincoln's emergency suspension of habeas corpus was employed. Winans' brief incarceration was not legally challenged, as it was in the of Johns Merryman (Ex parte Merryman).

While Winans is often credited as the inventor of the Winans Steam Gun, said to be among the weapons bought from the five hundred thousand dollar fund that Baltimore Mayor Brown and Maryland Governor Hicks gathered "for the defense of the city. This experimental weapon was in fact not designed by Winans, but was invented by Charles S. Dickinson, and built in Boston in 1860. It passed through Winan's machine shop during the period when his workers were making pikes, shot and other items ordered by city authorities. When it emerged, its former history was forgotten, and word spread that it was built by Winan's to oppose Federal troops. Though this novelty ultimately had no military impact, it was widely discussed at the time and its connection to Winans, along with his political views reputation as a threat to federal control of Maryland.

The Cigar Ship (or Boat)[edit]

Engraving of the first Winans cigar ship/boat from the "Illustrated London News", 1858

In the mid-19th Century, Winans and his son Thomas designed and built a series of spindle-shaped boats, usually referred to as the "cigar ships" or "cigar boats". The first was constructed in 1858 and featured an unprecedented (and in the end, technically unfeasible) midship propeller, enclosed in a shroud. This propeller was driven by steam engines located in each hull section. The intent was to allow the ship to progress with less disturbance from weather and waves. This ship was discussed at length in the pages of the "Scientific American" national journal/magazine, and in the end remained tied up at the Winans docks at Ferry Bar, southside of the Whetstone Point peninsula and along the north shore of the Middle Branch or Ferry Branch of the Patapsco River, just west of old Fort Covington and Fort Babcock which supported Fort McHenry in the September 1814 Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 for many years, (later the site of the Port Covington railroad and harbor piers of the Western Maryland Railway built in the late 1890s and early 1900s) after a series of trials and modifications. It was never subjected to a sea trial.

After the Civil War, Winans and his son took their enterprise to Europe, and several similarly-designed boats were built in England and in St. Petersburg, Russia. None of these were also put to full sea trials, though press reports survive of trips in the Solent and the English Channel. The boats themselves remained tied up in Southampton into the 1880s, but inspired no imitators.

Thomas Winans stayed for a time in Russia and contracted with the Czar's government to develop Russian railroads.

Other Interests[edit]

Winans took an interest in sanitary engineering and public health, publishing a number of pamphlets on sanitation, particularly in regard to water and ventilation. He lobbied for the development of a public water supply for Baltimore City.

Winans was a pioneer in the development of low income housing building a housing project he called "workingmen's housing" in Baltimore. Today a public housing project remains on the site and is named Mount Winans.

He also published religious writings, including a pamphlet on religious tolerance and a collection of Unitarian sermons.

The Winans' cigar ship and its shape inspired for Captain Nemo's submarine ship, for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.


Winans died in Baltimore on April 11, 1877 at the age of 81.[1][3]


  • Lamb,John,A Strange Engine of War: The "Winans" Steam Gun & Maryland in the Civil War, Chesapeake Book Company, 2011
  • Brown, George William,Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April, 1861; A Study of the War, Johns Hopkins University, 1887 (from Library of Congress)
  • Butler, Benjamin F., and Jessie Ames Marshall. Private and Official Correspondence of Gen.Benjamin F. Butler, during the Period of the Civil War .. Norwood, Mass.: The Plimpton press, 1915. (from Google Books)
  • Crisafulli, Michael,The Winans Cigar Ships.
  • Maryland. General Assembly. House of Delegates. Committee on Federal Relations. Report of the Committee on Federal Relations in Regard to the Calling of a Sovereign Convention. Frederick, Md.: E.S. Riley, printer, 1861.
  • Maryland. General Assembly. Protest of the General Assembly Against the Illegal Arrest and Imprisonment by the Federal Government of Citizens of Maryland. Frederick: B.H. Richardson, printer, 1861.
  • Mitchell, Charles W. Maryland Voices of the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
  • Parker, Theodore, and Ross Winans. Gleanings from Theodore Parker's Works on Speculative Theism. Baltimore, Md: John P. Des Forges,
  • Winans, Ross. Collection of Articles and Correspondence in Relation to Baltimore Harbor Nuisance. Baltimore: John P. Des Forges, 1875.
  • ---. Gleanings from various Authors on Sanitary Matters. Selected, Prepared and Published by Ross Winans. Collection of Articles and Correspondence in Relation to Baltimore Harbor Nuisance. Baltimore: John P. Des Forges, 1875.
  • ---. The Jones' Falls Question:Hygiene and Sanitary Matters. Baltimore: J. P. Des Forges, 1872.
  • ---. Minority Report of W., One of the Water Commissioners Appointed ... to Examine the Sources from which a Supply of Pure Water may be obtained for the City of Baltimore. Baltimore:, 1853.
  • ---.Objections to Yielding to Northerners the Control of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road, on which Depends the Development of the Farms, Mines, Manufacturers and Trade of the State of Maryland. Baltimore:, 1860.
  • ---. Ventilation and Other Requisites to a Healthy and Comfortable Dwelling:. Baltimore: J. P. Des Forges, 1871.


  1. ^ a b c Hager, Guy W.(2009). "Ross Winans (1796-1877)." Friends of Orianda House, Baltimore, Maryland.
  2. ^ Archives of Maryland: Historical List: House of Delegates, Baltimore City (1790–1864)
  3. ^ "Death of Ross Winans". New York Times. 1877-04-11. 

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