The company was founded by Thomas Rogers in an 1832 partnership with Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor as Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor. Rogers remained president until his death in 1856 when his son, Jacob S. Rogers, took the position and reorganized the company as Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works. The younger Rogers led the company until he retired in 1893. Robert S. Hughes then became president and reorganized the company as Rogers Locomotive Company, which he led until his death in 1900.
Rogers avoided the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) merger in 1901 through closing and reopening as Rogers Locomotive Works. The company remained independent until 1905 when ALCO purchased it; ALCO continued building new steam locomotives at the Rogers plant until 1913. ALCO used the Rogers facilities through the 1920s as a parts storage facility and warehouse, but eventually sold the property to private investors. Today, several Rogers-built locomotives exist in railroad museums around the world, and the plant's erecting shop is preserved as the Thomas Rogers Building; it is the current location of the Paterson Museum whose mission is to preserve and display Paterson's industrial history.
In 1832, Rogers partnered with two investors from New York City, Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor. Jefferson Works was renamed Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor, and the company began to diversify into the railroad industry. The company soon manufactured springs, axles and other small parts for railroad use.
The first locomotive that Rogers' company assembled was actually built by Robert Stephenson and Company of England in 1835. This locomotive was the McNeil for the Paterson and Hudson River Railroad. It took another two years before Rogers received their first order for a complete locomotive. In 1837, the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad ordered two locomotives from Rogers to form the beginning of the railroad's roster. The first of these two locomotives was the Sandusky, which became the first locomotive to cross the Allegheny Mountains (albeit by canal boat and not by rail), and the first locomotive to operate in Ohio.
Sandusky included features designed by Thomas Rogers that had not been seen in locomotive construction to date. It was also the first locomotive to use cast iron driving wheels, and the wheels included built-in counterweights to reduce the amount of wear on the track caused by the weight of the driving rod and wheel all coming down at once during the wheels' rotations. Before Sandusky's construction, driving wheels were typically built with wooden spokes, much like wagon wheels.
Rogers was not working completely alone in locomotive manufacturing. In 1837, in addition to building the company's first locomotive, Rogers also filled orders from fellow locomotive builders Matthias W. Baldwin (founder of Baldwin Locomotive Works) and William Norris (founder of Norris Locomotive Works) for locomotive tires of various sizes. Once Rogers started working on his own locomotives, however, no further orders from either Baldwin or Norris were forthcoming. Within Rogers own shop, William Swinburne worked as the shop foreman until he moved on to form his own locomotive manufacturing company, Swinburne, Smith and Company in 1845. After Swinburne left Rogers, John Cooke also worked at the Rogers plant. Like Swinburne, Cooke later went on to form his own locomotive manufacturing firm, Danforth, Cooke & Company. Another engineer who worked at Rogers was Zerah Colburn, the well known locomotive engineer and, later editor and publisher. According to well-established sources, Colburn was, around 1854, 'superintendent and/or consultant' at the works where he introduced a number of improvements in locomotive design.
Rogers locomotives were, from very early in the company's history, seen as powerful, capable engines on American railroads. The Uncle Sam, serial number 11, a 4-2-0 built in 1839 for the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company, was noted by American Railroad Journal for hauling a 24-car train up a grade of 26 feet per mile (1:200) at 24.5 mph (39 km/h). In 1846, Rogers built what is referred to as the largest 6-wheel truck engine (4-2-0) in the United States; the Licking, serial number 92, built for the Mansfield and Sandusky Railroad, generated 110 pounds-force per square inch (760 kPa) of steam pressure and could pull a 380-short ton (345 tonne) train up a grade of 16 feet per mile (3 metres per km).
In November 1868 Rogers delivered 5 identical coal-burning 4-4-0 steam locomotives (assigned Nos. 116–120) to the Union Pacific Railroad, which were subsequently placed into freight service in western Wyoming and Utah. Union Pacific No. 119 would gain fame on May 10, 1869 when it took part in the "Golden Spike" ceremony at Promontory, Utah to celebrate the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The unit was rebuilt in the early 1880s, and redesignated as road No. 343 in 1885. No. 119 was retired and sent to the scrapyard after nearly 35 years of service in April, 1903. A full-scale, operating replica was completed in 1979, and today sits on display at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Arguably, the most famous locomotive to come out of the Rogers shops was built in 1855. Rogers built a 4-4-0 (a locomotive with two unpowered leading axles and two powered driving axles), serial number 631, in December of that year for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The railroad named the locomotive The General. This locomotive is now on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History (the Big Shanty Museum) in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Not only were Rogers locomotives known in the industry for their power, but they were also known for their endurance. It is estimated that one locomotive, Illinois Central Railroad 4-4-0 number 23, serial number 449, built in December 1853, operated over one million miles (1.6 million km) in its thirty year career on the Illinois Central.
1887 saw the appointment of Reuben Wells as shop superintendent. Jacob Rogers, now in his late 70s, gradually passed more and more responsibility to Wells until Rogers resigned the presidency in 1893. After just over 60 years, the Rogers company would no longer be run by a member of the Rogers family. The company reorganized under its former treasurer and new president, Robert S. Hughes, as the Rogers Locomotive Company; Jacob Rogers remained the company's principal investor. Hughes led the company until his own death in 1900. A year later, Jacob Rogers closed the Rogers Locomotive Company plant.
In 1901, the year that Jacob Rogers died and the same year that the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) was formed through the merger of eight other locomotive manufacturers, the company reopened as the Rogers Locomotive Works. Reuben Wells was again the shop superintendent. But Rogers was at a competitive disadvantage. Not enough capital investment was made to purchase new equipment or in research and development. ALCO and Baldwin, the two companies that were at the time the largest locomotive manufacturers in North America, held too much of a lead in manufacturing and selling their own locomotives for Rogers to keep up. Compounding Rogers' troubles was the greater city of Paterson that had grown up around the shop. There was not any room for Rogers to expand.
The erecting shop building has since been renamed the "Thomas Rogers Building" and is now the home of the Paterson Museum. The museum preserves and displays artifacts of Paterson's industrial history. A 2-6-0 locomotive that was used in the construction of the Panama Canal is on display outside the museum, but it is one that was built by ALCO-Cooke (the former Cooke Locomotive and Machine Works plant, also located in Paterson) and not by Rogers.
|Serial number|| Wheel arrangement|
|Build date||Operational owner(s)||Disposition|
|4-2-2||1843||Matanza Railroad #1 La Junta||Christina Station, Havana, Cuba|
|631||4-4-0||December 1855||Western and Atlantic Railroad #3 General||Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History (website), Kennesaw, Georgia|
|812||4-4-0||January 1858||Atlantic and Gulf Railroad #3||Henry Ford Museum (website), Dearborn, Michigan|
|2454||2-4-2||July 1877||New Zealand Railways K #88||Plains Vintage Railway (website), Ashburton, New Zealand|
|2468||2-4-2||March 1878||New Zealand Railways K #92||Waimea Plains Rwy Trust Board, Gore, New Zealand (currently in operation by Oamaru Steam and Rail Restoration Society, Oamaru, Sth. Is., NZ)|
|2470||2-4-2||March 1878||New Zealand Railways K #94||Plains Railway, Ashburton, New Zealand|
|2588||2-4-4T||May 1880||Illinois Central Railroad #201||Illinois Railway Museum (website), Union, Illinois|
|3332||4-4-0||August 1883||Canadian Pacific Railway #136||South Simcoe Railway (website), Tottenham, Ontario, Canada|
|4493||4-6-0||March 1891||Prescott and Arizona Central Railway #3, Sierra Railroad #3||Currently owned by the State of California, operated at Sierra Railroad (website), Jamestown, California; undergoing restoration for service|
|4788||4-6-0||November 1892||Burlington and Missouri Railroad #309, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad #637||Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois|
|5425||0-6-0||September 1899||St. Paul and Duluth Railroad #74, Northern Pacific #924||Northwest Railway Museum (website), Snoqualmie, Washington|
|5609||4-6-0||August 1900||Mobile and Ohio Railroad #187, Columbus and Greenville Railway #178||Propst Park, Columbus, Mississippi|
|5796||2-8-0||August 1902||Great Northern Railway #1147||North Central Washington Museum, Wenatchee, Washington|
|6178||2-8-0||June 1904||Illinois Central Railroad #764||National Museum of Transportation (website), Kirkwood, Missouri|
|6256||4-6-2||January 1905||Louisville and Nashville Railroad #152||Kentucky Railway Museum (website), New Haven, Kentucky|
|6259||0-6-0||January 1905||Atlanta and West Point Railroad #4, Western Railway of Alabama #104||Georgia RR Depot, Conyers, Georgia|