The steam man is a trope of early US science fiction, one inaugurated by the first dime novel Edisonade, Edward Ellis’s 1868 story The Steam Man of the Prairies. Focusing on early steam man stories as well as the historical origin of the trope—Zadoc Dederick’s 1868 invention, dubbed the Newark Steam Man—this essay argues that the course of US science fiction and US technology more generally was shaped by the racial discourses of the Reconstruction. Coming on the heels of the Civil War, the steam man stories, like Dederick’s patent, drew on extant black caricatures to explicitly racialize their central invention, vividly illustrating the afterlife of slavery at the birth of America’s machine culture.

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