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Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, a world class museum of railroad history in Strasburg, PA.

Railroad History Timeline

American railroad history has as its roots developments in England related to mining operations and the development of steam engines, late in the 18th century. Certain aspects of this can be traced to similar activities in Germany.  The standard distance between the rails of a track ("standard gauge") -- four feet, eight and a half inches -- has been associated with cart trackways in England from the time of Roman domination. Early on, visionary Americans espoused the need for railroads and experimented with steam as a means of propulsion. See also History and Magic of Railroads for further information.
1791 - 1841
1791 Anthracite coal is discovered at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. 
1804 Richard Trevithick builds a successful steam locomotive to run on rails of the Pen-y-Darren tramway in south Wales.
1809 Thomas Leiper's horse-drawn wooden tramway connected quarries in Delaware County, Pa., to a boat landing. It was the first time rails were utilized for freight transportation.
1815 The state of New Jersey granted America's first railroad charter to Col. John Stevens of Hoboken, to run between New Brunswick and Trenton, NJ. Because of funding difficulties, it was not built.
1825 Col. John Stevens built and operated a prototype steam locomotive on a circular track on his estate at Castle Point, Hoboken, NJ.  (A full size replica of "The John Stevens" is on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.)
1826 Gridley Bryant uses his broad gauge tramway to haul granite for the Bunker Hill Monument.
1827 Schuylkill Navigation Canal is completed.
1828 July 4, Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, lays the first stone to begin construction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the nation's first common carrier.
1829 August 8, The Stourbridge Lion, imported from England, was experimentally operated by Horatio Allen on the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company's railroad at Honesdale, Pa. It was the first steam engine to run on commercial railroad tracks in the United States.
1830 A race is staged between the B&O's Tom Thumb and a horse-drawn carriage near Ellicott's Mills, MD; the horse galloped to victory!
The first scheduled passenger train service in America, by Best Friend of Charleston, at Charleston, South Carolina.
23 miles of railroad track in the United States.
1831 Robert Stephenson built the locomotive John Bull in England for the Camden & Amboy Railroad, operated by the sons of Col. John Stevens.  It made its inaugural run in Bordentown, NJ in November, and entered regular passenger service in 1833. The C&A fitted the John Bull with lead wheels and "cow catcher" or pilot, the first time these devices were used in America.
The first U.S. mail is carried by rail on the South Carolina Canal & Railroad Co.
Locomotive DeWitt Clinton pulls the first steam train in New York.
The Elizabethtown & Somerville, the earliest ancestor road of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, is incorporated.
1832 April, the 6-foot gauge New York & Erie, the ancestor of the Erie Railway, receives a charter from the New York State Legislature.
November 23, Matthias Baldwin, a Philadelphia jeweler and abolitionist, entered the locomotive business with the successful operation of his first locomotive, Old Ironsides, on the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad.
1833 Staple Bend Tunnel on the Allegheny Portage Railroad, east of Johnstown, Pa., is the first railroad tunnel built in the Western Hemisphere.
Andrew Jackson, the first President to ride on a railroad, travels between Ellicott's Mills and Baltimore, MD.
1834 The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad opens as part of the "Main Line of Public Works" -- a combined inclined plane, rail and canal route stretching 395 miles through the interior of Pennsylvania.
1837 The first sleeping car, a crudely remodeled day coach, was placed in service on the Cumberland Valley Railroad between Harrisburg and Chambersburg.
The first American-type locomotive (4-4-0) is planned and built.
1840 Nearly 3,000 miles of railroad and 3,300 miles of canal in operation in the United States.
1841 The first caboose, termed a way-car, was placed in service on the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad in New York.



Broadway Meets the Dawn.
Broadway Meets the Dawn, by Grif Teller










Col. Stevens steam wagon.
Col. Stevens' Demonstrator









John Bull.
The John Bull









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