Phineas Davis’ coal-burning locomotive “The York,” in the foreground of the West Market Street mural, points to the transition in the 1800s from York County, Pa., agrarianism to industrialization. (The photo used by the artist of this mural is posted below.) Also of interest: Susquehanna River, shallow and rocky, fends off 19th-century navigation attempts and Don’t know much about York County history? and Often forgotten: Achievements of people named on building facades.
York City School Board’s study of the future of the 1930-vintage Phineas Davis school leads to the question.
Who was Phineas Davis?
I give a brief summary adapted from “Never to be Forgotten”:
‘The York,’ as depicted in the York Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Greater York in Action.’
In 1831, Phineas Davis gains a $4,000 award from the Baltimore and Ohio Steam Railway for building “The York,” believed to be the first successful coal-burning locomotive steam engine in the United States. The locomotive reaches a top speed of 30 miles per hour.
Davis designs and builds the locomotive in the foundry and machine shop he owns with partner Israel Gardner at West King and South Newberry streets in York. Earlier, John Elgar’s “The Codorus,” the first American iron steamboat, was built in this same shop. As the story goes, Davis arrived in York in 1809, a barefoot boy of 14. He launched his career as an inventor in the shop of watchmaker Jonathan Jessop.
The railroad gives Davis his fame, but it also takes his life. Davis dies when the train on which he is riding derails in 1835.
Davis’ work helped set the stage for a hinge moment in York County history. In 1838, a rail line – later known as the Northern Central Railway – reached York from Baltimore. That helped York County-made agricultural – and growing industrial – producers get their goods to a port city.
Also of interest:
- Who was Hannah Penn of York City middle school fame?
- Who was Edgar Fahs Smith of York City middle school fame?
- Namesakes of Devers and Goode schools often confused.
Other researchers with York County roots:
- Add Larry Bowers name to long list of scientists with York County, Pa., links
- Add Penn State researcher Herschel Leibowitz to long list of York countians who excelled in research.
- Two women with York County, Pa., roots excelled in the medical laboratory
- York, Pa.-born Edwin Shneidman, suicide prevention pioneer, dies in Los Angeles
- Pennsylvanian Daniel Drawbaugh: ‘The Edison of the Cumberland Valley’
- Area native shares Nobel for Medicine.
- Few know it, but digital computing’s first pioneer George Stibitz was born in York, Pa.
- Author with York County ties: Learned the brain inside and out in writing ‘How We Decide’
York, Pa.’s link to the use of steroids in sports: ‘Pecs, pink pills and power’