1789 - 1867
"I was generally at the head of the young urchins of our neighborhood, and when there was a fort to be constructed, or a cabin to be built, in our plays, I was always appointed chief engineer, by common consent, and some of our juvenile structures are still in existence." Born in Scituate, Massachusetts, Gridley Bryant was apprenticed to a builder in Boston at the age of 15 and he started his own business when he came of age.
In 1825, he purchased a quarry in nearby Quincy for $250, intending to supply granite for the construction of a monument on the battlefield at Bunker Hill. As the quarry was some 12 miles from the site of the planned monument, Bryant set to work designing and building a rail line to transport the granite blocks to a wharf on the Neponset River, from which they could be delivered by boat to the battlefield. Even his business partners were skeptical of his revolutionary plan at first, but they agreed to support the concept because it seemed the only way to expedite construction. Roughly a year later, on October 7, 1826, the first railroad in America began operations when three horse-drawn cars of Bryant's design began rolling down the inclined track.
The first contract for the Granite Railway , as it was known, was for hauling 3,000 pounds of hewn stone, at a cost of 50 cents per ton. Later the railway also was used to transport stone to Boston Harbor and to carry stone for Minot's Ledge Lighthouse at the harbor's entrance. Later Bryant successfully defended his invention of the eight-wheel railroad car against a patent filed by another designer, Ross Winans of Baltimore. Although Bryant won in court, the railroads never paid him royalties for the use of his design. Never profiting substantially from his inventions, he died a poor man.
Bryant is credited with making many improvements to the English rail system methods commonly used in his time. He developed a variety of railway equipment, some still in use today, including the eight-wheel car, the portable derrick, the rail switch, and the turntable.