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Human Safety Issues: Lorenzo Coffin (1823 - 1915)

Lorenzo Coffin (1823 - 1915)
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Lorenzo Coffin was born in New Hapshire, moving to Iowa in 1855 and making a claim near Fort Dodge.

In 1874, an Iowa  farmer Lorenzo Coffin watched as a brakeman on a freight train lost two fingers while coupling two train cars.  He discovered that connecting two train cars together was extremely dangerous as many brakemen were losing fingers and sometimes their whole hand.  The railroads were not interested in making safety improvements because of the additional cost.  Mr. Coffin took it upon himself to lobby to whoever would listen to install automatic couplers and air brakes that could be operated from the locomotive on all trains to make a brakeman’s job safer.

Coffin traveled around Iowa promoting railroad safety.  He was appointed Iowa’s first railroad commissioner in 1883.  He drafted the first railroad safety compliance act.  Even though it became state law, railroads continued to ignore making the safety improvements.

In March 1893 President Benjamin Harrison signed into law requiring all American railroads to adopt air brakes and automatic couplers.  Lorenzo received the pen used to sign the bill into law. It is estimated that the loss of life of railroad employees has been reduced by this reform more than sixty per cent.

Nominated by Robin Broders who accepted on Coffinâs behalf.
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