The Stevens Family


Hoboken's First Family

The Stevens family had a profound impact on American life. They oversaw the development of Hoboken from an old farm into a thriving city, made engineering innovations that had national and global impact, and were thoroughly engaged in the civic life of New Jersey and New York.

Following his service as treasurer during the Revolutionary War, Colonel John Stevens bought an old farm on the Hudson River in 1784. He soon set to developing the area as a pleasure ground and transportation hub. The Colonel and his sons made significant contributions to steamship and railroad construction while dabbling in other scientific and design pursuits. The family is also notable for their civic contributions, including the founding of America's first mechanical engineering college, the Stevens Institute.

The impressive accomplishments of the Stevens family were essential in establishing Hoboken's important place in world history. Their struggles and achievements reveal much about transportation and innovation in the early days of the American republic. A combination of hard work, ingenuity, and social status made them powerful business people who made lasting contributions to life in America.


The Family

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Meet some of the best known members of Hoboken's first family. 


Building Hoboken


On May 1, 1784 John Stevens bought William Bayard's old farm for 18,340 Pounds sterling, or about $90,000, at a state auction. He settled on the name Hoboken, a closer approximation to the Lenape word for the area than Hoebuck, as Bayard's farm had been known.


Steamboat Innovation

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John Stevens and his sons made numerous contributions to steamship design, including the first entirely American built steamboat to be commercially viable.


First Family in American Railroading

The railroads that stretch out of Hoboken and across the country are in large part the fruit of the brilliant minds of John Stevens and his son Robert. John Stevens more than anyone brought the railroad into American discussion, Robert determined the shape that railroads would take, and Edwin helped make it a viable business.


Racing Yachts


The Stevens family was a major influence in American yachting, and the America's Cup stayed in Hoboken for many years.


Naval Warfare


While the Stevens family were most successful in enterprises of peace, their creative minds helped bring naval warfare into the modern era of steam and iron.


Horticulture and Water Works

Though their fame is primarily the result of work in other areas, the Stevens' contributions to American horticulture and water supply infrastructure are fascinating examples of their broad interests.


Hoboken Grows

As the Stevens family's innovations and businesses continued to blossom, the town they founded grew.


The Castle


Built in the 1850s, the Stevens Castle was a grand home that overlooked the Hudson River from the highest point in Hoboken.


Stevens Institute of Technology


Appropriate for a family of pioneering engineers, the first college in America dedicated to mechanical engineering carries the Stevens name.


Civic Engagement

Continuing the civic spirit demonstrated by Hoboken's founder in war and peace, several descendents of Colonel John Stevens have had important roles in philanthropy and politics.




While the descendants of Colonel Stevens no longer live in Hoboken, the family's legacy can be seen around town.


Full List of Sources

Books, articles, and documents about the Stevens family.