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Seth Wilmarth

Historical Development of the Locomotive

Seth Wilmarth
Little is known of the builder of the Pioneer, Seth Wilmarth, and nothing in the way of a satisfactory history of his business is available. For the reader's general interest the following information is noted.

Seth Wilmarth was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on September 8,1810. He is thought to have learned the machinist trade in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, before coming to Boston and working for the Boston Locomotive Works, Hinkley and Drury proprietors. In about 1836 he opened a machine shop and, encouraged by an expanding business, in 1841 he built a new shop in South Boston which became known as the Union Works. Wilmarth was in the general machine business, but his reputation was made in the manufacture of machine tools, notably lathes.

He is believed to have built his first locomotive in 1842, but locomotive building never became his main line of work. Wilmarth patterned his engines after those of Hinkley and undoubtedly, in common with the other New England builders of this period, favored the steady-riding, inside-connection engines. The "Shanghais", so-called because of their great height, built for the Boston and Worcester Railroad by Wilmarth in 1849, were among the best known inside-connection engines operated in this country.

While the greater part of Wilmarth's engines was built for New England roads, many were constructed for lines outside that area, including the Pennsylvania Railroad, Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Erie. A comparison of the surviving illustrations of Hinkley and Wilmarth engines of the 1850s reveals a remarkable similarity in their details. Notice particularly the straight boiler, riveted frame, closely set truck wheels, feed-water pump driven by a pin on the crank of the driving wheel, and details of the dome cover. All of the features are duplicated exactly by both builders.

This is not surprising considering the proximity of the plants and the fact that Wilmarth had been previously employed by Hinkley. In 1854 Wilmarth was engaged by the New York and Erie Railroad to build fifty 6-foot gauge engines. After work had been started on these engines and a large store of material had been purchased for their construction, Wilmarth was informed that the railroad could not pay cash and that he would have to take notes in payment. There was at this time a mild economic panic, and notes could be sold only at a heavy discount. This crisis closed the Union Works. The next year, 1855, Seth Wilmarth was appointed master mechanic of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, where he worked for twenty years. He died in Maiden, Massachusetts, on November 5,1886.

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