More News:

August 15, 2023

Steam train built in 1838 to relocate from Franklin Institute to Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

The Rocket, one of the first Reading Railroad locomotives in the United States, will have a new home in Lancaster County

History Museums
Locomotive Franklin Institute Source/Pennsylvania Railroad Museum

The Rocket is a 185-year-old, steam-powered locomotive that once served on the Reading Railroad. Long displayed at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, it will now be loaned to the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Lancaster County.

A steam locomotive that has been on display at the Franklin Institute for the last 90 years was recently removed and will be relocated to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.

The wood-burning steam locomotive, called the Rocket, was built in 1838 and was the first of eight engines imported from England to be put into service on the Philadelphia & Reading Railway. It's the oldest surviving locomotive from the Reading Railroad, one of the first railroads built in the United States. 

The locomotive was displayed in the Franklin Institute's Train Factory and sat next to an engine built by Philadelphia's Baldwin Locomotive Works. The museum is undergoing major renovations to celebrate its 200th anniversary next year, which will include a new space exhibit and revamped areas. 

Weighing 8 1/2 tons and measuring 17 feet long, the Rocket was manufactured by London's Braithwaite, Milner & Company, an early maker of locomotives for American railroads. The Philadelphia & Reading Railway was built for hauling anthracite coal and later evolved into the more commonly known Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, also called the P&R or Reading Railroad.

The Rocket was delivered to the Port of Philadelphia in 1838 and was transported to Reading by boat on the Schuylkill River, reported.

Like most early locomotives, the Rocket initially did not provide cover for the engineer who operated it. The design served as an inspiration for railroad innovators in the U.S., who adapted the English technology to suit the terrain and needs of industrialization. The locomotive was later adapted to burn anthracite coal and given a covered cab before it spent its final years on the railroad's Richmond Wharves in Philadelphia.

“The Rocket was built for use at the opening of the line between Reading and Pottstown in 1838, and it faithfully served the Reading Railroad for more than 40 years," said Patrick C. Morrison, director of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. "In March 1879, the Rocket was retired after having traveled 310,164 miles over the course of its career. Following its retirement, the Rocket sat unused and neglected until it was fully restored for exhibition purposes.”

The Rocket was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927. The Reading Company then loaned the locomotive to the Franklin Institute. The railroad went bankrupt in 1971 and was taken over by Conrail, which was split into Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation in 1998. A division of Conrail based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey now owns the Rocket.

The Franklin Institute plans to display other artifacts in its collection where the Rocket had been kept.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is home to more than 100 locomotives and railroad cars that highlight the history of rail transport in the state and region, as well as the old-fashioned flipboard that displayed train schedules at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. The 1970s-era information board's analog display, beloved for its clicking and clacking sounds, is expected to return to 30th Street Station in the coming years.

Morrison said the Rocket was disassembled and removed from the Franklin Institute earlier this month and will be displayed at the railroad museum's Rolling Stock Hall later this year.