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Railroads in the 1800s

John Quincy Adams

Railroads in the 1800s: John Quincy Adams was the 6th American President who served in office from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. One of the important events during his presidency was the construction  the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, one of the oldest US railroads in the 1800s.

History of Railroads in the 1800s
This article details the history of the American Railroads in the 1800s including their invention, their expansion and the significance of the railroads of the 1800s and their impact on the transportation system of America. The Steamboats of the 1800s started to appear in 1807.

Then the steam locomotive was invented. Trains were faster than steamboats and the railroads would quickly replace them as the favored means of transportation in the U.S. The American railroad era exploded in 1830 when Peter Cooper's steam locomotive, called Tom Thumb, first steamed along 13 miles (21 km) of Baltimore and Ohio railroad track and the history of railroads in the 1800s began...

Facts about Railroads in the 1800s
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Railroads in the 1800s.

History of Railroads in the 1800s: The Horse Carriage
Trains began as horse-drawn carts or wagons that carried heavy loads.
The problem was that even the gravel roads were invariably rough in places. It then occurred to some bright spark that it would be better to lay down flat, wooden rails and then to place a rim on the wagon wheels that would keep the wagons on the rails - the idea of the Horse Car and the rail-road was born. Rails reduced friction and increased efficiency.

History of Railroads in the 1800s: The Rail-Road
The first rail-road of this kind in America was built at Boston in 1807. It was a very basic design used to carry soil from the top of a hill to Boston harbor. However the wooden rails soon wore out, and another bright spark had the idea to nail strips of iron on top of the wooden rail-roads. The idea caught on and long lines of railroads of this kind were soon built to carry both passengers and produce. 

History of Railroads in the 1800s for kids: The First Railroads
The first railroads - literally rail-roads - were built by privately, by companies, towns and states. Any one having horses and wagons with flanged (rimmed) wheels could use the railway on the payment of a small sum of money. The Horse car, and the first railroads they ran on, were developed about the same time as the steam locomotive was invented in the late 1820s.

History of Railroads in the 1800s: The Locomotive
The steamboat had been invented, steam was used to drive boats through the water. Inventors had been looking for ways to use steam to haul wagons and carriages over a railroad and the steam locomotive was invented by George Stephenson.

Railroads in the 1800s: The Early Locomotives
The early railroad trains were extremely basic. The cars were little more than stagecoaches with flanged wheels. The cars were secured together with chains, and when the engine started or stopped, there was a terrible clanging, bumping and jolting. The smoke pipe of the engine was very tall and was hinged so that it could be let down when coming to a low bridge or a tunnel. The chimney of a locomotive was called a smoke-stack. The first passenger carriages were extremely uncomfortable, cinders and smoke flew straight into the passengers' faces. But the trains over the railroads went faster than  steamboats and quickly became the favored form of transportation. The first steam locomotives were built with fixed wheels, which worked well on straight tracks but not so well in America's mountainous landscape.

Railroads in the 1800s for kids: Timeline of the Trains, Inventors and Innovators
The timeline of the famous men, innovators and inventors who developed the railroads and the steam locomotives:

  • 1814: George Stephenson constructed a locomotive that could pull 30 tons up a hill at 4 mph. Stephenson called his locomotive, the Blutcher. He is considered to be the inventor of the first steam locomotive engine for railways.

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

  • 1828: The first operational locomotive on an American railroad was the Stourbridge Lion. The Lion was built in 1828 and imported from England by Horatio Allen of New York

  • 1829: George Stephenson  He named his steam locomotive the 'Rocket'

  • 1830: In 1830, the Tom Thumb was the first American-built steam locomotive to be operated on a common-carrier railroad.  The Tom Thumb was designed and built by Peter Cooper

  • 1831: The name of the first locomotive to pull a train of cars over an American railroad was the 1831 Best Friend of Charleston. The Best Friend was designed by E. L. Miller (it operated for 6 months until its boiler exploded)

  • 1831: In 1831 Matthias Baldwin established the Baldwin Locomotive Works and established the prototype from which later engines developed

  • 1832: In 1832 John Jervis, designed the locomotive called the 'Experiment' which had a swiveling four-wheeled guide truck  that could follow the track and enabled locomotives to travel on railways with tighter curves - more suited to mountainous terrain

  • 1833: The firm of Robert Stephenson in England constructed the locomotive the "John Bull" for the Camden and Amboy Railroad. The John Bull was one of the first American locomotives to be fitted with a pilot aka the 'cow catcher'. The 'cow-catcher' was the nickname given to the inclined frame in front of a locomotive that pushed obstructions from the track. The pilot aka the 'cow catcher' soon became standard devices on all American locomotives

  • 1837: The invention of the Morse Code and the first telegraph line led to telegraph lines being erected alongside the Railroads

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - Expansion
Between 1849 and 1858 21,000 miles of railroad were built in the United States of America. Just two years later, in 1860, there were more than 30,000 miles of railroad in actual operation and one continuous line of rails ran from New York City to the Mississippi River. Traveling on the early railroads of the 1800's was uncomfortable, the railroad cars were roughly made and they jolted badly. One train ran only a comparatively short distance. Then the railroad traveler had to alight, get something to drink and eat, and baggage was transferred to another train. But despite all discomforts of the railroads of the 1800s, traveling in the worst of railroad cars was still much better than traveling in the old stagecoaches.

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - The 4-4-0 locomotive, the "American" type
The design of the locomotives changed considerably. Locomotives could be constructed in a number of ways. They were classified by the wheel arrangements of the leading truck, driving wheels, and the trailing truck. The 4-4-0 configuration, which became known as the 'American' type had four wheels on the leading truck and four driving wheels, with no trailing truck. The Central Pacific's locomotive, called the Jupiter, and the Union Pacific's Engine No. 119, were both 4-4-0 locomotives - the "American Standard".

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - The Transcontinental Railroad
An historic event in the history of the railroads in the 1800s occurred on May 10, 1869.
On this date the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad companies joined their individual sets of tracks to make the first Transcontinental Railroad in the United States. The two railroads linked the East and West coast of North America. The railroad was 3000 miles long and enabled people to travel from New York to California in a few days days, rather than weeks and months.

Importance and Significance of the Railroads in the 1800s
The development of railroads was one of the most important events of the U.S. Industrial Revolution. The importance and significance of the Railroads in the 1800s was:

  • Railroads cut travel time by 90%

  • Railroads improved transportation across the U.S.

  • Thousands of settlers utilized the Railroads in the 1800s to move west

  • New cities and towns emerged along the route of the railways.  For additional facts refer to the History of Urbanization in America

  • Many industrialist acquired great wealth, the unscrupulous businessmen were referred to as Robber Barons

  • It increased trade by providing the means for transporting agricultural products and manufactured goods across the country and to the eastern seaboard for export to Europe

  • The construction of the railroads was a feat of U.S. engineering and  a source of great national pride to the United States

  • The "Underground Railroad" escape route for slaves was also established in 1831 and used railroad terminology for its secret codes

  • The Civil War heralded the use of railroads as a Important means of transporting troops and supplies and the wounded in hospital trains. - refer to Civil War Inventions and Technology.

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - Expansion
Between 1849 and 1858 21,000 miles of railroad were built in the United States of America. Just two years later, in 1860, there were more than 30,000 miles of railroad in actual operation and one continuous line of rails ran from New York City to the Mississippi River. Traveling on the early railroads of the 1800's was uncomfortable, the railroad cars were roughly made and they jolted badly. One train ran only a comparatively short distance. Then the railroad traveler had to alight, get something to drink and eat, and baggage was transferred to another train. But despite all discomforts of the railroads of the 1800s, traveling in the worst of railroad cars was still much better than traveling in the old stagecoaches.

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - The 4-4-0 locomotive, the "American" type
The design of the locomotives changed considerably. Locomotives could be constructed in a number of ways. They were classified by the wheel arrangements of the leading truck, driving wheels, and the trailing truck. The 4-4-0 configuration, which became known as the 'American' type had four wheels on the leading truck and four driving wheels, with no trailing truck. The Central Pacific's locomotive, called the Jupiter, and the Union Pacific's Engine No. 119, were both 4-4-0 locomotives - the "American Standard".

The Railroads in the 1800s for kids - The Transcontinental Railroad
An historic event in the history of the railroads in the 1800s occurred on May 10, 1869.
On this date the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad companies joined their individual sets of tracks to make the first Transcontinental Railroad in the United States. The two railroads linked the East and West coast of North America. The railroad was 3000 miles long and enabled people to travel from New York to California in a few days days, rather than weeks and months.

Importance and Significance of the Railroads in the 1800s
The development of railroads was one of the most important events of the U.S. Industrial Revolution. The importance and significance of the Railroads in the 1800s was:

  • Railroads cut travel time by 90%

  • Railroads improved transportation across the U.S.

  • Thousands of settlers utilized the Railroads in the 1800s to move west

  • New cities and towns emerged along the route of the railways.  For additional facts refer to the History of Urbanization in America

  • Many industrialist acquired great wealth, the unscrupulous businessmen were referred to as Robber Barons

  • It increased trade by providing the means for transporting agricultural products and manufactured goods across the country and to the eastern seaboard for export to Europe

  • The construction of the railroads was a feat of U.S. engineering and  a source of great national pride to the United States

  • The "Underground Railroad" escape route for slaves was also established in 1831 and used railroad terminology for its secret codes

  • The Civil War heralded the use of railroads as a Important means of transporting troops and supplies and the wounded in hospital trains. - refer to Civil War Inventions and Technology.

US American History
1801-1828: Evolution Era
Inventions & Inventors Timeline

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