1851 To 1900 Railroad History


The first continuous railroad from Atlantic waters to the Great Lakes opened on May 15, 1851. Daniel Webster, at his own request, made part of the trip in a rocking chair fastened to a flat car “to better view and enjoy the fine country”.

The first railway shipment known to have been made under refrigeration was eight tons of butter from Ogdensburg, New York on July 1, 1851. The shipment was made in a box car containing bins filled with blocks of ice in sawdust.

On July 4, 1851, ground was broken at St. Louis for the first railroad west of the Mississippi River.

On September 22, 1851, the Telegraph was first used in dispatching trains.


The first locomotive and train west of the Mississippi River made its initial trip a few miles out of St. Louis on December 9, 1852.


On September 1, 1854 at Davenport, Iowa, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River.


The first through train completed run from Chicago to Ohio River at Cairo on January 8, 1855.

On March 6, 1855, the first train ever to cross a bridge suspended by wire cables passed over the Niagara suspension bridge.

California’s first two locomotives arrived in San Francisco Bay on June 15, 1855 aboard a sailing vessel after a voyage around Cape Horn.


The first railroad in the far west opened on February 22, 1856, for a distance of 22 miles out of Sacramento, California.

The first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi River opened at Davenport, Iowa, April 21, 1856.


A grand celebration was held in St. Louis on June 4, 1857, on completion of its first direct rail route from
the Atlantic Seaboard. Special trains brought hundreds of guests from Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, DC and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The initial trip of George M. Pullman’s first sleeping car occurred on September 1,1859.

The Atlanta and LaGrange Rail Road’s name was changed to Atlanta and West Point Rail Road.


The first locomotive in the Pacific Northwest, the “Oregon Pony”, arrived at Portland, Oregon on March 31, 1862.

On April 12, 1862, The “General”, the most famous locomotive of the civil war period, was captured by Yankee raiders, was pursued and subsequently recaptured by Confederates after a thrilling 100 mile chase.

On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln signed an act authorizing construction of a railroad from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. This became the first rail route to the Pacific.


The first steel rails manufactured in the United States rolled at North Chicago, Illinois, May 25, 1865.

On November 1, 1865, the first shipment of petroleum in a tank car, a flat car fitted with two wooden tanks resembling inverted tubs, originated at Titusville, PA.


The first train robbery in American history committed by the Reno gang in southern Indiana occurred on October 6, 1866.


The Pullman Palace Car Company, founded by George M. Pullman, chartered in Illinois on February 22, 1867, to construct and operate deluxe sleeping and hotel cars.

The Master Car-Builders’ Association, the forerunner of the Association of American Railroads, was organized at Altoona, Pennsylvania, on September 18, 1 867, to conduct research and promote standardization of equipment.

The first patent for a refrigerator car was issued to J. B. Sutherland of Detroit, Michigan on November 26, 1867.


The “Official Guide of the Railways”, in daily use by railroad men the country over, was first issued in June, 1868, as the “Travelers’ Official Guide of the Railways.”  The guide is still published today but is now called “Official Railway Guide”.


Rails joined on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental rail route in the United States.


On June 6, 1870, the first locomotive to enter Indian territory ran from the Kansas line near Chetopa to a point near Blue Jacket, Cherokee Nation, I.T. (now Oklahoma).

Stage-coach service between Denver and the East discontinued on August 19, 1870, following the introduction of rail transportation.


On August 16, 1871, the first narrow gauge railway train in the Rocky Mountain region made its initial run in Colorado.


The patent for the first automatic car coupler acceptable to Master Car Builders Association was issued to Major Eli H. Janney on April 29, 1873.


The Hoosac Tunnel, 4-3/4 miles in length, under Hoosac Mountain, Massachusetts, was completed on February 9, 1875. For 53 years it held the distinction of being the longest railway tunnel in the United States.


On November 18, 1883, railroads throughout the United States adopted standard time, replacing numerous local times by which trains were operated. Standard time was divided into four zones based on sun time at the 75th, 90th, 105th and 120th meridians west of Greenwich. The time system thus was promptly accepted by cities and towns from coast to coast and eventually spread throughout the world.


The first permanent pension system for retired railway employees was established on October 1, 1884. Eighty-four railroads, embracing 90% of all railway employees, had such systems before the Railroad Retirement Act was passed in 1937.


On Sunday, May 30, 1886, eighteen hundred miles of track on a southern railroad were changed from broad to standard gauge in a single day. More than 8,000 men were engaged in carrying out the stupendous project. Several other southern railroads changed their gauge on the same day.


The first completely vestibuled passenger train made a test run out of Chicago April 15, 1887. The train was placed in regular service several days later.

On February 4, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission.


On May 10, 1893, man first travelled faster than 100 miles an hour, when a passenger train attained a speed of 112.5 miles an hour near Batavia, New York.


The first electric locomotive to run in regular service in the United States made its initial run through a Baltimore tunnel on August 4, 1895.


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