10 October, 2017

Item 97: Hawkins Steam Walker Ephemera

Collection Item 97 is an envelope containing pieces of ephemera that relate to one of Geoffrey Hawkins' more interesting inventions: the single passenger steam walker.  The pieces consist of a technical drawing, a vintage photograph and a number of financial documents.  For exhibit purposes, we are presenting the drawing and the photograph.

Sometime in the late 1880s, the British government commissioned Hawkins Industrial Laboratories to design a steam-powered mechanical walker for potential military applications.  In early 1889, Geoffrey Hawkins presented the Royal Engineers with a prototype design that was quickly rejected due to budget constraints.  Hawkins decided to pursue the design independently, and on 16 July 1889, he approved manufacture of a prototype as noted on the technical drawing now displayed here.

According to Devon Samuelson, Transportation Curator for the Victorian Mechanical Museum, ten steam walkers were manufactured in 1890. Six were purchased by the City and South London Railway company and used in construction of what was the first deep tube underground railway in the world.  Two were sold to Nevada cattleman Giles Ainsworth and used on his Timberjack Ranch.  Hawkins retained the last two at his Hawkins Industrial Laboratories in Faversham. Samuelson notes, "All six used in the C & SLR construction did not survive the project's completion and were likely sold for scrap.  The two walkers retained at the Hawkins Industrial Laboratories were destroyed in the catastrophic fire of 1896."
Hawkins personally delivered the component parts to Ainsworth in September of 1890 and supervised the construction of the steam walkers at the Timberjack Ranch. The photograph found in the Strongbox is dated 13 October 1890 and shows a steam walker in front of Deakin Bros Photography studio in nearby Carson City.
The Timberjack steam walkers have miraculously survived into the 21st century.  One was donated to the Victorian Mechanical Museum where it was restored and placed on exhibition; the other remains in the possession of the Ainsworth family.

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