The First Railway in the USA

Curious about the history of railroads and their construction in America? Discover the first railway in the USA.

The First Railway in the USA

Railways are a time-honored way of travel. They are not only useful as a romantic, charming transport for people, but also for goods across the country! The question is, what was the first railway in the USA?

The very first recorded railroad charter across North America was granted to John Stevens in 1826. In 1827, the Baltimore ; Ohio railroad, chartered by merchants from Baltimore, was established and is thought of as the first railroad in North America.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the first railway in the USA, including where it came from, as well as the answers to a few frequently asked questions on the subject!

The First Railway in the USA

The first railway ever established in the United States of America was the Baltimore ; Ohio railway.

According to the B;O Railway Museum website, the railway company itself was founded in the year 1827, but actual construction on the railroad itself did not begin until a year later, on the fourth of July—a fitting date!

In fact, the first sone laid for the railroad line was placed by the last signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll.

It is important to note that while this railway was the first company credited for building a railway and operating a train in the United States, it was actually John Stevens who obtained the first railway charter back in 1815.

This meant that while John Stevens was granted permission to build before the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway, it was the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway which began operating first.

Who established the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway?

The Baltimore ; Ohio Railway was established by a mix of private owners and public owners, which helped the company creating the railroad to gain loans and public grants for building. Eighteen members of the board of directors were hand-chosen by the City of Baltimore in partnership with the State of Maryland; both organizations helped to construct the railway.

In spite of this, the 30 members of the board of directors, as well as Phillip E. Thomas, the first president, are not very well remembered.

Instead, the founders of the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway are considered to be  John Work Garret and William Patterson. Both men not helped not only to establish the railroad itself, but also it’s legacy of success.

William Patterson, born in 1752 was a gun-runner for the American Revolution, but his less dangerous exploits included being known as a man of business! He dabbled in banking, shipping, and even involved in the Baltimore Water Company. One of his finest exploits was to aid in founding the Baltimore ; Ohio Railroad, along with several Baltimore merchants.

The other man credited with the founding of the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway, John Work Garret, was born in 1820. He was interested in good business ventures early on in life, and began buying stock in the Baltimore ; Ohio Railroad in it’s earliest years.

He may have been drawn to the heated competition Baltimore ; Ohio Railroad was facing from rival Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the late 1840s. On the other hand, he may have been excited to work with his brother, Henry Garret, who was a director of the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway already. Either way, John Work Garret became a director in 1847 and went on to become the president of the railroad.

His savvy business sense and management for almost three decades established the Baltimore ; Ohio Railroad’s legacy as one of the most centrally important railroads in the country.

Where does the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway Go?

Originally, the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway only consisted of a section of track that spanned around 14 miles between Baltimore and Ellicott in Maryland. However, over the decades, the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway has merged with other railway companies.

One of the first it merged with was the Chesapeake ; Ohio Railway in the year 1962. The Baltimore ; Ohio was then renamed the Chessie System and absorbed into the CSX Corporation.

Another merger was performed between the Baltimore ; Ohio and the Lake Shore ; Tuscarawas Valley Railroad, which granted the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway a track through Ohio and Cleveland, to name a few locations.

By the year 1915, the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway had more than 4,000 miles of track from St. Louis and Chicago all the way to New York City. Further down the stream of time, in 1970, the Baltimore ; Ohio Railway extended that to more than 10,000 miles of track, not including its subsidiaries.

What does the Baltimore ; Ohio Train Carry?

In it’s earliest years, the Baltimore ; Ohio train primarily carried coal and granite. It operated using early train technology, meaning the train cars were sometimes pulled by trotting horses. Eventually, these were replaced with a steam locomotive famously named “Tom Thumb.”

Eventually, by the year 1886, the Baltimore ; Ohio railway had a line called the Royal Blue Line which did carry passengers. Some of the other passenger train names were “Abraham Lincoln,” “Columbian,” and the “Metropolitan Special,” though there were 10 passenger trains in all.

One of the most interesting kinds of cargo the Baltimore ; Ohio trains carried throughout the railway’s history were actually Union sympathizers during the American Civil War!

Apparently, John Work Garret’s presidency of the company included a friendship with the American President, Abraham Lincoln, and he offered America’s first railway as an industrial ally in the conflict. In fact, when the beloved head of state was assassinated, it was John Work Garret who organized the funeral train that carried his body through the mourning country.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, although the first railway to technically receive an official charter for construction in the United States was the railway established by John Stevens in 1826, it was the Baltimore ; Ohio railway which is considered the oldest, first-running railway in the country!

The railway has had a long and storied history including several mergers with various companies, including the eventual integration in to the CSX Corporation. Through it all, the Baltimore ; Ohio Railroad has been an American example of pioneer engineering.