RAILROADS IN AMERICA
THE first railroad built in the United States was three miles
in length, extending from the granite-quarries of Quincy, Massachusetts,
to the Neponset River. This road was commenced in 1826, and completed
in 1827. It was built with granite sleepers, seven and a half
feet long, laid eight feet apart. The rails, five feet apart,
were of pine, a foot deep, covered with an oak plate, and these
with flat bars of iron.
The second railroad was commenced in January, 1827, and completed
in May of the same year, extending from the coal-mines in Mauch
Chunk, Pennsylvania, to the Lehigh River, a distance of nine miles.
From the summit of the road, and within half a mile of the mines,
the descent by a plane was nine hundred and eighty-two feet, inclined
two hundred and seventy-five feet to the river, and thence seventy-five
feet in a shoot to the spot where the cars were discharged into
the boats. The cars descended by gravity with the loaded wagons,
and were drawn up again by mules. The rails of the road were of
timber, laid on wooden sleepers, and strapped with fiat iron bars.
In 1828 the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company constructed a
railroad from their coal-mines to Honesdale, the termination of
their canal. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the South Carolina
Railroad were also commenced in the same year.
It is said that at the time (1812) when De Witt Clinton was
urging the passage, through the Legislature of New York, of the
act for the construction of the Erie Canal, Colonel Stevens, of
Hoboken, astonished that body by announcing that he could build
a railroad at a much less cost than the proposed canal, and on
which the transportation, by means of cars drawn by steam locomotives,
could be carried on at a considerably cheaper rate, and at a much
higher degree of speed than was possible on any canal. He laid
before them the results of his numerous and long-continued researches,
but his enemies openly laughed at him, and called him a maniac,
and even some of his best friends regarded him as a man who had
lost himself in experimental science. Had he lived in the days
of poor Solomon de Cause or of Friar Bacon, he would probably,
like those eminent men, have been consigned to a dungeon. The
nineteenth century contented itself with sneering at him as a
visionary, and refused to entertain his propositions. His distinguished,
wise, and sensible friend, Chancellor Livingston, in a letter
addressed to Stevens, dated at Albany, March 20, 1811, only a
year before, expresses his opinion of the railroad locomotive
schemes of which his friend was so strenuous an advocate. The
chancellor thus writes:
"I had before read of your very ingenious proposition
as to railway communication. I fear, however, on mature reflection,
that they will be liable to serious objections, and ultimately
prove more expensive than a canal. They must be double, so as
to prevent the danger of two such heavy bodies meeting. The wall
on which they are placed must be at least four feet below the
surface, to avoid frost, and three feet above, to avoid snow,
and must be clasped with iron, and even then would hardly sustain
so heavy a weight as you propose moving at the rate of four miles
an hour on wheels. As to wood, it would not last a week. They
must be covered with iron, and that, too, very thick and strong.
The means of stopping these heavy carriages without a great shock,
and of preventing them from running on each otherfor there
would be many running on the road at oncewould be very difficult.
In case of accidental stops or necessary stays to take wood or
water, etc., many accidents would happen. The carriage of condensing
water would be very troublesome. Upon the whole, I fear the expense
would be much greater than that of canals, without being so convenient."
And yet, only fourteen years afterward, such was the rapid
development of the steam locomotive, the Legislature of the same
State granted a charter incorporating the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad,
a line, seventeen miles long, running between Albany and Schenectady;
and there are now no less than three thousand one hundred and
ninety-five miles of railway in the State of New York alone.
Next to Colonel Stevens, and as early as 1819, we have in the
United States another advocate for railroads, with steam locomotion.
We learn, by an extract from the current news of that day, copied
from a literary paper called The Villager, that the following
memorial was presented to Congress at the previous session, which
was referred to the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures. The
following is a copy of the document:
"The memorial of Benjamin Dearborn, of Boston, respectfully
represents that he has devised in theory a mode of propelling
wheel-carriages in a manner probably unknown in any country; and
has perfectly satisfied his own mind of the practicability of
conveying mails and passengers with such celerity as has never
before been accomplished, and with complete security from robberies
on the highway.
"For obtaining these results, he relies on carriages propelled
by steam, on level railroads, and contemplates that they be furnished
with accommodations for passengers to take their meals and their
rest during the passage, as in packets; that they be sufficiently
high for persons to walk in without stooping, and so capacious
as to accommodate twenty, thirty, or more passengers, with their
"The inequalities of the earth's surface will require
levels of various elevations in the railroads; and your memorialist
has devised means which he believes will be completely effectual
for lifting the carriage, by the inherent power of its machinery,
from one level to another, as also for the passage of carriages
by each other, on the same road; and he feels confident that whenever
such an establishment shall be advanced to its most improved state,
the carriages will move with a rapidity at least equal to a mile
in three minutes.
"Protection from the attacks of assailants will be insured;
not only by the celerity of the movement, but by weapons of defense
belonging to the carriage, and always kept ready in it to be wielded
by the number of passengers constantly traveling in this spacious
vehicle, where they would have liberty to stand erect, and to
exercise their arms in their own defense.
"The practicability of running steam-carriages
on the common road was long since advocated in a publication,
by that ingenious and useful citizen, Oliver Evans: your memorialist,
therefore, does not assume the merit of originating the idea of
steam-carriages, but only of modifying the system in such a manner
as to produce the results here stated, which could not be effected
on a common road.
"Relying upon the candor of the national council, this
memorial is laid before them with the desire that ingenious and
scientific artists, in the different sections of our country may
be consulted, by direction of Congress, on the probability of
accomplishing the purposes here anticipated; and that an experiment
be made, if sanctioned by their favorable opinions; for if the
design can be put into successful operation by the Government,
a great revenue would eventually be derived from the establishment,
besides the advantages before enumerated."
We never have heard that any report was made by the committee
respecting it; yet all these results have been signally realized
within a little more than a third of a century.
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