Railroad History

"The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour.... A carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day.... Engines will drive boats 10 or 12 miles an hour, and there will be hundreds of steamers running on the Mississippi, as predicted years ago."

--Oliver Evans, 1800

Important milestones in English and American railway development

1630: Beaumont designs and builds wagon roads for English coal mines using heavy planks on which horses pulled carts and wagons.
1753: First steam engine arrives in the colonies from England.
1755: First steam engine in America is installed to pump water from a mine.
1758: An Act of Parliament establishes the Middleton Railway in Leeds. Thus the Middleton claims to be the oldest Railway in the world.
1769: Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot builds a steam carriage.
1774: Scotsman James Watt builds first "modern" stationary steam engine.
1776: English tram road is laid down with cast iron angle bars on timber ties.
1784: Murdoch (Watt associate) steam engine model runs 6 to 8 mph.
1789: Englishman William Jessup designs first wagons with flanged wheels.
1800: Oliver Evans, an American, creates the earliest successful non-condensing high pressure stationary steam-engine.
1804: Oliver Evans builds his first steam-powered boat, weight: 4,000 lbs.
1804: Matthew Murray of Leeds, England invents a steam locomotive which runs on timber rails. This is probably the FIRST RAILROAD ENGINE. Seen by Richard Trevithick before he builds his loco.
1804: Richard Trevithick of Cornwall builds 40 psi steam locomotive for the Welsh Penydarran Railroad.
1807: The very first passenger train ran from Swansea to Mumbles on March 25th.
1808: Trevithick builds a circular railway in London's Torrington Square. Steam carriage Catch Me Who Can weighes 10 tons and makes 15 mph.
1812: The first commercially successful steam locomotives, using the Blenkinsop rack and pinion drive, commenced operation on the Middleton Railway. This was the world's first regular revenue-earning use of steam traction, as distinct from experimental operation.
1812: American Colonel John Stevens publishes a pamphlet containing:
"Documents tending to prove the superior advantages of Railways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation."
He also states,
"I can see nothing to hinder a steam carriage moving on its ways with a velocity of 100 miles an hour."
1813: Englishman William Hedley builds and patents 50 psi railroad loco which could haul 10 coal wagons at 5 mph, equal to 10 horses.
1814: Englishman George Stephenson builds Blucher, his first railway engine. Pulls 30 tons at 4 mph, but is not efficient.
1815: Stephenson's second engine: 6 wheels and a multitubular boiler.
1821: Englishman Julius Griffiths patents a passenger road locomotive.
1824: Construction begins on the 1st locomotive workshop in New Castle, England.
1824: Englishman David Gordon patents a steam-driven machine with legs which imitates the action of a horse's legs and feet. Not successful.
1825: Stephenson's 8-ton LOCOMOTION No. 1 built for the Stockton & Darlington Railroad. Capable of pulling 90 tons of coal at 15 mph. Stephenson plans all details of the line, and even designs the bridges, machinery, engines, turntables, switches, and crossings, and is responsible for every part of the work of their construction. (The passenger coaches of this time were all drawn by horses.)
1825: Colonel John Stevens builds a steam waggon which he placed on a circular railway before his house (now Hudson Terrace)at Hoboken, New Jersey.
1826: The first line of rails in the New England States is said to have been laid down at Quincy, Mass., 3 miles in length and pulled by horses.
1827: The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is chartered to run from Baltimore to the Ohio River in Virginia. It was the first westward bound railroad in America. Wind power (sail on carriage) was tried, followed by horse power, with the horse walking on a treadmill which drove the carriage wheels!
1827: The Switch Back Gravity Railroad in Pennsylvania began operation in May of 1827 before work began on the B&O. It was the second railroad in the U.S., the first railroad in Pennsylvania and the first common carrier railroad in the U.S.
1828: Delaware & Hudson Canal Co. builds a railroad from their mines to the termination of the canal at Honesdale. Also pulled by horses.
1829: The first steam locomotive used in America, the English-built Stourbridge Lion, is put to work on the Delaware & Hudson. It is too heavy for the track (twice as heavy as had been promised by the builders), and is laid up next to the tracks as a stationary boiler.
1829: Peter Cooper of New York in 6 weeks time builds the Tom Thumb, a vertical boiler 1.4 HP locomotive, for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. It hauled 36 passengers at 18 mph in August 1830. It had a revolving fan for draught, used gun barrels for boiler tubes, and weighed less than one ton.
1829: James Wright of Columbia, PA. invents the cone "tread" of the wheel, which prevents wear of flanges and reduces resistance.
1829: Stephenson's Rocket wins a competition for locomotive power at the Rainhill Trials on the Manchester & Liverpool Railway. Capable of 30 mph with 30 passengers.
1830: The Best Friend is built at the West Point Foundery at New York for the Charlston & Hamburg Railroad. It was the first completely American-built steam engine to go into scheduled passenger service. It did excellent work until 1831 when the boiler exploded due to a reckless fireman, unexpectedly ending its, and his, career.
1831: The 3.5 ton De Witt Clinton hauls 5 stage coach bodies on railroad wheels at 25 mph on the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad between Albany and Schenectady. This engine was lightly built, and was retired less than two years after going into service.
1831: The South Carolina was the first eight-wheeled engine.
1831: Robert Stevens, son of Colonel John Stevens, went to England and shipped back (unassembled) the John Bull for the Camden & Amboy Railroad in New Jersey. It was erected by mechanic Isaac Dripps, who had never seen a steam locomotive. There was no assembly manual. He made this the first locomotive fitted with a bell, headlight and cowcatcher, and it remained in service until 1866. Dripps went on to become superintendent of motive power for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Altoona.
1832: The Brother Jonathon was the first locomotive in the world to have a four-wheel leading truck. Designed by John B. Jervis for the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad.
1832: The American No. 1 was the first 4-4-0, the first of its class. It was capable of regular speeds of 60 mph with its 9.5" by 16" cylinders. Designed by John B. Jervis, Chief Engineer for the Mohawk & Hudson.
1832: The Atlantic on the B&O hauls 50 tons from Baltimore over a distance of 40 miles at 12 to 15 mph. This engine weighed 6.5 tons, carried 50 pounds of steam and burned a ton of anthracite coal on the round trip. The round trip cost $16, doing the work of 42 horses, which had cost $33 per trip. The engine cost $4,500, and was designed by Phineas Davis, assisted by Ross Winans. English locomotives burned bituminous coal.
1833: George Stephenson applies a small steam brake cylinder to operate brake shoes on driving wheels of locomotives.
1855: The first land grant railroad in the U. S. is completed. The Illinois Central arrives in Dunleith, Illinois (now East Dubuque).
1856: The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River is completed between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa.
1860: Nehemiah Hodge, a Connecticut railway mechanic, patents a locomotive vacuum brake. Pressure is limited to atmospheric (14.7 psi), but practical considerations limit pressure to 7 to 8 psi. Thus, available braking power is low, especially above 3,000 feet altitude.
1862: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act, which authorizes the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Theodore Judah had the vision to build a railroad across the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and then to continue the railroad across the United States. The Central Pacific Railroad was financed by The Big Four: Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins.
1868: Major Eli Janney, a confederate veteran of the civil war, invents the knuckle coupler. This semi-automatic device locks upon the cars closing together without the rail worker getting between the cars. This replaces the "link and pin" coupler, which was a major cause of injuries to railroad workers. A "cut" lever at the corner of the car releases the coupler knuckle making uncoupling safer.
1869: George Westinghouse, an inventive Civil War veteran, develops the straight air brake. A Pennsy 4-4-0 and a couple of passenger cars are fitted with the system and successfully demonstrated on April 13th.
1869: The Central Pacific and Union Pacific meet at Promontory Summit, Utah for the driving of the golden spike on May 10th.
1872: George Westinghouse patents the first automatic air brake. This is basically the same system as is used by today's railroads.
1876: All Southern Pacific and Central Pacific passenger cars converted to air brakes.
1883: The Northern Pacific is completed at Gold Creek, Montana.
1883: The Southern Pacific is completed.
1885: The Santa Fe is completed.
1893: The Great Northern is completed in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.
1893: Federal Railway Safety Appliances Act instituted mandatory requirements for automatic air brake systems and automatic couplers, and required standardization of the location and specifications for appliances such as handholds and grab irons necessary for employees' use. This applied only to interstate rail traffic.
1893: On May 10th locomotive #999 of the New York Central & Hudson River RR hauled four heavy Wagner cars of the Empire State Express down a 0.28% grade at record-breaking speed. Although unverified, the conductor timed the speed at 112.5 mph over 1 mile, and at 102.8 mph over 5 miles. This 4-4-0 had 86" drivers for this run, and was later fitted with more normal 78" wheels as it now has on museum display.
1893: The first mainline electrification was in Baltimore, MD. A rigid overhead conductor supplied 675 VDC via one-sided tilted pantograph to the 96 ton 4-axle, 4-motor locomotives. These were very successful, hauling 1,800 ton trains up the 0.8% grade in the 1.25 mile Howard Street tunnel, where steam was not allowed to operate.
1900: Casey Jones rode the "Cannonball" into history on April 30th.
1903: New York state enacts legislation prohibiting the operation of steam locomotives on Manhattan Island in New York City south of the Harlem River after June 30, 1908. This spurred the electrification of New York City's trackage.
1907: Ground is broken on Sept. 7th by San Diego mayor John F. Forward dedicating the start of John D. Spreckels' San Diego & Arizona Railway.
1913: The first commercially successful internal combustion engine locomotive in the U.S. was built by General Electric for the Dan Patch Line in Minnesota. Locomotive #100 had two Model GM16 gasoline-electric 8" x 10" V8's rated at 175 HP @ 550 rpm each. It weighed 57 tons and rode on two four-wheel trucks (B-B).
1915: The Santa Fe Depot is dedicated in San Diego on March 7th.
1917: The first Diesel-electric locomotive in the U.S. was a prototype built by G.E. Number 4 had one model GM50 air injection two-stroke V8 rated at 225 HP @ 550 rpm powering one of two trucks. The cylinders had the same 8" x 10" dimensions as the GM16. It was never sold, serving only as a laboratory model at the Erie Works.
1918: The first Diesel-electric locomotive to be built and sold commercially was Jay Street Connecting RR #4. G.E. slightly revised its standard steeple cab straight electric locomotive car body and installed a single GM50. This unit was not successful, and after 6 months was returned to G.E. where it was used as a laboratory unit in developing improved control and propulsion systems.
1919: The golden spike is driven in the Carrizo Gorge, marking the completion of the San Diego & Arizona Railway.
1923: The Electro-Motive Engineering Corporation, headed by H.L. Hamilton begins building gas-electric railcars in Cleveland, Ohio.
1923: Ingersoll Rand and G.E. combine to build 60-ton boxcab #8835. It used a model PR 6-cylinder in-line 10" x 12" solid injection engine rated 300HP @ 550 rpm. The excitation control system designed by Dr. Hermann Lemp was used, and was demonstrated on 13 different railroads over a 13 month period. Its performance in terms of reliability and economy of operation did much to advance the acceptance of the Diesel locomotive as a replacement for the steam locomotive. It was never sold.
1925: The American Locomotive Company (ALCO), along with G.E. and IR, builds its first Diesel-electric loco. It was delivered under its own power to the Central Railroad of New Jersey and assigned as CNJ #1000. It was basically the same as #8835, with the same wheel arrangement and engine, but with many improvements. It operated as a switcher in the Bronx until 1957, and is now in the B&O museum in Baltimore, Md.
1926: Hamilton of EMC hires Richard Dilworth as chief engineer. Dilworth was a self-taught mechanical and electrical engineer who had helped put together G.E.'s early rail cars back in 1910.
1928: The first Diesel-electric passenger locomotive built in North America was a two-unit 2-D-1-1-D-2. It represented a joint effort between Westinghouse, Canadian Locomotive Co., Baldwin and Commonwealth Steel Co. It was numbered Canadian National #9000, and each unit had a Scottish-built Beardmore V12 12" x 12" engine rated 1,330HP @ 800 rpm. Max. safe speed was 63 mph.
1930: General Motors acquires the Winton Company on June 20th, and Electro-Motive on December 31st.
1934: The Union Pacific M-10000 is dedicated in February. This Pullman-built 3-car all-aluminum articulated train was the first streamliner in the US. It was powered by a Winton V12 600 HP distillate engine, and was capable of 110 mph. It made a 12,625 mile coast-to-coast exhibition trip, and was seen by almost 1.2 million people at various stops. Went into service as the City of Salina on Jan. 31, 1935. The power car was designed by Richard Dilworth.
1934: The Burlington Zephyr is dedicated on April 18th. On May 26 this Budd-built 3-car articulated train of stainless steel made a record breaking dawn to dusk run from Denver to Chicago, 1016 miles, at an average speed of 77.6 mph and a top speed of 112.5 mph. It was the first Diesel-electric streamliner in the US, employing a Winton inline 8-cyl. 600 HP 201A two-stroke engine. The power car was designed by Richard Dilworth.
1934: Construction of the first streamlined electric locomotives begins. These were the Pennsy GG-1's, which pulled high-speed passenger trains between NYC and Washington, DC. They developed 8,500 HP and cost $250,000. Production continued until 1943 and they were used into the early 1980's by AMTRAK.
1935: EMC builds #511 and #512, the first self-contained Diesel-electric passenger locomotives in the US. The boxcar-like bodies housed two Winton V12 900 HP 201A engines, and were designed by Dick Dilworth and two draftsmen. The first unit sold went to the B & O as #50 to pull the Royal Blue. Retired in 1956, then saved at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.
1970: Congress passes the Rail Passenger Service Act creating Amtrak, which today serves more than 20 million customers annually on its national network of intercity trains and employs 23,000 people.
1986: The San Diego Railroad Museum operates its first Golden State Limited excursion train between Campo, CA and Miller Creek, CA on the SD&A. Here is the first crew on 4 January.
Thanks to:
Wes Barris for the link to Promontory Summit.
California State Railroad Museum for the links to Theodore Judah and The Big Four.

Page by Randy Houk, updated 4-1-2008