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The John Bull: A British Locomotive Comes to America

The John Bull: A British Locomotive Comes to America

5.0 1
by Weitzman, David Weitzman (Illustrator)

The story of a steam-powered wonder

The John Bull -- now on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution -- was imported from England in 1831, and its cutting-edge design had a huge impact on American locomotive history. Used to help build and then run the first successful New Jersey railroad, the John Bull transported passengers


The story of a steam-powered wonder

The John Bull -- now on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution -- was imported from England in 1831, and its cutting-edge design had a huge impact on American locomotive history. Used to help build and then run the first successful New Jersey railroad, the John Bull transported passengers and freight between New York City and Philadelphia more quickly and efficiently than ever before. And within a few years, more than a dozen locomotives were constructed following the John Bull's design, helping to spawn a vigorous and vital new American industry.

With detailed text and exacting pen-and-ink artwork -- including here's-how-it-works diagrams -- David Weitzman re-creates the John Bull's colorful history for young train buffs.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
As in his other books about the Model T, Old Ironsides, airplanes, and subways, Weitzman now turns his fine black-line pen, and his well-researched attention to another mechanical wonder, the first passenger train on the American continent. While the accumulation of information about the John Bull, a steam train that ran from New York to Philadelphia in the 1830s, concentrates on Robert Steven and his bringing the train to the United States, the true center of the book is Weitzman's fascination with all things technical. Pristine black and white ink drawings present every detail, piston, gear, axeletree, cam, hammer helve, connecting rod, rocker arm, steam dome, and boiler. This sort of sample of specialized vocabulary may be gleaned from any page as not only is Weitzman in love with the naming of parts, he also delights in specialized vocabulary. The reader is helped a bit by two drawings, fore and aft of the text, which explain the location of some of these train parts in alphabetical order on the front pages and then again, numerically keyed, on the back pages. Text weaves details of the early smithies here and in England, problems of assembling the John Bull that came by boat in pieces, and the trial and error tinkering Americans made to early steam-powered trains. Additions in the next few years included the cowcatcher, a funnel-shaped smokestack to retain some of the incendiary sparks emitted, pilot wheels to help the heavy train navigate curves without jumping track, and repositioning of various parts for more efficient movement. But, Weitzman's annoying habit of switching tenses within a paragraph as well as between them, grates on the reader's sensibilities. In addition, whileWeitzman is a crackerjack renderer of machines, his depiction of working people is wooden, ill-proportioned, and strangely sized, so that those looking for a sense of scale in relation to the machine may be confused. For train aficionados, however, especially those who visit Washington, DC where the train is kept at the American Museum of Natural History, the book provides delight in detail. For middle-school students of American history, this book can also provide both a window into the beginning of America's machine age and a basis for comparing the steam train with modern trains. 2003, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Ages 8 up.
— Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-This painstakingly detailed picture book provides an account of how the John Bull, a British locomotive, was built, brought to America in 1831, and used to run the first successful railroad line in New Jersey. While the descriptions of historical circumstances flow smoothly, the text becomes bogged down when Weitzman goes into mechanical or technical details, often using specialized vocabulary without explaining it. The black-and-white, pen-and-ink illustrations have been carefully researched for accuracy, but they have a stiff quality that will have little child appeal. Like the author's Locomotive (Houghton, 1999; o.p.), this title is for die-hard train lovers with some previous knowledge of the subject.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Weitzman, author of Locomotive: Building an Eight-Wheeler (1999) and other celebrations of the glories of big, intricate machines, offers a new set of explicitly detailed, finely drawn portraits, cutaways, and schematics-all featuring an 1831 steam engine imported by business visionaries to carry passengers and freight along one leg of the journey between Philadelphia and New York City. Writing in present tense, he follows each major part of the device, from foundry to mill to final assembly-it arrived in America in pieces, with no instructions-and on to later enhancements, such as the cowcatcher and a cabin for the crew. As one of the first locomotives in this country, the John Bull became a model for later designs, and so well was it built, that only minor repairs were necessary before its curators at the Smithsonian Institution fired it up on the 150th anniversary of its arrival here. Budding machiniacs, as well as young students of the Industrial Revolution or railroading's earliest days will echo the author's delight at this astonishing tale of enterprise and ingenious engineering. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.30(w) x 10.26(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
6 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

David Weitzman is the author of many books, including Superpower, Thrashin' Time, Old Ironsides, Pouring Iron, and Locomotive. He lives in Covelo, California.

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The John Bull 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The remarkably detailed, stunning black and white drawings by author/illustrator David Weitzman are worth a great deal more than the price of this book. Front endpapers and back endpapers offer a comprehensive picture of this early locomotive with accompanying numbers identifying each feature. There's the wood filled fire box, the crank, and even the driving axle. All with an interest in trains will consider this slim volume a treasure. As some know, John Bull was built in England and transported by steamship to America in 1831. Such a powerhouse had never been seen before, and it was used not only to help build but to run the first New Jersey railroad. This met with such success that America soon manufactured many more similar locomotives. After a lengthy tour of service the locomotive was retired to the Smithsonian Institution where it was admired by thousands. Even more amazing is that some 150 years after it first arrived on our shores the John Bull was still able to run as smoothly as ever. 'The John Bull' is fitting tribute to a vital portion of our transportation industry.