Old Settlers Club 1916

Early Milwaukee
Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County
Published by the Club

First Locomotive Built in Wisconsin

By George Richardson.

Source: Early Milwaukee, Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County, Published by the Club, 1916.

Much has been recently said and written in a local controversy as to the identity of that particular locomotive to which should attach the credit of being the first one built in the state of Wisconsin, and it is lamentable that a great part of that so said and written is far from the actual fact. If the question of priority of construction is worth talking about at all, it is worthy of being told as it really existed. The perversion of a fact in order to suit the preconceived notion of a narrator is not history, and does more to create a feeling of mistrust in the minds of those interested, than can be overcome by volumes of published truth. The statement that no question is ever settled unless settled right, applies with equal force to this locomotive question as it did to the vexed slavery question of half a century ago. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, and the actual truth of a controversy should be determined by the preponderance of substantiated data to sustain it.

My interest in this matter attaches not only from a motive of fact, but from a motive of personal pride, and the latter condition arises from the fact that I am so far as I know the only person now living who had anything to do with Milwaukee's first locomotive before it was put into active service. It is true that my connection with Milwaukee's first locomotive was not over important, as I now consider it, but was such as to give me the right to claim connection with it, and to vouch for the absolute truth of all I may say relative thereto, from a personal standpoint.

During the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, I was employed by John Miller "Long John" he was called by reason of his great size, six feet nine inches in height). Mr. Miller was at that time Milwaukee's heavy moving contractor, and he it was who moved Milwaukee's first locomotive from the shop where it was built and placed it on the tracks of what was then the Milwaukee and Mississippi railroad, now the Milwaukee road.

The locomotive was built at the works of W. B. Walton & Co., known as the Menominee foundry, and located at the southwest corner of Reed and South Water streets. The first locomotive dif-fered from all alleged drawings of it as recently published in some of the Milwaukee papers, and also from the alleged drawing of it in the possession of the Milwaukee Old Settlers' Club, inasmuch as it was what is known as "Inside connected," that is the machinery, cylinder, etc., was all underneath the boiler, except the parallel rods connecting the two pair of driving wheels. Recently published drawings claiming to represent the first engine show the cylinders and machinery as being located on the outside, as locomotives of today are built. This is a mistake. A most thorough inquiry and search has failed to discover a sketch or drawing of the first locomotive as it really was. If such, however, is in existence, this con-troversy may be the means of bringing it to light. I recollect this engine as plainly as though I had seen it but yesterday, and I re-member that on its dome or sandbox on top of the boiler was the following :


No. 1.


On the side of the boiler was this word: " M E N M N E E. "

On Oct. 15, 1852, "Long John," with his crew of a dozen men and several yoke of oxen, began laying temporary tracks from a point at the foundry near which is now located the scales of Seeboth Brothers, and thence to Reed street, on Reed to the bridge over the Menomonee river then a float bridge. No trouble was experienced until the bridge was reached. At that time Reed street was just about wide enough for ordinary wagons to meet and pass, and the locomotive and its tracks occupied the whole street. At the bridge all the power of men, block and tackle, as well as oxen, was needed to enable us to get the locomotive up the incline at the bridge. The engine's weight was about twenty-six tons, and under it the bridge barely escaped sinking, but it was safely landed on the north side of the river, and placed on the track, located about seventy-five feet away from the bridge, and here my connection with it ceased.

Now let us establish the identity of this engine, when it was built and who built it. In this controversy I have no desire to rob anybody of justly acquired credit, but with the lapse of time errors of identity and fact are so very apt to predominate and confuse.

In a recent Milwaukee newspaper article Charles G. Menzel, of Minneapolis, claims that his father, the late Gregor Menzel, built the first locomotive in Milwaukee, and that it was named Whitewater. To refute this claim of Mr. Menzel there appears in The Milwaukee Sentinel of October 14, 1852, the following:

"The Menomonee is the name of the splendid locomotive just built at the Menomonee foundry for the M. and M. R. R. company. The Menomonee leaves the foundry for the track today. It was designed and built under the superintendence of James Waters, to whose skill it bears ample testimony. The next engine, now nearing completion, is to be called Whitewater."

Again, the Sentinel of Oct. 16, 1852, says: "The new locomotive, the Menomonee, now fairly launched from the Walton & Co.'s foundry yesterday, commenced its march toward the railroad track."

This "march" of the Menomonee I have described above. Also, the following from the Sentinel of Oct. 25, 1852 :

"The locomotive Menomonee, built by Walton & Co., at the Menomonee foundry, the first one manufactured there, was put in motion on the track on Saturday (Oct. 23), and performed to the complete satisfaction of all concerned. We note the fact with no little pride that here in Milwaukee has been built the first locomotive west of Cleveland."

Then the following from the Free Democrat, Oct. 26, 1852: "The new locomotive, the Menomonee, was put on the track yesterday, and its speed pretty well tested running fourteen miles in twelve minutes."

I am fully aware that some there be who will smile broadly at the speed here given to my pet engine by the Free Democrat. Reporters of those days were the forerunners of many to follow, and their imagination was just as vivid, as lurid, as romantic as is that of many of the reporters of today.

The facts here given, I believe, fully establish the identity of the first locomotive built in Milwaukee establish the fact that it was called Menomonee; that it was designed by and built under the sole direction of James Waters, as engineer, and in no way does the name of Gregor Menzel appear in connection therewith, as claimed by his son.

In the Milwaukee directory of 1851 the name of Gregor Menzel (a most unusual and uncommon name) appears as "gunsmith, Lake, near Ferry." I knew Gregor Menzel personally and well. He was a most excellent mechanic, and well thought of by all who knew him, but at the time when he has been given credit for de-signing and building the first locomotive in Milwaukee he was employed in the shop as a journeyman mechanic, as has been stated in the public press by Zacharia Van Horn, a half-brother of Mr. Walton, and an employe of the company at that time. It is also very improbable that Mr. Menzel had any connection with this locomotive in a supervisory capacity, for the very good and sufficient reason that Isaac Waters, a son of James Waters, was assistant foreman in the shop at that time.

I have no desire to even attempt to rob Mr. Menzel of the credit of designing and building the second locomotive, a drawing of which was recently presented to the Old Settlers' Club, and which was called Whitewater, as shown by the following from the Free Democrat of Jan. 12, 1853:

"The Menomonee foundry has just turned out another locomotive for the M. and M. E. E. company, called Whitewater. It is the same size as the first, but with outside connections."

The above conclusively clinches both sides of this long mooted question. The Menomonee was the first, with inside connections. The Whitewater was the second, with outside connections.

James Waters designed and built the first, and Gregor Menzel may have designed and built the second.