Thomas Rogers, the founder of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor was born in Groton , Connecticut , on March 16, 1792. Among his relatives was a Thomas Rogers who came to the New World on the “Mayflower.” Earlier in Thomas Rogers’ life he was a carpenter; he served through the War of 1812 and then went back to work in Paterson . He was employed by a Captain Ward to make some patterns for power looms for weaving cotton. Captain Ward had taken out a patent on the power looms, but he did not estimate the value of the invention as highly as did Thomas Rogers and the patent changed hands.
In 1831 the Godwin, Rogers & Company had two hundred workers in their employ. Rogers took $36,266.05 for his interest in 1831 and built a factory for himself. In 1832, Rogers proceeded to erect the Jefferson Works, or Mill, having purchased a site on the back raceway, adjoining the Ivanhoe Mill. The Jefferson Works was erected for the manufacture of cotton, wool and flax machinery and the spinning of cotton yarn; the original design was to occupy only the lower stories in the making of machinery devoting the upper to the cotton manufacture. The orders that came in for machinery induced him to change his mind and he decided to devote the whole building to machinery. In the following year, he formed a partnership with Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor, of New York . The company that was formed was Rogers, Ketchum, and Grosvenor.
In 1836, the Paterson Hudson River Railroad purchased an engine, the “McNeill” in England and had it sent to Paterson to be put together. The engine arrived in parts and the mechanic who was to put it together seemed in no hurry. Rogers then took the opportunity to make drawings and patterns of every part. On October 6, 1837, the first locomotive engine named the “ Sandusky ” built in Paterson was ready for a trial.
Mr. Rogers and a few friends used it for an excursion to New Brunswick by way of Jersey City . Timothy Smith acted as engineer. The two driving wheels of the engine were four and a half feet in diameter and were located forward of the furnace; there were four thirty-inch wheels on the truck. The cylinders were eleven inches in diameter with a sixteen-inch stroke and altogether the locomotive looked like one of the engines which years afterwards were used on the New York elevated railroads. The time actually required for the construction of the “ Sandusky ” was sixteen months, during which tools had to be made, and countless experiments tried.
The gauge (width) of road was 4 feet 10 inches, the same as that of the New Jersey Railroad Transportation Co., for which road the engine was intended. The “ Sandusky ” was sold for $6,750 to the Mad River & Lake Erie railroad, taken and shipped to its destination by schooner and canal boat. The “ Sandusky ”, though not the first, was among the first engines built in this country, and was probably a signal improvement on all other locomotives.
After the success of the “ Sandusky ” was assured, the firm of Rogers , Ketchum & Grosvenor continued to build locomotives. The next one was built for the N.J. Railroad and Transportation Company, and was named the “Arreseoh No.2”. This was larger than the “ Sandusky ” and was equally a success. The shop where the first locomotives were built was 40 x 100 feet, two stories in height. From 30 to 40 men were employed. After five or six engines had been built the works were greatly extended, until they were 40 x 200 feet, three stories high and made of brick. Later, still further additions were made, and the demand for engines came in all over the United States .
The third engine built at the Rogers Works differed from the first two; its cylinders being 10 x 18 inches stroke and the gauge 4 feet 8 ½ inches. Both the driving and truck wheels of this engine had hollow, oval spokes and hollow rims with wrought iron tires. It was named the “ Clinton ” and was built for the Lockport & Niagara Falls road; it was delivered in April 1838. It was sold in 1843 to the Toledo and Adrian Railway Company for $6,500.
In 1838 seven engines in all were completed after which the production gradually increased until the year 1854 when 103 engines were built. The works were enlarged and improved from time to time until there were a substantial number of structures that were now used for the express purpose of locomotive building and its dependencies.
The firm of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor maintained a prosperous existence until the death of Thomas Rogers in 1856. The surviving partners, headed up by Jacob S. Rogers, who became president, (b. Oct. 12, 1823, d. July 2, 1901), reorganized under a charter and the name was changed to the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works.
By the late 1850′s, early 1860′s, the Rogers Works had the appearance of a small village, extending on both sides of Spruce Street far Southward from Market; also across to Pine Street (no longer exists) to the Eastward and back to “the Cedars” West of Spruce. During the Civil War, the Rogers Works turned out from ten to twelve engines each month, and the three locomotive works then in operation an average of at least one per day.
In 1864, the Rogers Company received an order from the United States Government for nineteen locomotives, which were valued at $20,000 each, which they completed and delivered in three months, a feat of rapid workmanship.
In 1868-69, the Rogers Company included two blacksmith shops, one 200 feet long by 31 feet wide, the other one 102 by 40 feet; a boiler shop, 33 x 200 feet; an erecting shop of the same size, and numerous auxiliary buildings. They were employing over 850 men and turned out an average of ten locomotives per month, besides a variety of machinery for cotton and woolen manufacture. By the end of 1869 the company had discontinued the building of machinery and devoted the entire works to the production of locomotives.
The only great disaster to have occurred at the Rogers Works was a fire that happened on February 13, 1879, in the millwright shop, with its contents of patterns, tools, machinery, etc., which were destroyed. Jacob did not have any insurance and there was a loss of $100,000. While in Paris , Jacob was informed of the fire; his reply was to send him a photograph of the ruins and put the building up again just as they were. This cost several hundred thousand dollars but Jacob had confidence in the future of American locomotive industry. The burned portion of the works was rebuilt and large additions made. Jacob then returned to Paterson .
During 1881, the new fireproof building made of brick, standing three stories high, which included room for offices, draughting and storage of valuable documents and drawings. This was built on Spruce Street next to the Ivanhoe Paper Mill. At the end of 1881 the Works had 1,800 people employed, a payroll of $675,000 and produced 240 locomotives.
On the morning of August 28, 1900, a time when the Rogers Works were at least as prosperous as any similar locomotive factory at this time, Jacob entered his office in Paterson and inquired how long it would take to fill the orders on hand. He was told that all orders could be filled by the first of December, but that there were numerous inquiries for more engines. “Take no more orders,” was his reply; “these works will close on December 1.” To his friends he explained that he had tired of building engines, and that industrial establishments would sell better when times were good and when they had a full complement of hands than when opposite conditions prevailed. Meetings of people interested in the welfare of Paterson were held and Jacob was besought to change his mind, but he did not and the Rogers Works were closed on December 1, 1900, in the midst of a season of prosperity. Speculators from Wall Street purchased the Works and ran them for a short time, when they sold them to the American Locomotive Company, the corporation which already owned all the locomotive works in the country with the exception of the Baldwin Works in Philadelphia and the Rogers Works in Paterson .
On the morning of July 2, 1901 Jacob Rogers was found dead in his room in the Union League Club in New York . If there was anything about which Jacob knew nothing about, it was art. He enjoyed the rudest woodcut more than the finest production of the engraver’s skill. The pictures which hung in his rooms in Paterson looked as if they had come as premiums from the tea store on the corner. Yet he left almost his entire fortune to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met was willed the sum of five million dollars. The directors of the Art Museum did not know him. As far as it was known he had been to the Museum only once in his life and then to make inquiries to its management.
So why did Jacob leave almost his entire fortune to an institution that he barely knew? Perhaps it was because the cities of Paterson and Pompton seemed to impede Jacob in his personal as well as business life and he felt that there were no institutions local or municipal that were worthy of such generosity.
It is fortunate perhaps, that no other industry in Paterson has so much romance attached to it as the Rogers Locomotive Works.