John Stevens (inventor, born 1749)

Col. John Stevens, III (June 26, 1749 – March 6, 1838) was an American lawyer, engineer, and inventor who constructed the first U.S. steam locomotive, first steam-powered ferry, and first U.S. commercial ferry service from his estate in Hoboken. He was influential in the creation of U.S. patent law.

John Stevens III
John Stevens of Hoboken.jpg
Treasurer of New Jersey
In office
Personal details
Born(1749-06-24)June 24, 1749
New York City, Province of New York, British America
DiedMarch 6, 1838(1838-03-06) (aged 88)
Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S.
Rachel Cox
m. 1782; his death 1838)
Children13, including John, Robert, Edwin
ParentsJohn Stevens
Elizabeth Alexander
ResidenceCastle Point
Alma materKings College
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service Continental Army
Battles/warsRevolutionary War
1808 engraving of John Stevens estate, Castle Point, Hoboken. Currently the site of Stevens Institute of Technology.
Replica of John Stevens' steam carriage

Early lifeEdit

Stevens was born June 26, 1749, in New York City, New York.[1] He was the only son of John Stevens Jr. (1715–1792), a prominent state politician who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and Elizabeth Alexander (1726–1800). His sister, Mary Stevens (d. 1814), married Robert R. Livingston, the first Chancellor of the State of New York.[2]

His maternal grandparents were James Alexander (1691–1756), the Attorney General of New Jersey, and Mary (née Spratt) Provoost Alexander (1693–1760), herself a prominent merchant in New York City. His paternal grandfather, John Stevens, emigrated from London England around 1695, and was married to Mary Campbell.[3]

He graduated King's College (which became Columbia University) in May 1768.[3]


After his graduation from King's College, he studied law and was admitted to the bar of New York City in 1771. He practiced law in New York and lived across the river.[3] At public auction, he bought from the state of New Jersey a piece of land which had been confiscated from a Tory landowner. The land, described as "William Bayard's farm at Hoebuck" comprised approximately what is now the city of Hoboken. Stevens built his estate at Castle Point, on land that would later become the site of Stevens Institute of Technology (bequeathed by his son Edwin Augustus Stevens).[4]

Stevens bought a farm in Dutchess County, New York from John Armstrong Jr.. Armstrong had converted a barn into a two-story Federal style dwelling with twelve rooms. Stevens made improvements to the estate, including a half-mile race track.[5] He later sold the property to John Church Cruger (1807–1879), husband of Euphemia Van Rensselaer, daughter of Stephen Van Rensselaer. The Crugers named the estate "Annandale".

In 1776, at age 27, he was appointed a Captain in Washington's army in the American Revolutionary War. During the War, he was promoted to Colonel and became Treasurer of New Jersey, serving from 1776 to 1779.[3]


In 1790, Stevens petitioned Congress for a bill that would protect American inventors. Through his efforts, his bill became a law on April 10, 1790, which introduced the patent system as law in the United States.[3]

In 1802, he built a screw-driven steamboat and in 1806, he built the Phoenix, a steamboat that ultimately sailed from Hoboken to Philadelphia in 1809, thereby becoming the first steamship to successfully navigate the open ocean.[6]

In October 1811, Stevens' ship the Juliana began operation as the first steam-powered ferry (service was between New York, New York, and Hoboken, New Jersey).[7]

The first railroad charter in the U.S. was given to Stevens and others in 1815 for the New Jersey Railroad. The charter essentially gave Stevens and his partners, through the Camden & Amboy Railroad, a monopoly on railroads in the state of New Jersey.[8] In 1825, he designed and built a steam locomotive, which he operated on a circle of track at his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey.[1] He also helped develop United States patent law.[9]

Personal lifeEdit

On October 17, 1782, he married Rachel Cox (1761–1839), the daughter of John Cox. She was a descendant of the Langeveldts (or Longfields) who originally settled New Brunswick, New Jersey.[10] Together, they had thirteen children of which seven were sons. The children included:[10]

Stevens died on March 6, 1838, at his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey.[3]

Further readingEdit

  • Turnbull, Archibald Douglas (1928). John Stevens, an American record. New York, London: The Century Co.


  1. ^ a b "John Stevens | American inventor and lawyer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  2. ^ Livingston, Edwin Brockholst (1910). The Livingstons of Livingston Manor: Being the History of that Branch of the Scottish House of Callendar which Settled in the English Province of New York During the Reign of Charles the Second; and Also Including an Account of Robert Livingston of Albany, "The Nephew," a Settler in the Same Province and His Principal Descendants. Knickerbocker Press. p. 393. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time. J. T. White Company. 1901. p. 21. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Hoboken, Castle Point", Historic Houses of New Jersey (1902).
  5. ^ Historical and Genealogical Record Dutchess and Putnam Counties New York, Press of the A. V. Haight Co., Poughkeepsie, New York, 1912   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ New Jersey, A Guide to its Present and Past. New York: The Viking Press. 1939. p. 99. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  7. ^ Free Public Library of Jersey City (1909). From canoe to tunnel  . A. J. Doan. p. 7 [scan]  .
  8. ^ Stiles, T.J. (2010). The Frst Tycoon : The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1st Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 1400031745.
  9. ^ Iles, George (1912), Leading American Inventors, New York: Henry Holt and Company, pp. 3–28
  10. ^ a b Cox, Henry Miller (1912). The Cox Family in America: A History and Genealogy of the Older Branches of the Family from the Appearance of Its First Representative in this Country in 1610. Publisher Not Identified. pp. 223–227. Retrieved 18 January 2018.

External linksEdit