Hopkin Thomas – Passing and Remembrances


Hopkin died at his home in Catasauqua on May 12, 1878 at the age of 85. His life had been that of the model immigrant who came to America in the 1800s seeking opportunity and a better life for his family. He left the squalid industrial town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales in 1834 and spent more than 40 years pursuing his engineering interests as the industrial revolution swept through America.


As one of his colleagues remarked: “He was a modest, unassuming, and unostentatious man. His greatness consisted in his advanced knowledge of machinery and mechanics.”


His death brought many of his friends back to the town of Catasauqua to attend his burial. The Catasauqua Dispatch published an article entitled “Old Time Visitors” relating some of the thoughts of those returning to honor their old friend.  


In August of 1878 the Catasauqua Dispatch published a Testimonial to Hopkin where the memories of a number of his closest friends and colleagues are found. When reading this tribute, one gains a sense of the esteem in which the man was held. Among the comments are:


He was authority in all mechanical details, and his name is known throughout the country as a man of sterling integrity, great inventive genius and the pioneer in locomotive building. His inventions are numbered by scores, many which are used today covered by patents of other parties, as Mr. Thomas seldom entered them, his whole desire being to accomplish his own needs. He was the first person to construct the fire box to burn coal, which invention is still in prominent use by all locomotive builders. It is claimed that he invented the equalizing bar, by which means the weight of the machine is equally distributed to all the drivers; he invented the chilled hub for car wheels, which formerly revolved upon the axle, instead of the axle being stationary and revolving in the box, as now in use.


The testimonial includes the words of Gen. William Lilly, whom Hopkin met while at the Beaver Meadow operations:


“As I say above, he was as modest and unassuming as a child, never pushing himself or his ideas upon others, hence he was never a success in a pecuniary way. “Hopkin,” as we all familiarly called him, was kind and true hearted in his social relations, and in his home was a most indulgent father and husband. He lived to a good old age, being nearer 90 than 80 years. He was buried at Catasauqua on Wednesday afternoon. The whole town turned out to his funeral. If we all could do our part in this world as did Hopkin Thomas, we could depart as he did, in peace.”



Hopkin was buried in Fairview Cemetery in the plot now known as the “McKee Plot” where the remains of his very successful son-in-law, James Harper McKee are found. 


Monument to Hopkin Thomas at Fairview Cemetery



The final tribute to Hopkin Thomas – and a tribute that he would have appreciated greatly – was  the construction of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Engine No. 374. Named in honor of the first Master Mechanic of the Beaver Meadow Railroad, it was commissioned at the L.V.R.R. Weatherly Shops in November 16, 1881, it remained in service until October 7, 1907.



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Rev. January 2011