First U.S. Railway Chartered to Transport Freight and
On February 28, 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio
Railroad became the first U.S. railway chartered for commercial
transport of passengers and freight. There were skeptics who
doubted that a steam engine could work along steep, winding
grades, but the Tom Thumb, designed by Peter Cooper, put an end
to their doubts. Investors hoped a railroad would allow
Baltimore, the second largest U.S. city at the time, to
successfully compete with New York for western trade.
The first railroad track in the United States was only 13 miles
long, but it caused a lot of excitement when it opened in 1830.
Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of
Independence, laid the first stone when construction on the
track began at Baltimore harbor on July 4, 1828.
Baltimore and the Ohio River were connected by rail in 1852,
when the B&O was completed at Wheeling, West Virginia. Later
extensions brought the line to Chicago, St. Louis, and
Cleveland. In 1869, the Central Pacific line and the Union
Pacific line joined to create the first transcontinental
railroad. Pioneers continued to travel west by covered wagon,
but as trains became faster and more frequent, settlements
across the continent grew larger and more quickly.
travel continues to hold a romantic appeal for many people.
Songs, stories, poems and plays have been written about the
railways. Here you can listen to Byron Coffin sing about
engineer Casey Jones and his fateful last ride on the rails.