Scientific American Supplement, No. 832, December 12, 1891 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 132 pages of information about Scientific American Supplement, No. 832, December 12, 1891.

Mr. Stevens ordered the first joint fixtures also from an English mill, at the same time.  The ends of the rails were designed to rest upon wrought iron plates or flat cast plates.  The rails were connected at the stems by an iron “tongue” five inches long, two inches wide, and five-eighths of an inch thick.  A rivet, put on hot, passing through the stem of each rail near the ends of the bar, fastened it to the tongue and completed the joint.  A hole oblong in shape, to allow for expunctral contraction, was punched in the stem at each end of the rail.


The first “spikes six inches long, with hooked heads,” were also ordered at the same time.  These were undoubtedly the “first railroad spikes” (as they are known to the trade) ever manufactured.

Mr. Stevens neglected to obtain a patent for these inventions, although urged to do so by Mr. Ogden, American Consul at Liverpool, and the credit of being the inventor of the American rail was for a time claimed for others, but the evidence brought forward in late years fully established the fact that he was the originator of the American system of railway construction.

The “Stevens rail and spike” gradually found great favor everywhere in America—­all the roads being relaid with it as the original T or strap rail became worn out.

In England the T rail still continues to be used.  The London and Birmingham Railway, opened in 1838, was laid with Berkenshaw rails; part with the straight and part with the fish-bellied rail, and the remainder with reversible “bull-headed” rail, both types being supported by chairs.[4]

[Footnote 4:  The experiment of laying the Stevens rail in chairs was tried on the Albany and Schenectady road in 1837, on the Hudson River Railroad 1848, but the chairs were soon afterward discarded, nothing but spikes being used to attach the rail to the tie.]

Sixty years have elapsed since this rail was adopted by the Camden and Amboy Company, and with the exception of slight alterations in the proportions incident to increased weight, no radical change has been made in the “Stevens rail,” which is now in use on every railroad in America.  Many improvements have been made in the joint fixture, but the “tongue” or fish plate improved into the angle splice bar is in general use, and nothing has yet been found to take the place of the “hook-headed” railroad spike which Robert Stevens then designed.

The track upon which we stand was the first in the world that was laid with the rail and spike now in general use.


Mr. Stevens divided his time while abroad between arranging for the manufacture of track material and examining the English locomotives that were being constructed or had been in service.

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Scientific American Supplement, No. 832, December 12, 1891 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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