Early History of Railroads in America

Railroads have influenced the United States tremendously ever since Montresor’s Tramway, an inclined wooden railroad, was built in 1764 in Lewiston, N.Y., just north of Niagara Falls across the border from Canada. Today, there are railroads throughout all 50 states and connecting every corner of the continental United States. They are used to transport goods as well as people. Railroads would replace steamboats as a primary means to transport goods as their costs were much lower, and cold weather did not impact railroad traffic nearly as often as frozen canals and rivers did boat travel. Railroads helped develop the country during the industrial revolution in the early 1800s. They also helped link most of the farms that were located between Ohio and Iowa as more than 80 percent of them would be within five miles of a railway line by the late 1800s. The first major railroad company in the United States was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. There was a great celebration when construction started as Baltimore was excited about the prospect of using the rail line to transport goods west and becoming more competitive with New York. Ground was broken on July 4, 1828, and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of the nearby Maryland locality of Carrollton, laid the first stone. The rail line opened two years later and other companies soon created their own rail lines. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, known today as the Albany and Schenectady Railroad, opened a famous rail line in 1831 that connected Albany with Schenectady. It shortened the travel time to send goods between the cities considerably. Previously, it took nearly an entire day for boats to make their way through more than a dozen locks. The rail line shortened that journey to about 40 minutes. Another famous early rail line was the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company. In 1833, it started running service over 136 miles from the coastal city of Charleston, S.C., inland to Hamburg, S.C., a town located 70 miles southwest of Columbia and across the Savannah River from Augusta, Ga. Although Hamburg had a population of 2,500 in the 1840s, it is no longer settled. The Charleston-Hamburg line was the longest railroad line in the world at the time. All of this focus on rail travel would culminate in the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. This railroad line took six years to be built, and it connected the East Coast with the West Coast. Builders worked their way toward each other from Oakland, Calif., across the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where connections were made to the rail network that already existed in the eastern portion of the United States. This line was completed in Promontory, Utah. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison communicated to the United States Congress the concerns he possessed over the safety of railroad workers and the number of railroad work injuries that were happening. He even compared railroad work to war in terms of how dangerous the work was. U.S. Representative Henry D. Flood also brought up statistics relating to injuries and deaths that occurred during a train wreck and other railroad accidents. The Federal Employers Liability Act was passed in 1908 after legislation passed two years earlier had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. FELA allowed railway workers to have federal legal resources in the event of an accident. This included the ability to sue companies in the event that claims were not covered by regular workers’ compensation laws. Many of those who have become victims in a FELA railway accident have utilized the services of a FELA attorney.