The Museum will be open on Juneteenth, Wednesday, June 19, and on Independence Day, Thursday, July 4.

Today’s Hours: Closed

Rocket Launch October 27

Rocket Launch October 27

Posted on October 17, 2023

A launch of the 185-year-old Rocket steam locomotive into the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania’s world-class collection will take place during a ribbon cutting on Friday, October 27 at 10:30 a.m. The public is invited to attend.

Following the ribbon cutting, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania director Patrick C. Morrison will give a presentation on the history of the Rocket.  The presentation will be on a first come basis for the first 50 people.  Both the Rocket ribbon cutting and subsequent presentation are included in the regular Museum admission.

The Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), the owner of the Rocket, selected the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania as the new permanent home for the locomotive, which spent the past 90 years at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

 Completed in March 1838, the Rocket was the first of eight English-made locomotives purchased by the Philadelphia & Reading Railway from 1838 to 1841.  The others, all made by London-based Braithwaite, Milner & Company, were named Firefly, Spitfire, Comet, Dragon, Helca, Planet and Gem, most of which remained in service for decades.   The Rocket is all that remains from this group and is the oldest surviving Reading Railroad locomotive.  The historic steam locomotive Rocket originally weighed over 17,000 pounds and is about 17 feet long.

“In many respects, in the early 19th century, England was a few years ahead of the United States in developing railroad technology, and in embracing the concept of railroading in general,” says Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania director Patrick C. Morrison.  “The Rocket typifies this early American embrace of English railroad technology and precedent.  From there, American inventors and mechanics would study, learn from and adapt this technology to their own landscapes, and begin to build and perfect their own railroad equipment.”

Morrison adds, “The Rocket was built for use at the opening of the line between Reading and Pottstown in 1838, and it faithfully served the Reading Railroad for more than 40 years.  In March 1879, the Rocket was retired after having traveled 310,164 miles over the course of its career.  Following its retirement, the Rocket sat unused and neglected until it was fully restored for exhibition purposes.”

“The Rocket was shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition — Chicago World’s Fair — in 1893, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition — St. Louis World’s Fair — in 1904 and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927.  The Rocket came to The Franklin Institute on loan from the Reading Company in 1933, where it was placed on public display in 1934.  Since that time, it has been displayed on a portion of 1830s-era tracks next to the Baldwin 60000 locomotive.

Morrison states, “We are grateful to Conrail for their tremendous support and for entrusting the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania with this irreplaceable historic treasure of both British and American railroading.  We also wish to recognize The Franklin Institute for their outstanding stewardship of the Rocket over these last 90 years.  In recent months, Mike Venezia of Venezia Enterprises, who served as project coordinator and historical consultant on the move, led a wonderful team of contractors who worked together diligently and carefully to prepare the Rocket for transport and exhibition, and we are very appreciative of all their extraordinary efforts.  We are delighted to have the Rocket take its honored place amid the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s premier railroad heritage collection.”