American Railroad 1800s

American Railroad

The railway system began in England in the 1820s and became one of the most successful methods of transportation. The railway was practical and connected much of Europe for transport of people and products for over 100 years.

They replaced the wagons drawn by horses, and as time passed, the companies and inventors responsible for the railways improved the trains and the tracks. For the growing United States, the railways presented the only option to connect the already established Eastern coast with the settler and budding towns in the Midwest and West.

What did the railroad do for America?

  • When we look at the locomotives and trains that we are familiar with, we see strong products with successful engines and cars. However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the early railways were not only poorly built but dangerous. Like anything else, developing sturdier railways was a process of failure and success and involved many engineers and inventors. The early railways were constructed of wooden tracks that often broke down and caused accidents. Metal tracks eventually replaced those wooden ones, but as the weight of the locomotives increased, the metal tracks had to be replaced with stronger ones.
  • The invention of the steam-powered locomotive was the big game-changer for railways. The engineers were also changing how the train wheels traveled on the tracks, using flanged wheels that let trains move on top of the tracks instead of inside grooves.
  • As trains traveled, they had to make various stops to pick up and drop off products and people. Travel stations or “depots” were created along the way. They also invented a universal signaling system and a switching mechanism that let trains change tracks. With faster and slightly safer railways to move products from one place to another. The industrial revolution experienced a boom in countries around the world.
  • In the United States, the first railroad was built by the Baltimore and Ohio in 1828. All trains used the Stourbridge Lion engine made in England. However, this engine was too heavy for the tracks to be constructed. By 1830 an American-built locomotive was successfully built, and the track connected the Boston Atlantic ports to New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia. In only 20 years, there were four railway lines that connected most of the United States. There were other lines being constructed to connect Montreal, Quebec to New England, and Ontario to Niagara, New York, and the Detroit River.
  • The railways became very important during the American Civil War. They created tracks with north-south routes to move supplies for both troops and communities involved in the war. Focus by the two sides was on the war, and construction and advancement of the railways slowed down.
  • Once the Union had won the Civil War, there was renewed interest in the railroad system. The Union Pacific built a railway traveling from Omaha, Nebraska to the west. The Central Pacific built a railway traveling from Sacrament, California to the east. They met and joined on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, and the U.S. had its first continental railway system.
  • The United States government established the grants-in-aid of vacant lands from 1850 to 1871 to the railroad companies to help build additional routes. The trains were now carrying products, livestock, and people across the country. It took until 1870 when the railway system was 40 years old to have 53,000 miles of train line.


What did the railway system replace for transporting products?
Horse-drawn carriage/wagon

What country built the first locomotive engines used in the United States?

What slowed down the progress of the railway system in the United States?
The Civil War

What were the names of the first two railway companies that built a system in the United States?
Union Pacific and Central Pacific

What year was the first railroad built in the United States?

How many miles of train line had been set by 1870?
53,000 miles