Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Davenport, Charles

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DAVENPORT, Charles, manufacturer, b. at Newton, Mass., 25 May, 1812. Having learned the coach and carriage builders' trade, he began for himself in 1832 at Cambridge. In 1834, as the firm of Davenport & Bridges, he entered upon the business of building railroad cars, and for some years of locomotives. As car-builders his was not only the pioneer firm of the United States, but for the twenty-two years during which he carried on the business his was the largest car establishment in the country, having factories at Cambridgeport, and from 1840-'50 also at Piermont and Newburg, N. Y. His first cars for the Boston and Worcester railroad, early in 1835, were after the pattern of a long omnibus upon four wheels, seating 24, to be entered by a central door upon either side, and from a step running the length of the car, as on a modern open street-car. Within the fixed seats faced all one way, and were separated on either side by a central aisle the length of the car. The car was turned about on turn-tables at the end of each trip. In the cars built next he made the seats with narrow, reversible backs, and by next year with broad backs, similar to the modern car-seat. He thus did away with the need of turning around the car itself. In 1837 he built the entrance door and platform steps at the ends of the car, instead of the side, thus opening a passageway through a train from car to car. In 1838-'9 he built the first 8-wheel car, to seat 60, and in 1840 the first 16-wheel car, to carry 76 passengers. Thus from year to year he constantly added new improvements, as he had earlier been the first to build a large pleasure-party barge sleigh. In 1856 he retired from business, having constructed over $4,000,000 worth of cars for over fifty different railroads in this country and Cuba. He was an advocate and promoter of many public improvements in and about the city of Boston. Among others, the originator of the earliest plan for the Boston Back Bay park, and of the Charles river embankment improvement in Cambridge, upon the opposite side of the river, both of which have now been largely carried out. He resides near his son. Dr. Bennett F. Davenport (q. v.). in the Boston suburb of Watertown.