Stevens, family of U.S. inventors. John Stevens, 1749–1838, b. New York City, was graduated from King's College (now Columbia Univ.) in 1768. He studied law (1768–71) and soon joined his father, a wealthy landowner and merchant, in New Jersey politics. During the American Revolution he served as treasurer of New Jersey and later (1782–83) was surveyor general of the state. In 1784 he bought an extensive tract of land in what is now Hoboken, N.J., and, when his father died in 1792, he inherited a large estate.
By the late 1780s, however, Stevens had turned his attention to steamboat transportation, and having played a major role in the establishment of the first U.S. patent laws, he procured patents for various steam boilers and auxiliary devices. With the aid of Nicholas J. Roosevelt, Stevens built (1806–8) the Phoenix, a seagoing steamboat, which, however, after 1809 shuttled between Philadelphia and Trenton. Stevens operated (1811) the first steam ferry between New York City and Hoboken, but because of the monopoly of Robert Fulton, he soon desisted. After 1810 he devoted himself to railroad activities. In 1815 he received from New Jersey the first railroad charter in the United States, and a decade later he built a pioneer locomotive.
Stevens's shipbuilding and railroad interests were carried forward by his sons. The elder son, Robert Livingston Stevens, 1787–1856, b. Hoboken, N.J., was a mechanical engineer and inventor. He made numerous improvements in the design and construction of steamboats and designed a spring piling generally used in ferry-slip construction. He was chief engineer of the Camden and Amboy RR and imported from England the famous locomotive John Bull, now exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution. He also invented the T rail, the rail spike, and a new system of laying rails, all of which came into wide use in railroad track construction.
Edwin Augustus Stevens, 1795–1868, b. Hoboken, N.J., was closely associated with his father and his brother Robert in all these enterprises. He was also noted for initiating the construction of a railroad from New York City to Philadelphia, as the inventor of the Stevens plow, and as a pioneer builder of ironclad warships. He founded the Stevens Institute of Technology.
See biography of John Stevens by A. D. Turnbull (1928, repr. 1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.