Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works

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Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works

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In the 19th century, Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works, based in Paterson, New Jersey, built more than 6,000 railroad steam locomotives for railroads around the world including nearly every railroad in the United States between 1837 and 1905. Rogers was the second-most popular American locomotive manufacturer of the 19th century behind only the Baldwin Locomotive Works in a field of nearly a hundred manufacturers.

The company was founded by Thomas Rogers in an 1832 partnership with Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor as Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor. Rogers remained president until his death in 1856 when his son, Jacob S. Rogers took the position and reorganized the company as Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works. The younger Rogers led the company until he retired in 1893. Robert S. Hughes then became president and reorganized the company as Rogers Locomotive Company, which he led until his death in 1901.

Rogers avoided the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) merger in 1901 through closing and reopening as Rogers Locomotive Works. The company remained independed until 1905 when ALCO purchased it; ALCO continued building new steam locomotives at the Rogers plant until 1913. ALCO used the Rogers facilities through the 1920s as a parts storange facility and warehouse, but eventually sold the property to private investors.


1831-1856: Thomas Rogers era

The firm that was to become Rogers Locomotive Works began in 1831. Thomas Rogers had been designing and building machinery for textile manufacturing for nearly 20 years when he sold his interest in Godwin, Rogers & Company (of which he was the Rogers part of the name) in June of that year. Rogers set out on his own with a new company called Jefferson Works in Paterson, NJ. The Jefferson Works built textile and agricultural machinery for a year before Rogers met the two men who would help transform the company into a major locomotive manufacturer.

In 1832, Rogers partnered with two investors from New York, NY, Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor. Jefferson Works was renamed Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor and the company began to diversify into the railroad industry. The company soon manufactured springs, axles and other small parts for railroad use.

The first locomotive that Rogers company assembled was actually built by Robert Stephenson & Company of England in 1835. This locomotive was the McNeil for the Paterson and Hudson River Railroad. It took another two years before Rogers received their first order for a complete locomotive. In 1837, the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad ordered two locomotives from Rogers to form the beginning of the railroad's roster. The first of these two locomotives was the Sandusky, which became the first locomotive to cross the Allegheny Mountains (albeit by canal boat and not by rail), and the first locomotive to operate in Ohio.

Rogers wasn't working completely alone in locomotive manufacturing. In 1837, in addition to building the company's first locomotive, Rogers also filled orders from Matthias W. Baldwin and William Norris for locomotive tires of various sizes. Once Rogers started working on his own locomotives, however, no further orders from either Baldwin or Norris were forthcoming. Within Rogers own shop, William Swinburne worked as the shop foreman until he moved on to form his own locomotive manufacturing company, Swinburne, Smith & Company in 1845. After Swinburne left Rogers, John Cooke, who later went on to form Danforth, Cooke & Company, also worked at the Rogers plant.

Probably the most famous locomotive built by Rogers was built in 1855. Rogers built a 4-4-0 (a locomotive with two unpowered leading axles and two powered driving axles), serial number 631, in December of that year for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The railroad named the locomotive General. This locomotive is now on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History (the Big Shanty Museum), in Kennesaw, GA.


1856-1905: Reorganization and decline

When Thomas Rogers died in 1856, his son Jacob S. Rogers reorganized RK&G, with Ketchum and Grosvenor remaining as investors, as the Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works. The company continued manufacturing both locomotives and textile machinery for nearly another 20 years. In the mid-1870s, Rogers ended production of textile machinery and began concentrating solely on locomotive manufacturing. Rogers customers of the mid-19th century continued purchasing their locomotives. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) purchased so many locomotives from Rogers that Rogers gave the L&N a free locomotive as a thank you bonus in 1879.

1887 saw the appointment of Reuben Wells as shop superintendent. Jacob Rogers, now in his late 70s, gradually passed more and more responsibility to Wells until Rogers resigned the presidency in 1893. After just over 60 years, the Rogers company would no longer be run by a Rogers. The company reorganized under its former treasurer and new president, Robert S. Hughes as the Rogers Locomotive Company; Jacob Rogers remained the company's principal investor. Hughes led the company until his own death in 1900. A year later, Jacob Rogers closed the Rogers Locomotive Company plant.

In the same year that the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) was formed through the merger of eight other locomotive manufacturers, the company reopened as the Rogers Locomotive Works. Reuben Wells was again the shop superintendent. Unfortunately for Rogers, not enough capital investment was made to purchase new equipment or in research and development. ALCO and Baldwin were too good at building and selling their own locomotives for Rogers to keep up. Compounding Rogers troubles was the greater city of Paterson that had grown up around the shop. There wasn't any room for Rogers to expand.


1905-present: Absorbed into ALCO

Faced with stiff competition and an inability to grow its own capacity, Rogers Locomotive Works was purchased by ALCO in 1905. Rogers' last independently built locomotive was serial number 6271, an 0-6-0T (a locomotive with three powered axles and water tanks and fuel storage mounted on its frame to take the place of a separate tender) built for W. R. Grace & Company in February 1905. ALCO continued building locomotives at the Rogers plant until 1913 when manufacturing at the plant ceased permanently. ALCO used the Rogers plant buildings as warehouses well into the 1920s, but eventually sold off all of the property. The original Rogers erecting shop was converted into office space and was still in use in that manner as late as 1992.


Preserved Rogers locomotives

The following locomotives (in serial number order) built by Rogers have been preserved. Where multiple railroads and road numbers are listed, they are given in chronological order for the locomotives; all locations are in the United States unless noted.

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  • Moshein, Peter and Rothfus, Robert R., (1992) Rogers locomotives: A brief history and construction list, Railroad History (167) 13-147.

External links

  • steam preservation list at
  • A History of Paterson - The Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works
  • New Jersey Historic Trust - preservation efforts on the remaining Rogers erecting shop building
  • Specifications for The General

Related articles

Image:Wikipedia-small.png Wikipedia article about Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works (search). This article uses material from that article.

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