John Henry, legendary African American famous for his strength, celebrated in ballads and tales. In the most popular version of the story, John Henry tries to outwork a steam drill with only his hammer and steel bit. Although he succeeds in beating the machine, he dies of the strain. His legend originated c.1870 among the miners drilling the Big Bend Tunnel of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in West Virginia and may have some historical basis.
See study by S. R. Nelson (2006).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.