Won't you step into this cloud of steam?

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Won't you step into this cloud of steam?

2009-09-23 09:48

Surely steam-powered travel was not in Peter Gabriel's mind when he wrote his 1992 song Steam. But cutting edge travelers of 1869 may have been eager to step into (or rather, sit behind) the cloud of steam produced by the one, the only..."The Wonderful Steam Man!"

While going through a few boxes of uncatalogued graphics, I came across these interesting clippings about and an 1869 flyer advertising a revolutionary new way to get from point A to point B.

Steam Man flyer 9-23-09

This particular contraption was invented by P. Dederick and I. Grass of Newark, New Jersey.  "Steam Man" was a steam-powered carriage led by a human-shaped machine.  Its body held a boiler that was connected to a piston and series of levers and cranks.  When enough steam was generated, the piston activated the attached mechanisms and the machine walked forward.

Steam Man patent 9-23-09

Steam-powered travel was hardly a new concept in 1869.  Robert Fulton, a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is widely recognized as the inventor of the first commercially-viable steamboat in America in the early 1800s.  However, decades earlier, several inventors, including Virginian John Rumsey and John Fitch, who born in Connecticut but eventually settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, began working on their own steamboat designs.  Fitch completed his design in 1787, and his steamboat (pictured below) was among the first to successfully navigate the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey.  Fitch and Rumsey battled over patents for their boats; and Fitch eventually won a patent just for his design.  Despite his success, Fitch didn’t possess enough money to fund the construction of his steamboats.

Fitch steamboat 9-23-09

Fulton’s success in the steamboat business no doubt inspired others to invent ways to  expedite travel.  The "Steam Man" was just one example that never quite took off; even though, as you see from this clipping below, the idea stuck around into the decade that saw the invention of the automobile.

Steam Man clippings[2] 9-23-09

HSP has several collections relating to people and their inventions, including the John Fitch papers (#208), the Mary Hallock Greenewalt papers (#867), the Penrose Robinson Hoopes papers (LCP), and the Christian F. Gobrecht papers (#241)  For a interesting look into the history of machines like Steam Man, check out these sites: http://www.bigredhair.com/robots/index.html and http://cyberneticzoo.com/?page_id=164.


Submitted by Cary Majewicz (not verified) on

Hello Reuben--
Thank you for your comment and for checking out our blog! Your own blog is quite interesting and I added a link to it in my post as an additional resource on the topic. I haven't come across any other "Steam Man" images in our collections, but if I do, I may add them here.

Hello Cary

Wonderful! I have written a book titled THE ART & HISTORY of AMERICAN POPULAR FICTION SERIES VOL. 1.

I give great details of the Steam man and the invention of Zadoc as well as it's impact on early Science Fiction (loaded with images too).

In fact, I was able to contact his family and get an early photo of him in his earlier years.

I was wondering what newspaper this clip came from. Is it possible to have a sharp image sent to me?

Thanks for your time, find and EFFORTS!


Joe Rainone

Submitted by Cary Majewicz (not verified) on

Joe--Unfortunately, I don’t know from which newspapers any of these clipping came from. I would guess a local Philadelphia or New jersey papers, but that's only a guess. For a better image, contact our digital collections archivist Dana Lamparello (dlamparello@hsp.org) - she handles all rights and reproductions requests.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your book!


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