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John Bloomfield Jervis
Born December 14, 1795[1]
Huntington, New York
Died January 12, 1885[1]
Rome, New York

John Bloomfield Jervis (December 14, 1795 – January 12, 1885) was an American civil engineer. He was America's leading consulting engineer of the antebellum era (1820 - 1860). Jervis was a pioneer in the development of canals and railroads for the expanding United States. He designed and supervised the construction of five of America's earliest railroads, was chief engineer of three major canal projects, designed the first locomotive to run in America, designed and built the forty-one mile Croton Aqueduct (New York City's water supply for fifty years: 1842 - 1891), and the Boston Aqueduct. Jervis authored a book on economics, The Question of Labor and Capital (1877); helped found an upstate NY industry, the Rome Iron Mills; and is the founder of the Rome, NY public library. Working as chief engineer for the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Railroad, he designed the Stourbridge Lion, as well as the first steam locomotives with a leading bogie that became the 4-2-0 locomotive type. The 4-2-0 type is called Jervis in his honor.


Youth and education

Jervis was born at Huntington, New York (on Long Island), and raised in Rome, New York (then called Fort Stanwix).

Canals, aqueducts and railroads

Jervis was hired for work on the Erie Canal as an axeman in 1817. While working on the construction teams, he studied engineering, at a time when there were no engineering schools in the United States. By 1819 he became the lead engineer on the canal's 50 mile long center section.[2]

In 1827, Jervis became the chief engineer for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. In this position, he designed the Stourbridge Lion, which was built by Foster, Rastrick and Company of England.[3]

In 1831, he became the chief engineer for the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, a predecessor of the New York Central.

In 1833, he was appointed chief engineer of upstate New York's Chenango Canal project and helped in its design and construction.

Jervis was the first railroad engineer to design a 4-2-0 steam locomotive; the 4-2-0 type is called the Jervis type in his honor. A 4-2-0 is a locomotive with a four-wheel leading truck that guides the locomotive into curves and two powered driving wheels on a rear axle underneath the locomotive's firebox.

The High Bridge over the Harlem River as seen in 1890.

In 1836, Jervis was chosen as the chief engineer on the 41-mile long Croton Aqueduct, which operated from 1842 to 1965, bringing fresh water to New York City. Many of Jervis's original diagrams for this project are now preserved at both the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The High Bridge which still stands across the Harlem River in New York City, connecting Manhattan and the Bronx, was part of this project.[3]

After successful work on the Croton Aqueduct, Jervis also worked on the Boston Aqueduct.

In the 1850s and into the early 1860s he worked on railroads in the Midwestern United States, serving as chief engineer for both the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad, Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (a predecessor of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad), also serving as President of the latter from 1851 to 1854,[4] and finally the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway.[3]

Retirement and legacy

Jervis retired in 1864 to his homestead in Rome, New York, but he did not simply rest on his laurels in his retirement. In 1869, he helped form the Merchants Iron Mill, known today as the Rome Iron Mill.[3]

Much of the remainder of Jervis's life was spent writing. He published The Question of Labor and Capital on economics in 1877.[3]

Upon his death, Jervis bequeathed his homestead to the city of Rome to use as the location for a public library. His personal library now forms the John B. Jervis collection of the Jervis Public Library.[2] The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[5]

In 1927, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad built an experimental steam locomotive that was designed to run at 400 psi (2.8 MPa or 28 kgf/cm²) steam pressure; this locomotive, road number 1401, was named John B. Jervis.

The city of Port Jervis, New York is also named in his honor. The city was a port on the former Delaware and Hudson Canal, which he designed, and is located at the adjoining borders of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.[3][6]


  • Railway Property (1859)
  • The Construction and Management of Railways (1861)
  • Labor and Capital (1877)


  • Museum of the City of New York, The Croton Aqueduct. Retrieved March 9, 2005.
  • White, John H, Jr. (Spring 1986), America's Most Noteworthy Railroaders, Railroad History, 154, p. 9-15.

Further reading

  • Jervis, John B.; FitzSimmons, Neal, ed. (1971). The Reminiscences of John B. Jervis. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York. ISBN 0-8156-0077-1. 
  • Larkin, F. Daniel (1990). John B. Jervis: An American Engineering Pioneer. Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-0355-1. 
Preceded by
James W. Grant
President of Chicago and Rock Island Railroad
1851 – 1854
Succeeded by
Henry Farnam


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