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Dudgeon steam wagon, formerly on exhibit in the museum's Road Transportation hall.

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Dudgeon steam wagon, formerly on exhibit in the museum's Road Transportation hall.
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, pre-1900

Dudgeon steam wagon, 1866
Dudgeon steam wagon, 1866

Dudgeon steam wagon
Catalog #: 1981.0328.01, Accession #: 1981.0328
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

The 1866 Dudgeon steam wagon is one of the earliest self-propelled road vehicles built in America. It resembles a small locomotive, but it has a steering apparatus and seats for a driver and eight passengers. Richard Dudgeon, a machinist who became known for his commercially-produced hydraulic jacks, designed and built the steam wagon because he wished to end the abuse and mistreatment of horses. He drove it on New York City streets and at his farm on Long Island. The steam wagon burned coal and ran at a top speed of 25-30 miles per hour. Dudgeon didn't patent the vehicle or build it in quantities, but he advertised his machine shop as a "maker and patentee of hydraulic jacks, punches, roller tube-expanders, direct-acting steam hammers, and steam carriages for good hard roads." The steam wagon remained in the Dudgeon family until the 1940s, when it was sold to two antique-car enthusiasts. One of these enthusiasts, Kirkland H. Gibson, donated it to the Smithsonian in 1981.

Physical Description
The Dudgeon steam wagon has a horizontal boiler, firebox, smokestack, and two cylinders with drivers connected to the rear axle. The wheels are made of wood sections with iron tires. The pivoting front axle has a screw and swivel nut for the steering apparatus. Two long, narrow water tanks also served as longitudinal seats for passengers; the tanks are covered with cushions and have wooden backrests. A cocoa-fiber mat once was draped over the boiler and served as a foot rest for passengers. The driver sat on a special seat in the rear of the vehicle. The steam wagon weighs 4,500 pounds
Date Made:
New York
New York City, Long Island
Gift of Kirkland H. Gibson

Richard Dudgeon was born in Scotland in 1819 and emigrated to the United States in his youth. He took a job at the Allaire Iron Works in New York City and became a skilled machinist. He established his own machine shop in 1849. Dudgeon became wealthy and widely known because of a portable hydraulic jack that he patented in 1851 and manufactured for use in the shipbuilding and railroad industries. This jack could be operated with water, whale oil, or even whiskey. It was more useful than screw jacks, then the prevalent lifting devices. Dudgeon's mechanical ability and his love of animals led him to develop a steam wagon so that mechanical power might replace horse power "to end the fearful horse murder and numerous other ills inseparable from their use." He built a steam carriage between 1853 and 1857, but it was destroyed in the 1858 fire that consumed the Crystal Palace, an industrial exposition building in New York City. His second carriage, shown here, was completed in the spring of 1866.

Related People, Places, and Events
Richard Dudgeon machine shop

Place of Manufacture
New York, New York

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