Fisher’s Steam Carriage

Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, November 1956

How few people there are amongst us who ever saw a horse-drawn carriage!  Consider then the days before the gas automobile to the period of the steam wagons.

A Frenchman by the name of Nicholas Joseph Cugnot made a three-wheeled steam carriage as early as 1769.  This queer carriage actually ran on the roads of France as fast as three miles an hour; and in 1800, one Richard Trevithick created a steam road wagon which ran on the roads.  Between the years 1830 and 1840, many similar experiments were taking place in England to create a steam wagon, which would be successful.

In 1857-58 Messrs. A. L. Holly and J. H. Fisher, both men of scientific attainments arrived in Paterson, New Jersey.  Mr. Fisher’s great dream of creating a successful steam carriage occupied most of his time.  His idea was to invent a road wagon for use on the common roads and if successful, he believed that the steam carriage would replace the many omnibuses and perhaps the few streetcars, which were running on the streets of New York.  It was also his intention to establish a line of steam wagons which would cross the country for, it will be recalled, this was the period when a great flood of people were moving westward in the painfully slow-moving covered wagons.

With the assistance of Mr. Holly, Mr. Fisher drew up plans and specifications for a vehicle, which might have proved very successful if he had continued long enough.  At any rate, Fisher went to the Danforth, Cooke & Co. at the foot of Market Street, Paterson with his plans; and instructions were given which led to the building of a specimen wagon propelled by steam.

By April 1859 the vehicle was completed and ready for a test run which was made on May 23, 1859, at 10 o’clock P.M.  The steam wagon was run up Market Street and demolished nearly every tree box and awning post along the way until it reached the corner of Main Street.  Here it collided with a post in front of Congress Hall and navigated a turn into Main Street but no sooner had it started down the street, when it ran into the front of a tailoring shop, creating great excitement on the part of the owner and his family who were preparing for bed on the floor above.

The clumsy vehicle was pushed back o the shops for improvements and for the installation of a new boiler.  On Saturday, August 20, 1859, the greatly improved steam wagon was again given a test.  This time it was not only more easily maneuvered but had greater speed.  It climbed the moderate grades on Market Street without difficulty and achieved an unbelievable speed of ten miles an hour.  Mr. Fisher was greatly encouraged by this performance and now decided upon a further test.

On September 6, 1859, taking twelve passengers on board, he headed up Market Street from the shops to Main Street and down to Acquackanonk returning by way of Straight Street, Sandy Hill, Broadway to Main, and on to Market Street.  The round trip was made without a single mishap at a speed, which averaged fifteen miles per hour.  On this trip a speed test was made and the carriage steamed one mile in three minutes.

Being greatly elated, the builders now believed they had created a steam carriage which could successfully run on the country roads carrying passengers and at a speed far greater than any known vehicle in existence.  As a promotion scheme for the invention, Mr. Fisher made arrangements for a test run on the streets of New York City.

The steam carriage was carted to Jersey City, ferried to New York and placed on West Street.  Orders were given to get up steam.  In high spirits, Mr. Fisher drove down West Street to Fulton Street and the Market.  For a while all went well; but when the time came to turn into Fulton Street, the wagon became uncontrollable and dashed into the Fulton Market tearing itself to pieces.  With a complete wreck of Fisher’s steam carriage on the streets of New York, the inventor became so discouraged that he gave up his effort to perfect his horseless carriage; and it remained for others to carry on.  Perhaps the Stanley steamer is the best known successful steam automobile.

So Paterson, New Jersey – a city unequalled in the United States for its great contributions to transportation, was a pioneer in automotive travel ad well as in the locomotive, submarine, and air transport.