The Steam Man Hits 27MPH!!

This has been a fascinating subject to research. The Steam Man, as we call him, has completely captivated us and brought back some of that childish curiosity to truly see what is possible when a soul sets its mind to a task. However, this was a difficult one to research and find any substantial information on. Like so many inventions of the time, there were popular comics and information produced about this exciting concept which makes it all the more challenging to research.

Initially, it appeared that a Steam Man had indeed been conceptualized by a gentleman named John Brainerd. The concept had then been passed on in the late 1870s to Frank Reade Jr who then went on to popularized the concept in his fantastic illustrated series.

Picture credit to:

As we started our dive into the history of the Steam Man, we first went to the Frank Reade Journals of innovation. They are fascinating in themselves and are well worth investigation. You can read more by clicking the following link:

Here is a small Franke Reade Jr sample:

In late 1875, Frank Reade Sr. purchased the patents for the Steam Man from John Brainerd, then set about to produce his own improved version. It would take almost a year to construct the Steam Man Mark II.
From Frank Reade’s journal:

“The lamp will be in his head, and his eyes will be the headlights. His mouth holds the steam whistle. In his belly, we open a door and put in fuel, and the ashes fall down into his legs and are emptied from the movable knee-pan, and without injury to the oiled leg shafts, for they are enclosed in a tube. That is why the fellow’s limbs are so large. Wire cords increase the power in one leg, and cause that leg to go much faster, and in that manner we get a side movement and can turn around. Its feet are spiked like a base-ball player’s are spiked, to prevent the machine from slipping under speed. The legs are very long and very far apart, so as to give it balance A stop-cock on the side will let on or shut off steam.
“I am making a low, broad, and very heavy wagon for the contrivance, and it will be finished in a few days. The hands of the man will hold the shafts of the wagon. The vehicle will carry two or three persons and hold fuel and water, sufficent for several days, and I have made a tent-like covering for the concern so that I could sleep in the wagon if I ever went on a journey. In the knapsack are my steam valves; the top of the hat is only a sieve, and the smoke will come out of that. There’s drafts and stop-offs without number. The steam gauge is in the fellow’s back. It can go fifty miles in one hour, on a level road I should not hesitate to run it at thirty or thirty-five an hour.”

This new Steam Man’s engine was nearly twice as efficient as its predecessor’s. The improvements in hydraulics and lighter-weight alloys used in constructing the automaton gave the Mark II greater speed and strength than the original.

From journalist Harry Enton:

“The figure was about twelve feet high from the bottom of the huge feet to the top of the plug hat which adorned the steam man’s head. An enormous belly was required to accommodate the boiler and steam chest, and this corpulency agreed well with the height of the metallic steam chap. To give full working room to the very delicate machinery in his interior, the giant was made to convey a sort of knapsack upon his shoulders. The machine held its arms in the position taken by a man when he is drawing a carriage.”

Despite his significant achievement, Reade Sr. was frustrated by what he regarded as limitations in a device whose motive power was that of steam. It was his last major steam-powered project. All future Frank Sr. inventions would be powered by a newfangled source—electricity.

After Frank Jr. created the Steam Man Mark III, he also gave up on steam power. The next mechanical humanoid would be The Electric Man.

In the above illustration, the newly created Steam Horse is tested in a race with the Steam Man Mark II.
The Steam Horse won.

The prelude to the Frank Reade Historia was a 1868 novel called The Steam Man of the Prairies.

As with many Sci-Fi concepts, they are often based on real inventions and discoveries of the time. A syndic might suggest that these science “fiction” stories are simply myth or make believe, therefore almost losing the real inventions to history.

By now, our curiosity was peeking and the research was becoming more and more interesting. We were finding many lost inventions along the way, but finally it appears that this mechanical man did actually take life in 1868.

Steam man
Photograph of the Steam Man, a steam-powered vehicle by American inventors.

After some time, we found the original patent registered on the 24th March 1868, which explains in detail the operation of a steam powered walking mechanical carriage. This amazing invention was brought to life by Zadoc P. Dederick and Isaac Grass of Newark, New Jersey.

The full patent, US75874A, and description for the steam carriage above can be found here.

Steam man

The newspaper extract above is a little difficult to read, but it does present us with some interesting images of what seem to be a completed Steam Man machine, giving us a reference to what it actually looked like.

The patent above, US949287A, and description for the advertising device patented by L. P. Perew and J. A. Dischinger can be found here.

As with all research, the gold is in the small items and details left behind for us to find, like this article from 1869 advertising a vehicle that could achieve a mile in 2 minutes and 15 seconds — this would be an average of 27MPH!

The description from the above poster reads as follows:

“The body of the Steam Man contains the boiler with a furnace under it. On his back the Steam Man carries two oscillating engines, with their connections, the cranks of which, by mean of chains, give motion to the feet. The shock of the necessary reciprocating motion is taken by flat springs connecting with the levers leading directly from the piston rod of the engine. The water-tank and coal bunk are under the seat of the carriage attached to the Steam Man. The steering and governing apparatus is directly in front of the driver, and being similar to that used on locomotives, the driver can readily direct the course of the carriage or the amount of steam required. It requires but one bushel of coal and twelve gallons of water to run it twelve hours.

An examination of the Steam Man and his attachments will easily show the mechanical movements by which its success is obtained. The lifting of the feet and the compound action of the toe and heel, necessary to constitute the action of the human legs, are accomplished by an ingenious system of levers, involving no new principles, but adapting old and well known principles to a definite end, and which in this case, have proved a decided success. The inventors are Mossrs. Z. P. DEDERICK and I. GRASS, Newark, N. J.”

Some more interesting images regarding the Steam Man from the Tartaria Britannica archive:

Now, you may have noticed in the Franke Reade journals above that the Steam Man did indeed lose a race to the Electric Horse, so its only fair that for now it will remain the work of science fiction. However, should we find more information on the Electric Horse we will be sure to publish an article.

Electric horse

As always, thank you for your time spent reading our article, and please let us know what you think in the comments below.

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