U.S. #2364

John Bull Takes Its First Ride 

On September 15, 1831, the John Bull steam locomotive made its inaugural trip on New Jersey’s first railroad.

The John Bull was built in England by Robert Stephenson and Company for the Camden and Amboy (C&A) Railroad in New Jersey. Once it was completed, it was dismantled and shipped to America. Railroad engineer Isaac Dripps reassembled the locomotive, despite a lack of drawings or instructions on how to do so. As the first locomotive in the state, it was christened number one, and named Stevens, after the president of the C&A Railroad. The Stevens first rode the rails on September 15, 1831.

Item #55608 – John Bull Proofcard with First Day of Issue cancellation.

The railroad wasn’t complete yet, but Robert Stevens hoped to raise money to pay some debts. So he held a test run of the Stevens on short stretch of track that November. He invited members of the New Jersey legislature, local dignitaries, and Napoleon’s nephew Prince Murat. The prince’s wife, Catherine Willis Gray, rushed to get on the train before it left so she could be the first woman to ride a steam locomotive in America.

Once the railroad was completed in 1833, the Stevens was used heavily. Over time, the engine crews took to calling it the Old John Bull, which has long been the personification of England. This was eventually shortened to John Bull, which then became its new name.

Item #M830 – The John Bull has been on display at the Smithsonian for 131 years.

The John Bull remained in use until 1866 when it was placed in storage. It was later refurbished and put on public display. These displays included the 1876 Centennial Exposition and the 1883 National Railway Appliance Exhibition. The John Bull was then purchased by the Smithsonian in 1884 as the centerpiece of its first major industrial exhibition. A replica of the John Bull was built so it could still make appearances at exhibitions, but the original train remained on display at the Smithsonian. Then, on September 15, 1981 – its 150th birthday – the John Bull was fired up and operated under its own steam power on a few miles of track, making it the oldest operable steam locomotive. It’s still on display at the Smithsonian, while its replica is at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

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  1. Congratulations once more to Mystic Stamp for making my USA stamp collection much more meaningful. The information provided goes well beyond classic US history as the John Bull story is once again a magnificent example. Fortunately, I have most, not all of the stamps that have been reviewed. The series helps me to prepare an order for submitting to the great Mystic Stamp company. It should close the existing holes in my collection.

    1. I really do enjoy your “This Day In History”. One of the main reasons I began to collect stamps way back in 1945 was to learn a bit about American history. There is no better and less painful way! I am now the only one in Augusta, GA, who knows who the 13th president was—Millard Fillmore! I can still see his picture is on the 13 cent stamp in the Presidential Series. I still can recall all the others too! I hope you can keep up the good work. Sincerely, Bob Johnson

  2. This daily history lesson about stamps is a wonderful idea. It is a great daily history lesson for young and old alike. Congratulations! I hope your business booms as a result. Jim

  3. Really injoyable reading every day. The information enlightens me and helps me to add great stamps to my hobby. Collecting stamps was great fun when I was a boy. I am now retired and back in the game. 😀

  4. the railroad mentioned in this history lesson is still in use today by the new jersey river line,at the interlocking at robbinsville n.j. the railroad runs north as a secondary railroad and no longer goes to amboy n.j.

  5. These posts are really interesting and I would love to have a binder with the stories and a place to mount the stamps. Are you planning any such thing in the near future? Thanks to your staff for a great idea.

  6. Tanks and Trains both began on the same day, just different years. Another good article by Mystic Stamp. Tanks for the memories.

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