He was the son of William and Mary Winans. He married twice: 1. Julia De Kay by whom he had five children: Thomas De Kay (1820-1878); William Louis (1823-before 1907); Julia De Kay; Clinton (b. 1838); Walter. 2. Elizabeth West.
He was a strong individual, who started life as a farmer in his native state of New Jersey, and became one of America's first multi-millionaires, and a pioneer of railroading technology and development. He was first associated with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1829, but he soon became the main contractor for supplying the road's rolling stock.
In about 1840 he began a career as an independent locomotive builder. His original attempts at building coal-burning eight-wheel freight engines were not completely successful, but by 1848 he had perfected his ideas for the Camel locomotive, a powerful machine well suited to slow-speed coal service. He produced a total of only about 300 locomotives. His refusal to adopt the reformed ideas of locomotive construction, which developed so rapidly after 1850, caused his business to decline, and, after the Baltimore and Ohio's refusal to purchase more Camel engines, he was forced to close his shop in about 1860.
He was far from a ruined man; he lived comfortably, wrote religious tracts and joined his son Thomas in the construction of the Cigar boat. During the Civil War he was a Confederate sympathizer and was arrested on few occasions by the Government of Maryland. Winans had been credited with the invention of the coned wheel, the chilled cast-iron wheel, the eight-wheel car, and the leading truck. He claimed that the designs of these devices were stolen and used by other companies without his consent. Hence between 1838 and the late 1850s he was involved in what came to be known as 'The Twenty Years War against the Railroads' where he and his attorneys sued many companies. According to historian John H. White, 'Ross Winans cannot properly be given credit as the originator of these devices.'
White, John H., A History of the American Locomotive, It's development, 1830-1880, New York, 1968, p. 458; Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century, Chicago, 1902, p. 1023; Who Was Who in America, Chicago, 1963, p. 588.