Railroads have been around for almost two hundred years. Between 1820 and 1850 the first railroads began to appear and the need for the further development became apparent. America had just gone through an era of canal making; and now with the canals not in total operation, railroads began to thrive and take jobs that would once have gone to the canals. However, it was not easy for the railroad industry to promote their innovative new mode of transportation.
With vision and ingenuity, the pioneers of the early American railroads were able to surmount all obstacles that stood in their way and led the Nation into a "transportation revolution." Early American Railroads The history of railroad development in America was heavily influenced by the industry in England. Attempts to develop the steam engine began as early as 1813. In 1814 George Stephenson developed the first commercially feasible locomotive. From 1820 to 1825 Mr. Stephenson worked on further developing the engines and their ability to haul cargo and, eventually, passengers. Many railroad companies were established in England during this time period.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railroad became the first common carrier railroad in the world. America's First Railroads Before all of the new engines from Europe came to America, the railroad industry was very primitive. In fact the first railroad in America was only three miles long. It was basically a mining track from Quincy, Massachusetts to the Nep onset River. The rails were made of pine covered by oak which was in turn covered by a flat iron bar. Construction of this railroad commenced in 1826 and was completed in 1827.
The second railroad was started in January of 1827 and completed in May of the same year. The tracks were used for a coal operation. The tracks only went a short distance and worked by gravity and the force of mules. Even before these early railroads, Colonel Stevens had suggested that he could build a railroad at less cost in place of what was to be the Erie Canal. Along with early railroads, the early ancestors of the locomotives were also very primitive. As said earlier, the carts were either horse drawn or worked on a system utilizing gravity.
Pioneers of the Early Railroads In the early 1820's America's major mode of transportation of people and goods were canals and stagecoaches. Even before 1820, Oliver Evans of Philadelphia in the year 1813 was forecasting steam driven carriages that would provide travel "almost as fast as birds fly, between 15 and 20 miles per hour... carriages may pass each other going in opposite directions and may travel by night as well as day; and the passengers will sleep as comfortably as they do now in steamboats." Evans' own early invention, the Orukter Amphibolous, or the Amphibious Digger was an early predecessor to the steam locomotive. The first steam locomotive in the United States was built in 1825 and was operated over a half-mile circular track by John Stevens. Stevens was the father of Robert L. Stevens, the inventor of the T-rail, and sometimes called the father of American railroads.
Mr. E. L. Allen of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Canal and Railroad Company, went to England and purchased three locomotives for the company. The Stourbridge Lion was the first to arrive in New York.
The performances of the locomotive were witnessed by thousands of people who marveled at the imported oddity. The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company in 1830 had a showing of the locomotive called The Best Friend Of Charleston. Peter Cooper, also a pioneer, created the steam locomotive Tom Thumb. In 1830 he demonstrated it on the Baltimore and Ohio tracks. The engine was then dubbed a "tea kettle on a track." In 1831 The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad staged a contest for the steam locomotives. Phineas Davis won the contest with his engine, The York.
These few men were some of the great leaders in the railroad industry. The Beginning of Carrier Trains in America As soon as America began to have a push towards the development of railroads many people began requesting charters. In 1815 the first charter was granted by the State of New Jersey to John Stevens. Actual construction of New Jersey's first railroad was not started for two more decades. Baltimore merchants and civic leaders who needed a way across the mountains to compete with the newly completed Erie Canal sponsored the development of the first rail network in the United States.
These afore-mentioned men got a charter together in 1827 and used horse-drawn cars on the tracks. The first section of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began in 1828. This first regular route ran between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills. This 13 mile line was opened to the public in 1830. The B & O became the first common carrier railroad to be incorporated into the United States. New Jersey's first railroad, the Camden and Amboy, was constructed in 1834.
The Camden and Amboy operated one of the first few steam locomotives in America now known as the John Bull. Imported from England, this engine featured the most available technology of the time. Passenger service began in early 1835 with a room in the Blue Anchor Tavern serving as a waiting room. The management of the Camden and Amboy wished to maintain a monopoly in the area and purchased other small rail lines. During this time of firsts in the Northeastern part of the United States, the Southeast was pioneering its own railroad network. The South Carolina Canal And Railroad Company also imported an engine from England.
On December 5, 1831, the Best Friend of Charleston pulled the first regularly-scheduled steam train in the history of North America. A catastrophic accident destroyed the engine, but it was rebuilt and renamed the Phoenix. At the time the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was the longest railroad in the world. The tracks stretched from Charleston to the village of Hamburg, South Carolina, a distance some 137 miles.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's line from Baltimore to Elliot City, Maryland proceeded this southern feat. But while the Best Friend was steaming along to South Carolina, the B & O Railroad was still using horse-drawn carriages. During this period of time, many other railroad companies were formed and applied for charters. Some of these included: The Philadelphia and Columbia - March 24, 1828 West Jersey and Seashore Railroad - January 12, 1831 Allegheny Portage Railroad - March 21, 1831 Long Island Railroad - April 24, 1834 Sunbury & Erie Railroad - April 4, 1837 Louisiana Railroad (renamed Virginia Central in 1850) - January 1836 All of these companies and their charters helped to expand the small railroad industry in America.
Problems of the Railroads The development of railroads in America did not come without its share of problems. The railroads were not greeted with enthusiasm by the population as a whole. Travelers on the early railroads were exposed to showering sparks, boiler explosions, collisions, violent jolting and less than luxurious conditions. Often times this led travelers to seek other modes of transportation. The extent of some travelers fears can be seen in this article that appeared in one newspaper in 1830: "It will set the whole world a-gadding... Grave plodding citizens will be flying about like comets...
All conceptions will be exaggerated by the magnificent notions of distance... It will upset all the gravity of the nation... Upon the whole, sir, it is a pestilential, tipsy turkey, harum-scar um whirligig." Horatio Allen, a late assistant engineer for the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Railroad Company, once said, "It is generally believed that the railroad system was imported into this country from England full grown, but such is not the case." The first problem in the crossover from England's railroads to America's railroads was to accommodate for the diversity in America's terrain. Vast distances, mountain grades and sharp curves provided problems in laying rails. The rigidly constructed English engines were suited for England's straight and level railways and could not operate well in most American conditions. One improvement was to add springs to cushion the ride of the train because it crossed over such rough terrain.
Another suggested improvement was to put a small strip of lead between the iron and stone to prevent the iron from eroding away by friction. This was later proven not to work. With no examples to follow and no experiences to draw from, everything had to be tested by actual experimentation. Some of the early problems of the railroads were generated by the railroads themselves. The early railroads were planned to attract trade into the individual communities rather than to connect regions of the country. Independent railroad companies used different track widths to keep rivals from connecting to their lines thus ensuring monopolies for their company.
This stunted the growth of the early railroads. The average length of the first 95 railroads was barely 41 miles. Financial difficulties often stalled or ceased the construction of many early railroads. It was not easy to find substantial backers for these early ventures.
The novelty, along with sometimes exaggerated horror stories, made potential investors less than enthusiastic. The cost of constructing a railroad was staggering. A railroad company had to secure the right of way and, unlike canals, had to buy its own rolling stock. It took a large number of laborers and a large payroll.
Many of the big shippers were still relying on the time-tested sailing vessels for delivery of their goods. Those early days for the railroads were not very profitable. Capital expenditures and construction costs were high due to the many adaptations and experimenting needed to operate a railroad in America. The country suffered a financial scare in 1837 that also delayed most construction until 1840.
Expansionism Despite these difficulties, the first railroads succeeded and grew at an amazing rate. In 1830 the country had a total of 23 miles of railroad in operation. Five years later the national total was 1098 miles; and by 1848, it had escalated to 5996 miles! This number surpassed the total miles of track in Europe. Improvements were still constant and rapid.
Swivel trucks, or track feelers, were added to the front to ease the locomotives around bends in the roads. Paired driving wheels on either side of the engine were just one of the many improvements to the train and railways. Once Americans committed to the idea of railroads and those curious steam locomotives, it was full speed ahead. Other railroad companies quickly entered the field. By 1840 the nation had more than 400 railroad companies. Small rail companies began to merge.
The New York Central was formed by merging several small lines in the area. Permanent railroad stations were being constructed in nearly every stop along the route. The routes were becoming systematized and through trains were dotting the East in every direction. The railroads gained much enthusiasm during the 1830's and 1840's. That enthusiasm is best illustrated by one French traveler, who when arrived in America, stated that there was "a perfect mania" on the subject of railroads in the new world. Conclusion Railroads changed the nation in many ways.
Often times when settlers were migrating west, they would all situate near the railroads. Also many towns would be almost completely moved to adjust to the railroads. Towns who fought the presence of the railroad either died out or gave into the possible impact the railroads would have and created spur lines to the main lines. Usually the railroads were betokened established areas and small towns sprouted up along the lines. Selection of the railroad's path could mean the death of towns and the creation of new ones along the railroad tracks. One settler best summed the importance of the railroads in saying, "they have made the towns, and the towns turn to them in grateful acknowledgment, not banishing them to the back regions, but receiving them in their midst." Railroads tied the country together.
They meant new experiences for everyone. People could see family and places that they had never seen before and buy goods that were not previously available to them. Railroads were a connecting force that helped to bring the whole country within everyone's grasp. The time of railroad construction from 1820 to 1850 was just the beginning of a great era in railroad development. Endnotes (1) Joseph R.
Conlin The Great American Past Fifth Edition (Harcourt Brace and Company: Ft. Worth, Texas, 1997) pg. 237 (2) Marshall B. Davidson Life in America Vol. II (Houghton Miller Company: Boston, 1951) pg. 522 (3) Carol C.
Calkins The Story of America (The Reader's Digest Assn, Inc. : Pleasantville, New York, 1975) pg. 197 (4) Herbert S. Zim Our Wonderful World Vol. I (Spencer Press Inc.
: Chicago, 1962) pg. 426 (5) William H. Brown The History of the First Locomotives in America (D. Appleton and Co. : New York, 1871) Chapter 19, pg.
1 Bibliography Adler, Pat and Wheelock, Walt, Walker's R. R. Routes-1853. La Siesta Press: Glendale, CA. 1965. Explained the ways they found the railroad paths.
It also had a little information on individual railroad history. Brown, William H. , The History of Locomotives in America From Original Documents and The Testimony of Living Witnesses D. Appleton and Co. : New York, 1871 (on line) web found a lot of useful information at this site. Found good quotes and almost all information found in other sources.
Calkins, Carol C. , The Story Of America The Reader's Digest Assn. , Inc. : Pleasantville, New York, 1975.
A few quotes and a good piece of writing on this time period. Conlin, Joseph R. , The American Past Fifth Edition. Harcourt Brace and Co.
: Ft. Worth, Texas, 1997. Not too much information, but it helped to piece together different parts. Conners, Frank, Depots and Steel Rail (online) web date unknown Gave information on depots and some of the problems faced by the early railroads. Ford, Bacon, and Davis, Maintenance of Way Training Manuel Book 1. Introduction to Railroading (on line) web date unknown Facts and dates on first railroads and information on first charters for railroads." America's First Railroads," Our Wonderful World.
Spencer Press Inc. : Chicago, 1962 I found several quotes and good overall information on early railroads." Railroads," Encarta. Microsoft Corp. , 1995 Figures and dates on the growing size of railroads..