John Bull on Its Anniversary Run, 1981

ID: SIA2008-2457 or 167298-2-7A-8

Creator: Vogel, R

Form/Genre: Photographic print

Date: 1981

Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Box 3, Folder: October 1981

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  • In the 1970s, curator John White posed a question: Could John Bull run one last time on the 150th anniversary of its first steaming in America? After considerable analysis, a careful examination by a boiler-inspection firm, and a 1980 trial run on a branchline track in Virginia, steam engine John Bull, belching fire and smoke under the care of John White and colleague John Stine, displayed its magic before a rapt audience on September 15, 1981, the 150th anniversary of its first run in the United States. The run took place on the Old Georgetown Branch of the Southern Railway beside the C&O Canal in Washington. With the engine are (l-r): Larry Jones, National Museum of American History curator John White; John Stine; and fellow Bill Withuhn.
  • The John Bull is thought to be the oldest operable self-propelling vehicle in the world. In 1831 parts for the engine were manufactured in England and shipped in August 1831 to the United States to New Jersey entrepreneur and engineer Robert Stevens. Stevens was building a railroad, one of the first in the United States, between Camden and South Amboy, New Jersey (the Camden and Amboy Railroad.) After a crew led by Isaac Dripps, a skilled mechanic, assembled the engine, the faithful patriarch locomotive served the country in one capacity or another before retiring in 1866 at the end of the Civil War.
  • In 1884, the United States National Museum acquired both the locomotive and the Institution's first curator of engineering J. Elfreth Watkins, from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had taken over the Camden and Amboy. John Bull left its home at the Smithsonian a couple of times to run before an admiring public: in 1893, at the Chicago World's Fair, and in 1927, at Baltimore.


  • Jones, Larry
  • Stine, John
  • White, John
  • Withuhn, Bill
  • Watkins, J. Elfreth
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) (NMAH)
  • National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.)
  • Southern Railway


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


Featured in the "Torch", October 1981.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Box 3, Folder: October 1981

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,



Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Railroads
  • Trains
  • Anniversaries
  • John Bull (Steam locomotive)
  • Transportation
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Museum curators
  • Railroads--Trains
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees
  • Locomotives


  • Photographic print
  • Event

ID Number

SIA2008-2457 or 167298-2-7A-8

Physical description

Color: Black and White; Size: 10w x 8h; Type of Image: Event; Medium: Photographic print

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