Railroad History

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Tom Thumb

First Freight and Passenger Railway in the USA

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.

US Railroad Father: Colonel John Stevens

Colonel John Stevens, III (June 26, 1749 – March 6, 1838) was an American lawyer, engineer, and inventor. Stevens is considered to be the father of railroads in the United States. In 1826, Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on an experimental circular track constructed at his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey—three years before Stephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England.

Peter Cooper of Canton Iron Works

Peter Cooper (February 12, 1791 – April 4, 1883) was an American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist, and politician. He designed and built the first American steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb, founded the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and served as the Greenback Party's candidate in the 1876 presidential election.

Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb Rail Steam Engine

In the 1820s the port of Baltimore was in danger. The threat came from the newly opened Erie Canal (see "Traveling the Erie Canal, 1836") and the proposed construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal that would parallel the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD. These new water routes promised to provide a commercial gateway to the West that would bypass Baltimore's thriving harbor and potentially hurl the city into an economic abyss. Something had to be done.

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