209 years ago today the first steam engine railway travel took place in the United States. In the very early 1800’s train travel may have started but it wasn’t until the 1930 invention of the first U.S. steam locomotive, in Baltimore, that this form of travel really took off.
Things were really rolling but before the government could build the transcontinental railroad, the Civil War broke out, which slowed things down quite a bit. Rebels would blow up bridges, hijack trains and made travel very treacherous during the 1860s.
Hanover Junction PA, 1863. A crowd gathers to greet Abraham Lincoln on his way to Gettysburg [Library of Congress]
Steam engines amid the ruins of a Confederate roundhouse in Atlanta in 1864 [Library of Congress]
While the South did attempt to stall the growth of the United States train system with the bombings it allowed the government to rebuild bridges better and faster. This post war production was like an injection of steroids. In the years right after the Civil War there was incredible growth in the railroad industry. At it’s peak, a football field length bridge could be built in only 40 hours.
By 1930 people could travel across the country in 3 days but that is when air travel took off and development of the rail lines began to slow down.
[Source: The Atlantic]