Unlike John Fitch, Col John Stevens, Jr. was born, as the saying goes, "with a silver spoon in his mouth". His family belonged to
the "landed gentle" of New York State. Young Stevens graduated from king's College in 1768, preparatory to becoming a lawyer.
He practice law for a number of years, during which time he helped frame laws governing the patents of the United States. It was in
later life that he became interested in steamboats.
Colonel Stevens was an engine man, not a boat builder. to develop his idea of a high-pressure engine, he studied heat conservation,
boiler efficiency, and the design of the screw propeler. With Nicholas Roosevelt, who owned an iron foundry, he found a practical man
to work out his ideas. Roosevelt had also experimented with a paddle-boat similar to the one John Fitch had devised. The boat made by
Colonel Stevens was a device of blades, the action of which, in water, was like a screw. When built, the single-screw boat did not satisfy
Stevens and he had a second boat built with twin screws that gave more speed.
In the meantime, for more power, he had invented and patented a multi-tubular boiler. When his nest boat, a sidewheeler called the
Phoenix, was ready to be launched, he found he was too late to run it on the Hudson River. His brother-in-law, Robert Livingston,
had secured a twenty-year monopoly on the rivers of New York State. Livingston wanted to use the Hudson river in testing the
steam boat of Robert Fulton, his partner. Why did Livingston place his wealth and influence behind Robert Fulton rather than his
brother-in-law, John Stevens? Livingston believe in monopolies. Stevens believed that monopolies impeded the progress of invention
and discouraged inventors. The two men could not work together.
Barred from the Hudson River, Colonel Stevens put the Phoenix under his son Robert's command in Philadelphia. The boat had to go
out into the Atlantic Ocean , thus becoming the first Ocean-going steamboat. With steamboats off his mind, the Colonel turned his
efforts to steam for railroads. He soon found that it was not a good time to talk about the need for steam for railroads. Everybody was
talking canals and declaring that canals would open up the entire country. People said, "horses and mules are cheaper than steam. The
Colonel is a smart man but just plain crazy talking about railroads run by steam!". The Colonel turned his promoting horse-drawn
carrages on rails.
Neverthless, in secret, he built a railroad on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. He had a locomotive built and when he was ready he
invited a crowd to watch a demontration of the first steam railroad in America. It had taken ten years for him to build it. Before the delighted
and amazed crowd, the steam locomotive puffed around the circular track. Everybody clamored for a ride. But it is doubtful whether
anyone thought of it as anything but a delightful toy. Perhaps Oliver Evans had been right when he said that a public would accept only
one invention in a generation. Before the colonel died he had the pleasure of seeing two of his sons become inventors. Robert invented
the T-rail, which is standard on all railroads today. He also invented a valve for steam engines. Another son, Edwin, invented the
Stevens plow and was the pioneer builder of the ironclad warship.
This noted and brilliant family that contributed so much to inventions in America, endowed the Stevens Institute of Technology, which
gave the first degrees in America for mechanical engineering.