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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 115: American Locomotive Works — Schenectady.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1600-1602 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Growth of an important Mohawk Valley industry from its organization in 1848 — Edward Ellis and Walter McQueen, the moving spirits of locomotive manufacturing at Schenectady — Interesting locomotive construction development.

By H. J. Downs.

For more than three-quarters of a century locomotive building has held a leading place in the commercial interests of the Mohawk Valley.

Through its identification with this industry, Schenectady first became known the world over. From New York to China, from South Africa to Alaska, steam locomotives have carried the name of Schenectady to the four corners of the globe.

Back in 1848, when Schenectady had a population of 6500, its citizens raised the capital that contributed to the establishment of the Schenectady Locomotive Engine Manufactory.

The Norris Brothers of Philadelphia, who already had an eminent reputation as locomotive builders, having built an engine in Philadelphia as early as 1831, were engaged to manage the business. The stockholders, all citizens of Schenectady, agreed to contribute an amount not to exceed $40,000, $20,000 of which was for buildings, $17,000 for tools and $1,000 for "ground." Tools and machinery to the value of $10,576 were to be furnished by Edward S. Norris. The Norris Brothers agreed to pay the interest on the capital invested, annually; also to pay back the whole capital in eight years, and in that way become the sole owner of the works themselves.

The initial enterprise was carried on for about one year. One engine ("Lightning") was built and then the affairs of the Company turned out so badly that the Norrises were obliged to abandon the works.

The little locomotive plant lay idle for about a year when the company was re-organized on June 14, 1851, and came under the control and ownership of John Ellis, Daniel D. Campbell, Simon C. Groot, and Sebastian Bradt. These gentlemen bought up the small holdings of those at first interested for a little more than half their original valuation and capitalized the new company at $60,000. The concern was given a new name — The Schenectady Locomotive Works — which it subsequently held until the time of the merger with the American Locomotive Company.

John Ellis was by far the most conspicuous personage then connected with the works. He was the first president of the company after its reorganization. It was largely due to his keen foresight and shrewd business ability that the Schenectady works was put on a secure financial foundation. Mr. Ellis was a native of Scotland and possessed a goodly amount of Scotch grit, temper and courage. He had no school education, but had succeeded in several business ventures before locating in Schenectady which gave him the necessary confidence and "wherewithal" to successfully carry out this new enterprise. The Scotch temperament of Ellis caused him to frequently come into serious conflict with his associates, and affairs at last came to a climax. His partners demanded that he name the price at which he would sell and they would do likewise. Their price was so high that they thought he would be compelled to sell. He asked for time in which to decide and in the interim went to the Mohawk Bank and made the necessary financial arrangements. In an hour or two he returned and with his Scottish accent surprisingly informed his partners that he would "tak it". It is said that this event occurred during the business depression of '57 and '58, but nothing seemed to daunt John Ellis when he had decided to pursue a certain policy. It is thought that Ellis paid his partners $60,000, thereby becoming for a time sole owner of the works.

Through the instrumentality of John Ellis, Walter McQueen, a famous mechanic, was induced to come to Schenectady as Superintendent of the plant. This position was held by Mr. McQueen from 1851 to 1876 and during this time McQueen engines became known the world over as a synonym for the output of the plant.

In 1865 Mr. Ellis died and the property came into the hands of his sons, John C. Ellis, Chas. G. Ellis, Edward Ellis, Wm. Ellis and Walter McQueen.

From that time the company had a steady and uniform increase in size and capacity. There are many of the old employes who have laid down their tools to enjoy the fruits of their labor, who can recount, step by step, the growth of the "Big Shop", as it was called with pride from its earliest beginning to the present enormous plant. Their sons and their grandsons who have taken their places, now build locomotives of a type and capacity of which they never dreamed.

The first locomotive built at Schenectady was a very small affair weighing twelve tons. It was built for the Utica and Schenectady Railway and would be interesting today merely as an exhibit in a museum. This locomotive was named "Lightning". It had 16x22-inch cylinders, 7-foot driving-wheels, and a boiler pressure of 120 pounds. The boiler was 42 inches in diameter with 116 two-inch tubes ten feet long. The heating surface was 670 square feet. This little locomotive had a tractive power of 6,850 pounds and if in service today could haul approximately 450 tons.

By considering the "Lightning" in contrast with the enormous Mallet locomotive built at the Schenectady Works for the Virginian Railway, the progress of seventy years of locomotive building is most apparent. The "Lightning" with its 670 square feet of heating surface has given place to a locomotive with 8,606 square feet of heating surface and 2,120 square feet of superheating surface. The little machine capable of exerting a tractive power of 6,800 pounds has given place to an enormous machine capable of exerting a corresponding force of 176,600 pounds. Whereas the "Lightning" would haul 450 tons, the Virginian Mallet has hauled a train of 17,600 tons.

It is worth while in considering even so briefly locomotive building at Schenectady that Stevenson's Rocket was built in 1829, only twenty years before the first locomotive was built at Schenectady. Even with this in mind on the one hand, and the vast extent of the country and its industries on the other, it is difficult to frame a proper conception of the importance of the locomotive development represented at Schenectady in the advancement of the nation.

Schenectady has the second largest locomotive building plant in the country, and no matter what other industries are now or may hereafter be provided in Schenectady, the name will be known as it has been for years known the world over for its locomotives.

Schenectadians take a great pride in the mammoth works situated in the northern outskirts of the town, the largest and most important of the plants of the American Locomotive Company, the greatest corporation of its kind in the world.

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