Invented in Cambridge | Part Two

Did you know that Cambridge is the birthplace of many 19th Century inventions?  Here is an obscure one that you may never have heard of!

What was so special about “American style” railroad passenger cars?

At age 16, Charles Davenport (1813-1903) was apprenticed to George Randall, a Cambridgeport carriage maker. Six years later,  Davenport and Captain E. Kimball, who ran daily coaches between Cambridge and Boston, bought out Randall and formed Kimball & Davenport. The company flourished, manufacturing all kinds of vehicles from horse-drawn omnibuses to buggies, barouches, and sleighs.

Originally, railway passenger cars resembled horse-drawn post coaches: each car had several compartments within one coach body; side doors allowed riders to step directly into their own compartments. These “English style” coaches were used on both European and American railroads and remained popular overseas until the 1930s.

“American Style” Rail Car is Born

In 1834, Davenport developed and built an “American style” car for the Boston & Albany Railroad that eliminated the separate compartments. The new, open design featured a central aisle between rows of seats; passengers boarded via doors and platforms at each end of the car. Davenport is said to have also invented the reversible coach seat.

In the U.S., the American style soon replaced the older style coaches. In 1842, Kimball & Davenport, later the Davenport Car Works, moved into an existing three-story brick building at 700 Main Street in Cambridge and soon built six, one-story wooden workshops on the property. In 1848, Davenport added two two-story brick wings behind the front building. The east wing was used as an assembly plant and machine shop. This early view shows the arched openings, which are still visible from the street, although now bricked in. The Davenport Company produced passenger and freight cars (and even a few steam locomotives) for railroads throughout the U.S. until 1855, when Davenport retired.

Want more information?

If you have questions about inventors and inventions or other historical Cambridge innovations, please contact the Cambridge Historical Commission at 617-349-4683, , or visit us on the second floor of 831 Massachusetts Avenue.

Please contact us for an appointment.

Published by

Lee Gianetti

Director of Communications and Community Relations

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