Railroads’ Humble Beginning (Part III)
By Todd DeFeo
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States was keeping pace with its British counterparts.
By 1807, a “tramway” began operating in Boston. Thanks in part to gravity, the tramway used wooden rails to help glide cars. Two years later, Thomas Leiper began using horse-drawn tramways to connect a pair of quarries in Delaware County, Pa. In 1815, New Jersey grants John Stephens the nation’s first railroad charter. Though never built, Stephens had planned on building a railroad between the Delaware and Raritan rivers.
During the Revolutionary War, Stephens served as the treasurer of New Jersey. In the 1790s, he helped impact another area of American history when he helped establish Patent laws.
Ten years later, in 1825, Stephens built a cog-wheel track in a garden at his Hoboken, N.J. home. Stephens would use the circular layout to demonstrate a steam engine he designed, the first to run on rails in the United States. And five years later, he was granted a railroad charter.
The Camden and Amboy was charged with building a line between New York and Philadelphia, by that time two of the country’s leading population centers. And though not the nation’s first chartered railroad, innovations debuted on the line would have some of the deepest impact on American railroad history.
Both the cowcatcher and the Robert Stevens-designed T-rail, still in use on today’s railroads, were first seen on the Camden and Amboy. A 26-mile stretch of track between Bordentown and Amboy was completed in 1832. The next year, a stretch connecting Bordentown and Camden was opened in 1833. Though itself not connecting Philadelphia and New York, it did when including ferries and other methods of transportation.
On Oct. 7, 1826, the Granite Railway begins operating in Quincy, Mass. The railroad was key in helping to transport granite blocks to erect a Bunker Hill monument. With the help of horse-drawn cars, the railway operates a three-mile stretch of track. Gridley Bryant opened the railroad.
Around that time, in 1827, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad – arguably the most important railroad in American history – received its charter from the Maryland and broke ground on July 4, 1828 – 52 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On hand for the ceremony was Charles Carroll, the last surviving person to have signed the Declaration of Independence.
On Jan. 7, 1830, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad started its daily run, though tracks were not yet completed between Baltimore and Ellicott’s Mill, Md. It was the first time in American history a railroad carried revenue passengers. Tracks reached Ellicott’s Mill, Md., on May 24, 1830.
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