Nov 14 2016

Mystery Foto #46 Solved: The Dudgeon Steam Wagon- The Earliest Road Vehicle Ever Seen on Long Island

Ian Zwerdling challenged you to solve this weekend's Mystery Foto.

Answers to the Mystery Foto questions:

  • Identify the vehicle and the year it was built

The Dudgeon Steam Wagon. The first version was built  by Richard Dudgeon , the inventor of the portable hydraulic pump, in 1855 in Manhattan. It was destroyed by a 1858 fire while being exhibited at the Crystal Palace in New York City. A second larger Dugeon Steam Wagon was built in 1866.

The Dudgeon Steam Wagon is considered one of the earliest self-propelled road vehicles built in America.

  • What powered the vehicle?

Richard Dudgeon described the specifications of his second steam vehicle:

"It has a plain horizontal boiler. The furnace, four feet long and 17 inches wide; tubes, 16 inches long; shell, or diameter, 20 inches; cylinders, four inches in diameter, with a 16-inch stroke. They are hung on the smoke box at an angle and operate the cranked back axle. The wheels are three feet in diameter; link motion works the slide valves. Without any patents about it, it will go all day on any good wagon road, carrying ten people at 14 miles an hour, with 70 pounds of steam, the pump and fire door open, if desired. One barrel of anthracite coal is required to run at this speed for four hours. It weighs 3,700 pounds with water and fire to run an hour. It will go 20 miles in an hour on any good road. It is perfectly manageable in the most crowded streets."

  • Describe its link to Long Island

In the late 1800s, Dudgeon moved his steam wagon to his estate at Peacock Point in Locust Valley on Long Island. He used it as a tractor and as a vehicle on local roadsin Locust Valley and Glen Cove.

  • Where is this vehicle today?

After the 1940 World's Fair, the 1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon was sold for $500 by the Dudgeon family to Veteran Motor  Car Club of America founders George H. Waterman, Jr. and Kirkland H. Gibson of Providence, Rhode Island. It was exhibited for many years at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Kirkland Gibson donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1981. After being displayed for many years, the Dudgeon Steam Wagon has been stored away from the public in a Smithsonian facility.


Congrats to Ian Robinson (United Kingdom), Ariejan Bos (Netherlands), Phil Pfersching, Dick Gorman, Steve Lucas, Art Kleiner, Sarah Carr, Sam Berliner III, Greg O., Richard Weir, Gary Hammond and Ariejan Bos for identifying the Dudgeon Steam Wagon.

Kudos to Gary Hammond, Art Kleiner, Ariejan Bos and Sam Berliner III for submitting the below outstanding documentation on the Dudgeon Steam Wagon.

For even more information of the Dudgeon Steam Wagon, check out Sam's webpage.


Howard Kroplick

The 1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon is currently located in the storage facility of the Smithsonian Institution.

An early photo of the Dudgeon Steam Wagon. Courtesy of Ian Zwerdling.

Caption: America's First Automobile. Built by Richard Dudgeon in 1855.

1950 Antique Auto Show. Courtesy of Gary Hammond.

"This vehicle is the earliest self-propelled road conveyance in America still in good operating condition."

Source: Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, Beverley Kimes and Henry Austin Clark, Jr.

"Following the New York World's Fair in 1940, the Dudgeon steam carriage was purchased for $500 by early car collectors George H. Waterman, Jr. and Kirkland H. Gibson."

Source: 1950 Catalog of the Automobile and Motorcycle Collection of the United States National Museum

As seen at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum circa 1950. Long Island Automotive Museum postcard. Courtesy of Gary Hammond.

Dudgeon Steam Wagon at "Railroads on Parade" exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1940. Courtesy of Art Kleiner.

Articles on the Dudgeon Steam Wagon

The Long Islander, June 6, 1894. Courtesy of Art Kleiner.

"He should be arrested for driving such a vehicle on the streets of a village."

The Autocar, September 2, 1899. Courtesy of Ariejan Bos.

Caption: The grandson of the builder is shown in the driver's seat

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1902. Courtesy of Art Kleiner and Sam Berliner III.

"The Dudgeon "steam wagon", the first horseless vehicle constructed in this country was seen upon the street (Glen Cove) Thursday."

Motor Age, January 6, 1916. Courtesy of Art Kleiner and Gary Hammond.

Photo caption: Start of the first horseless carriage trip ever made in New York. The date was 1855 and among the notables that made the epochal tour were the mayor, chief of police and inventor of the steam wagon Richard Dudgeon.

"First Motorcar Now at Oyster Bay", Febrauary 24, 1924. Courtesy of Gary Hammond.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1939. Courtesy of Art Kleiner

Richard Dudgeon

1912 Catalog. Richard Dudgeon Hydraulic Pumps and Pressure Pumps. Courtesy of Gary Hammond.

Courtesy of Gary Hammond

Location of Richard Dudgeon's property in Locust Valley. Courtesy of Art Kleiner and Gary Hammond.

Google Earth aerial of the Peacock Point property.


Nov 11 2016 Ian Robinson 8:05 AM

Hi Howard,

One that always fascinated me and which is now in the Smithsonian (thank goodness).  Hey - just thought - President Elect Trump could use it for his inauguration.  Beats a Cadillac any day!

It’s the Dudgeon steam carriage.  Built in 1866 by engineer Richard Dudgeon who owned a farm on Long Island and he also drove it on the streets of New York.

Think I’ve answered the questions posed.

Great diversion for a Friday lunchtime (here in the UK anyway!)  Great website and very entertaining


Nov 11 2016 Phil Pfersching 9:26 AM

I cheated, I looked it up.
In 1855, inventor Richard Dudgeon astounded New Yorkers by driving from his home to his place of business in a steam carriage. The noise and vibration generated by the Red Devil Steamer frightened horses so badly that city authorities confined it to one street.

After losing the original in a fire, Dudgeon constructed a second steamer in 1866. After encountering more opposition to the vehicle, he moved his family, and the steam carriage, to Long Island to escape city officials. Here he and his carriage became a familiar site, often with a young boy running ahead to warn travelers of the danger that followed.

Dudgeon ran the steam carriage many hundreds of miles and once covered a mile in under two minutes. Although the inventor claimed the carriage could carry 10 people at 14 m.p.h. on one barrel of anthracite coal, it was too f

Nov 11 2016 Dick Gorman 2:34 PM

Mystery Friday Foto #46…..The vehicle is a Dudgeon Steam Wagon built in 1866.
As the name implies it was steam powered and could achieve a speed of 25-30 mph. Thanks but I will just watch from the side of the road, thank you.
The Long Island link is that designer/builder Richard Dudgeon constructed the wagon in NYC and used it, as well, on his farm on Long Island.
Today the Wagon resides in the Smithsonian Institute.

Nov 11 2016 Steve Lucas 7:41 PM

That’s an 1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon built by Richard Dudgeon in Manhattan, NYC. and was powered by steam similar to a railroad locomotive. It was actually his second model, the first having been built in 1855, was destroyed while being exhibited at New York’s Crystal Palace, which burned to the ground in 1858. Due to the noise and vibrations it caused on the streets of NYC, dudgeon was forced by the authorities to move it to his farm on Long Island. It had been on display in the Road Transportation Hall of the Smithsonian Institution but now they have it in storage.

Nov 12 2016 Art Kleiner 5:50 PM

Lots of documentation about this one!

Identify the vehicle and the year it was built: The Dudgeon Steam Wagon, 1866

What powered the vehicle? Steam

Describe its link to Long Island: Builder and inventor Richard Dudgeon moved from NYC to LI (Peacock Point, Locust Valley) to escape complaints from residents. Ultimately was found in a barn and bought by auto enthusiasts who in turn sold it to the Smithsonian.

Where is this vehicle today? Smithsonian, Washington DC.

Nov 13 2016 Sarah Carr 11:44 AM

Steam-powered wagon built by Richard Dudgeon in 1866; now in the Smithsonian.  Probably the first self-propelled vehicle on Long Island.

Nov 13 2016 S. Berliner, III 2:22 PM

Another “Gotcha!”  The 1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon, built in Manhattan by Richard Dudgeon, which was once housed in Locust Valley and ran on Long Island in my lifetime, and which is currently (or was) on display, in running condition, in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  It even ran all the way up to Albany with the then-Governor aboard.  It also was up here in New England for many years.  How do I know?  You may be the chief guru on the Parkway but I am on the Dudgeon.  I invite one and all to read all about Dudgeon and his remarkable machines (this was his SECOND!) at <>, et seq.  Sam, III

Nov 13 2016 Greg O. 4:00 PM

-Identify the vehicle and the year it was built
1866 Dudgeon Steam Wagon

-What powered the vehicle?
Steam powered

-Describe its link to Long Island
From the Smithsonian website;

The Dudgeon steam wagon is one of the earliest self-propelled road vehicles built in the United States. Richard Dudgeon, a machinist who was known for his commercially produced hydraulic jacks, designed and built a steam-powered wagon because he hoped to end the abuse and mistreatment of horses. The wagon resembles a small locomotive, but it has a steering wheel and seats for the driver and eight passengers. Dudgeon drove the vehicle on New York City streets and at his farm on Long Island. It burned coal and ran at a top speed of 25 to 30 miles per hour.
Currently not on view
steam wagon
Dudgeon, Richard
overall: 5 5/16 ft x 5 ft x 11 5/16 ft; 1.62458 m x 1.524 m x 3.45338 m
United States: New York, New York

-Where is this vehicle today?
The Smithsonian in Washington DC, but not on display.

Nov 13 2016 S. Berliner, III 4:11 PM

P. S. - The Dudgeon was running in Glen Cove on 24 Jul 1902:

There is so much else for you on that page!

Sam, III

Nov 14 2016 richard weir 1:49 AM

Hi Howard:
Growing-up in Locust Valley where my family knew the local Dudgeon family, I was told all about Richard Dudgeon’s very early steam vehicle of 1866. I’m pleased to know that it’s well-preserved at the Smithsonian

Nov 14 2016 Howard Kroplick 8:17 PM

From Gary Hammond:

My interest in Dudgeon’s Steam Carriage or Wagon started back in the 1990’s while doing research on the history of the Mineola Fair.  I’ve amassed quite of bit of material on him and the vehicle since then - I’m sending you a few items.  I did get to see it when on exhibit at NMAH, although it was placed in an awkward position, crammed in amongst other vehicles on display, not highlighted for its importance!  It’s also relatively small about 11’x5’x5’ overall.

Mystery Photo # 46 – Richard Dudgeon’s Steam Carriage or Wagon
This was an easy one – Richard Dudgeon’s Steam Carriage or Wagon!  Considered to be one of the earliest self-propelled road vehicles built in America, if not America’s oldest operational road vehicle!  Built in 1866, it replaced his original vehicle (built c. 1853-58) which was destroyed in the N.Y.C. Crystal Palace fire of 1858 while being exhibited during the 30th Annual American Institute Fair.  Although Dudgeon’s business was located in Manhattan, he was a Long Islander, living on the North Shore at Peacock Point in Lattingtown/Locust Valley (see 1873 Beer’s Atlas, p.127).  Today it’s part of the collections of the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. where it had been on exhibit for many years, in the Road Transportation Hall, although it may now be in storage (see YouTube video).
Miscellaneous facts:
 Richard Dudgeon is credited with inventing the hydraulic jack and roller tube expander.
 At the 28th Annual Queens County Agricultural Society Fair, held September 29 – October 1, 1869, at the Mineola Fairgrounds, Richard Dudgeon exhibited his Steam Carriage.
 Richard Dudgeon died April 8, 1895; buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn
 Exhibited November 1900 at the N.Y. Madison Square Garden Auto Show
 Driven through the streets of Glen Cove, July 24, 1902
 Exhibited at the 1939 N.Y. World’s Fair in the Railroad Building (photos exist online)
 Exhibited April 15-23, 1950 in the VMCCA Antique Auto Show, Boston
 The Dudgeon would become involved in a Nassau County court battle involving custody and ownership.  Unfortunately, no records seem to exist from the case, as they probably were destroyed in the early 1980’s in the Mitchel Field Hanger # 1 fire when all the County court and clerk’s records stored there were destroyed.
 A detailed article about Dudgeon appeared in Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 5, # 3, Winter 1967
 On January 25, 1991, the U.S.P.S. issued a 4¢ stamp “Steam Carriage 1866” showing the Dudgeon machine
 Sam Berliner has stuff about the Dudgeon Steam Carriage posted on his website

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