Matthias Baldwin Biography (1795-1866)

engineer and manufacturer

The youngest of five children, Baldwin was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.His father, a carriagemaker, died when Baldwin was five, and the fortune heleft to his wife was squandered by lawyers. Baldwin's mother, however, saw toit that her youngest son received an education and apprenticed him to a jeweler in Philadelphia.

Baldwin soon tired of jewelry making and in 1825 decided to open a manufacturing business along with a partner, David Mason. Baldwin demonstrated a greatdeal of talent in manufacturing, producing a flurry of products in succession, from bookmaking tools to textile and printing processes. Mason, unnerved byBaldwin's engineering prowess, quit the business.

In 1828 Baldwin had constructed a steam engine to run equipment for his firmand when he had the opportunity to examine a locomotive that had been imported to the United States from England, he decided to try his hand at building locomotives. This was a timely decision, for the crude locomotives being builtat that time were ripe for improvement. Baldwin, with his keen engineering skills, succeeded immediately. Within two years Baldwin constructed Old Ironsides, a six-ton locomotive, for the Philadelphia and Germantown Railroad. Old Ironsides became one of the first practical locomotives in America, making daily trips between the two Pennsylvania cities. Over the next ten years, Baldwin built ten more locomotives, and, by the time of his death in 1866,his company had built 1,500. The efforts of Baldwin, who epitomized the entrepreneurial engineer of nineteenth-century America, helped lay the foundationfor the railroad revolution that later swept through the United States.

The company that Baldwin founded, the Baldwin Locomotive Works, became one ofthe world's great industrial giants. Yet despite its experimentation with steam turbines and diesel engines after 1939, the company never was able to make a satisfactory tranisition from steam and was eventually put out of business by two newcomers, General Motors and General Electric.

Recent Updates

February 10, 2005: It was announced that Baldwin will be inducted intothe National Inventors Hall of Fame in recognition of innovations in steam locomotive technology as seen in the historic locomotive Old Ironsides. His induction will take place at a ceremony held in Akron, Ohio, in May of 2005. The National Inventors Hall of Fame honors individuals, both living and dead, whose work has changed society and improved the way we live. Source: Forbes,, April 7, 2005.

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