History of the Railroad


History of the Railroad: The development and the history of the railroad spanned over many hundred years. The invention of the railroad cannot be attributed to just one person but George Stephenson (1781 - 1848)  is often referred to as the "Father of the Railways". This article explores the history of the railroad from the rutways of ancient times, the construction of funicular railway, the wooden tracks used by miners and the wooden railed wagon routes called Wagonways.

History of the Railroad: The Industrial Revolution witnessed the new age of iron and the invention of steam locomotives which replaced the horse for carrying people and hauling goods and freight. The old wooden rails were replaced with iron rails that enabled heavy Steam Locomotives to carry people and goods over the early railroad network cutting travel time by 90%.



Facts about the History of the Railroad


 Inventions and Inventors Index


Definition of the Railroad: The Railroad is defined as a line of track consisting of parallel series of iron or steel rails that accommodate the wheels of trains of passenger cars, freight cars and other rolling stock drawn by a locomotive engine.

Fact 1: History of the Railroad: The ancient predecessors of the railroad were 'rutways' that consisted of a series of grooved tracks. A rutway was a rutted road constructed with artificial wheel-ruts or grooves that had been deliberately cut into rock that were used for hauling heavy loads over specified routes.

Fact 2: History of the Railroad: The oldest funicular or cable railway was constructed in 1515 using wooden rails and a hemp rope to provide freight access to the mountain top Hohensalzburg Castle at Salzburg in Austria .

Fact 3: History of the Railroad: During the 1500's German miners devised a clever minecart, called a 'hund'  to move ore within the mines. The Hunds were small wooden tubs that ran on two wide wooden boards or rails. Similar tracks were used by British miners for transporting coal from the coalface to the mine entrance.

Fact 4: History of the Railroad: A significant step towards the development of the railroad was made in 1603 when the overground Wollaton Wagonway was constructed in England. The overland, wooden railed, route was two miles long and designed to carry horse drawn wagons of coal on the wooden rails.

Fact 5: History of the Railroad: The First Industrial Revolution centered on iron and steam engine inventions which saw the decline of the horse, the introduction of trains and wooden rails were replaced with iron rails. Wooden railed tramways were first reinforced in 1760 with iron bars which made the passage of wagons much easier and as a result cast iron rails were eventually introduced.

Fact 6: History of the Railroad: In 1801 Richard Trevithick (1771 – 1833) built a steam road locomotive he called the 'Puffing Devil' and in 1802 he built another steam-powered road vehicle that he named the London Steam Carriage which he demonstrated in the streets of London.

Fact 7: History of the Railroad: In 1803 Richard Trevithick harnessed the power of high-pressure steam and built the world's first railway steam locomotive.

Fact 8: History of the Railroad: The world’s first railway to carry fare-paying passengers was Oystermouth Railway, later known as the Swansea & Mumbles Railway opened on March 25, 1807 in Swansea, Wales. Its carriages were originally horse drawn, and later replaced with steam engines and then electric tramcars

Fact 9: History of the Railroad: In 1814 George Stephenson constructed a steam locomotive he called the Blutcher that ran on a track laid with cast iron rails that reduced friction and increased the efficiency of the locomotive. 'Puffing Billy', the world's oldest surviving steam locomotive was built in 1813–1814 by engineer William Hedley, engine-wright Jonathan Forster and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth. 'Puffing Billy' was built for for Christopher Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Fact 10: History of the Railroad: The first railroads (literally rail-roads or rail-ways) would revolutionize transportation making travel easier and more comfortable over long distances.

Fact 11: History of the Railroad: A railroad track consists of two parallel rails set a fixed distance apart, called the gauge. The rails are connected to each other by wooden or concrete railroad ties (also called sleepers). The railroad ties (sleepers) are set into loose gravel, stones or ballast that help transfer the load to the underlying foundation.

Fact 12: History of the Railroad: The world's first public railway to use steam locomotives was the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) which opened on September 27, 1825 connecting collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington in England. The carriages were first drawn by horses until steam locomotives were introduced in 1833 - all were built by George Stevenson.

Fact 13: History of the Railroad: In 1829 George Stephenson, together with his son Robert Stephenson, built "The Rocket" steam locomotive which successfully won a competition called the 'Rainhill Trials' proved the practicability of using steam locomotives on iron tracked railways  - the railroad was here to stay.

Fact 14: History of the Railroad: The success of the Stockton to Darlington railway and George Stephenson's 'Rocket' stimulated the laying of iron railroad lines and the construction of locomotives across the world. It also earned George Stephenson the title of the "Father of the Railways".

Fact 15: History of the Railroad: In 1825 Colonel John Stevens designed and built a steam locomotive capable of hauling several passenger cars in Hoboken, New Jersey. John Stevens is considered to be the father of American railroads.

Fact 16: History of the Railroad: In 1828 the first operational locomotive on an American railroad was the Stourbridge Lion. The Stourbridge Lion was imported from England by Horatio Allen of New York  for the Delaware and Hudson Railway.

Fact 17: History of the Railroad: In 1830 the American railroad era exploded when the steam locomotive built by Peter Cooper, called the Tom Thumb, first steamed along Baltimore and Ohio railroad track.

Fact 18: History of the Railroad: In 1831 the first steam locomotive to pull a train of cars over an American railroad was the Best Friend of Charleston which was built for the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company by the West Point Foundry of New York.

Fact 19: History of the Railroad: In 1832 the first horsecar was built by an American omnibus builder called John G. Stephenson. The horsecar that run on the iron tracks that had been laid in the streets of New York City. The popularity of the horse car declined they were first converted to use steam engines and eventually to electricity, replacing the horse when streetcars, trolleybuses and trams began to run on the iron tracks.

Fact 20: History of the Railroad: The New York and Erie Rail Road was chartered in 1832 by Governor of New York, Enos T. Throop to connect the Hudson River north of New York City to Lake Erie.

Fact 21: History of the Railroad: In 1832 Sir Charles Fox, an English civil engineer, invented and patented the railroad switch enabling locomotives to be guided from one track to another.

Fact 22: History of the Railroad: In 1832 John Jervis, designed the locomotive called the 'Experiment' which had a swiveling four-wheeled guide truck that could follow the track enabling locomotives to travel on railways with tighter curves across mountainous terrain.

Fact 23: History of the Railroad: In 1833 The English company of Robert Stephenson constructed the locomotive called the "John Bull" for the Camden and Amboy Railroad in New Jersey. The John Bull was one of the first American locomotives to be fitted with a 'cow catcher' that pushed obstructions from the railroad track.

Fact 24: History of the Railroad: Samuel Morse invented the the Telegraph and the Morse Code in 1838 which coincided with the boom in the construction of railroads across America. As land was cleared for the railroad it was easy to set up poles to carry the telegraph wires and provided a fast system of communication across long distances. Congress authorized $10,000 to string Samuel Morse’s first telegraph line along the right of way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Baltimore to Washington D.C.

Fact 25: History of the Railroad: The construction of the Railroad across America saw the rise of the Railroad magnates such as Edward H. Harriman, Erastus Corning, Charles Crocker, James J. Hill, Cyrus K. Holliday, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, George Pullman, Collis P. Huntington, Arthur Stilwell and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Fact 26: History of the Railroad: The Pennsylvania line was founded in 1846 and in 1854 the Rock Island Line became the first railroad to connect Chicago with the Mississippi River. The Illinois Central Railroad was built in 1851, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was founded in 1859, Central Pacific company was founded in 1861 and the Union Pacific Railroad was chartered in 1862

Fact 27: History of the Railroad: In 1857 George Pullman (1831 – 1897) designed dining cars and manufactured the opulent Pullman sleeping car, a luxurious railroad coach designed for overnight travel across the railroad.

Fact 28: History of the Railroad: Between 1849 and 1860 30,000 miles of railroad were built in the United States of America.

Fact 29: History of the Railroad: The American Civil War (1861 - 1865) heralded the use of the railroad as a vital means of transporting troops and supplies to the soldiers and the wounded in hospital trains.

Fact 30: History of the Railroad: In 1863 world's first underground railway (now referred to as the Tube), the Metropolitan Railway started working in London. The first Tube line was built and financed by a private company, the Metropolitan Railway and is now part of the Northern Line. The success of this underground track gave birth to the modern subways.

Fact 31: History of the Railroad: In 1868 American engineer George Westinghouse invented the railway air brake. His invention saved many lives and train wrecks by replacing manually applied brakes with a railroad braking system using compressed air.

Fact 32: History of the Railroad: On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad companies joined their individual tracks with the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah to make the first Transcontinental Railroad in the United States. The Transcontinental Railroad was 3500 miles long and joined the east of the United States on the Atlantic coast with the west of the United States to the Pacific coast.

Fact 33: History of the Railroad: Train robberies hit the slower trains of the American Old West and famous train robbers included Jesse James, Bill Miner and Butch Cassidy accompanied by his "The Wild Bunch" robbed the Railroad.

Fact 34: History of the Railroad: Carl von Linde (1842 - 1934) invented the refrigerator in 1876 and the first refrigerator cars went into operation on the Southern Pacific Railroad to carry perishable fruit and vegetables across the United States.

Fact 35: History of the Railroad: In 1900 the railroad engineer Casey Jones (1864–1900) became a hero when the "Cannonball Express" collided with another train. Casey Jones grabbed the brake with one hand and pulled the warning whistle with the other and saved the lives of all the passengers on the train. Only Casey Jones died and was immortalized in American history in a tribute song called "The Ballad of Casey Jones".

Fact 36: History of the Railroad: The construction of the early railroads in the United States was a feat of engineering enabling people to travel west on the Railroad and was a source of great national pride to Americans.

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