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railroads

When he’s not taking care of a majestic marshaling of toy trains, Graham Claytor gets to play with the real thing

The spare and vigorous gentleman on the opposite page, William Graham Claytor, Jr., superintending the departure of a local out of South Sun-Porch Station, D.C., at his brick house in Georgetown, is the only man in Washington, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, wh Read more >>

They created towns and became the center of Western life, enabling wheat, cattle, and minerals to flow out of the West

Half a century after engines touched pilot to pilot at Promontory, Utah, to complete the first transcontinental railroad, the imprint of the Iron Road was nearly everywhere in the American West. Some enthusiastic real estate promoters and railway officials even claimed that the railroads invented the West—or at least the national image of the West. Read more >>

Where Two Lines Raced To Drive The Last Spike In Transcontinental Track

If you were asked to name pivotal meetings in American history, the linking of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads might not immediately come to mind. But it was perhaps the most important. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, it took months to get from coast to coast, and more than $1,000. After these two lines met at Promontory Summit in northern Utah, a New Yorker could travel to California in a week for as little as $70. Read more >>
Overrated For a hundred years the armor-plate scandal of the 1890s has been offered up as a definitive example of corporate greed. In fact it’s a better example of government incompetence. Read more >>

Building the transcontinental railroad was the greatest engineering feat of the nineteenth century. Was it also the biggest swindle?

Introduction: Read more >>

Light rail was an attractive, economical, and environmentally sound technology— until the auto companies crushed it. That, at any rate, is what a lot of people believe, and now the nation is spending billions to re-create an imaginary past.

In a crucial scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit , the murderous Judge Doom reveals a “plan of epic proportions” for transforming metropolitan Los Angeles. Read more >>

In a classic model of government corruption, the promoters placed shares of the company's stock “where it will do most good"—in the pockets of key Congressmen

 

In 1820 their daily existence was practically medieval; thirty years later many of them were living the modern life

It is a commonplace that the American Revolution determined the political destiny of the country. Far less noted is the fact that the Revolution’s consequences, profound as they were, had little, if any, impact on the daily existence of most Americans. Read more >>

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Reaching out and touching someone hasn’t always been easy—especially if it was necessary to hand that person something in the process. Read more >>

A trackside album of celebrities from the days when the world went by train

A person used to enter New York City “like a god,” said the art critic Vincent Scully, but “one scuttles in now like a rat.” Read more >>

A lot of people still remember how great it was to ride in the old Pullmans, how curiously regal to have a simple, well-cooked meal in the dining car. Those memories are perfectly accurate—and that lost pleasure holds a lesson for us that extends beyond mere nostalgia.

Not long ago I received a very angry letter from an old friend. It was a response to my suggestion that liberal arts colleges might give students some instruction in technology; that is, give them some feeling for how the world they are living in works. Read more >>

Magnificently impractical and obsolete almost as soon as they were built, the cable lines briefly dominated urban transportation throughout the country

Beloved of San Franciscans for more than a century now, the sturdy cable cars cling tenaciously to the hills of their birth. Read more >>

During the 1920s the city spurred local rail traffic with an unparalleled run of superb and stylish posters

Surprisingly little is known about the posters shown on these pages. Springing up practically overnight in the mid-1920s, they bloomed for a short while, four or five years at most, and then their season, was over. Read more >>

A pioneer locomotive builder used pen and ink, watercolor, and near-total recall to re-create the birth of a titanic enterprise

TOWARD THE END of his life, in the 1880s, David Matthew could go across the bay from his San Francisco home and see the long transcontinental trains rolling into Oakland. Read more >>

Today more Americans live in them than in city and country combined. How did we get there?

ABOUT SUBURBS, ONLY COMMUTERS know for sure. Read more >>

Was it science, sport, or the prospect of a round-the-world railroad that sent the tycoon off on his costly Alaskan excursion?

The railroad tycoon Edward Harriman was a man of large vision and mysterious ways. When, on a day in March of 1899, he strode into the Washington office of Dr. C. Hart Merriam, chief of the U.S. Read more >>

How a Whole Nation Said Thank You

They arrived in America chocked and chained, deep in the hold of a French merchant ship early in February of 1949. Read more >>

The John Bull Steams Again

In early September of 1831, Isaac Dripps, master mechanic of the nascent Camden and I Amboy Railroad, stood staring at a miscellaneous assortment of bolts, levers, and pipes I that he was expected to assemble into a working locomotive. Read more >>

What it was like for the first travelers

It was called “the most extraordinary and astounding adventure of the Civil War”

On the pleasant Sunday evening of April 6, 1862, the men of Company H, 33rd Ohio Infantry, were relaxing around their campfires near Shelbyville, Tennessee, admiring the Southern springtime and trading the latest army rumors. Read more >>

Mile for mile, it cost more in dollars—and lives—than any railroad ever built

It was not long after the completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855 that Bedford Clapperton Pirn declared with perfect composure that of all the world’s wonders none could surpass this one as a demonstration of man’s capacity to do great things against imposs Read more >>
No chapter in railroad history can rival the popular appeal of the wood-burning era. Its great funnel-shaped smokestack, gallant red paint, and polished brass have endeared the wood burner to generations of Americans. Read more >>

Our half-known new western empire was mapped, in a great mass exploration, by the Army’s Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853

The Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853 —a grand national reconnaissance extending over half a continent and led by men who would later be counted among the most prominent soldiers and scientists of the Republic Read more >>

Locomotive whistles had a language all their own

The switchmen knew by the whistle’s moansThat the man at the throttle was Casey Jones. Read more >>

The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory—and the nation had truly been railroaded

At Promontory, Utah Territory, on the raw afternoon of May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford, the beefy, pompous president of the Central Pacific Railroad, hefted a silver-plated sledge hammer while David Hewes, a dedicated railroad booster from San Francisco, stood by the golden spike Read more >>

To a culinary wilderness Fred Harvey brought civilized cooking—and pretty girls to serve it.

In a thousand tank towns and junctions across the land, he was a man boys wanted to be when they grew up. Read more >>

Snowshed crews on the Central Pacific, battling blizzards and snowslides, built “the longest house in the world”