WHILE the three men who above all others best represented the inventive and practical talent of the United States applicable to transportation, during the early decades of the nineteenth century, viz., Oliver Evans, John Stevens, and Robert Fulton, adopted advanced views, their dissemination was a slow process, and actual demonstration of the superior utility of crude railroads or tramways, on which horse power was used, as avenues for moving freight kind passengers, was probably the most powerful agent in educating the public mind, and securing the assistance of capitalists for railways.

The advantages of primitive railroads or tramways began to elicit a limited amount of discussion among the members of American societies engaged in promoting internal improvements about the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that time colliery roads, over which vehicles were moved on rails, had been operated for more than a century and a half in Great Britain. Considerable improvements in the mode of their construction had been commenced, and were still progressing. The state of English tramway development, as it then existed, and its it may have been known to intelligent American students of such subjects, is typified by the fact that the Register of Arts, a work published in Philadelphia in 1808, contains several articles on iron railways (or tramways), one of which describes the Penrhyn Railway, a line six miles and a quarter in length, divided into five stages, built mainly for the purpose of hauling slate. It is stated that on this railway "two horses will draw twenty-four wagons one stage six times a day, and carry 24 tons each journey, which is 144 tons per day. This quantity used to employ 144 carts and 400 horses; so that the 10 horses will, by means of this railway, do the work of 400." Illustrations are published of the cars used and of the rail.

Another article in the same publication is on the utility of iron railways, find describes the result of a series of experiments made on August 14th, 1799, at a colliery at Measham, in Derbyshire, England, "for the purpose of obtaining ocular and satisfactory proof of the utility of iron railways." It says "the result of the experiments was nearly thus: One horse, of the value of 120, on a declivity of an iron road five-sixteenths of an inch in a yard, drew twenty-one carriages or wagons, laden with coals and timber, amounting, in the whole, to thirty-five tops, overcoming the vis inertia repeatedly, with great case. The same horse, up this acclivity, drew five tons with ease; be also drew up the road, where the acclivity was 1¾ of an inch in a yard, three tons."

Similar performances at another adjacent colliery are reported, and it is stated that on the road on which they occurred, "the rails are three feet long each, 33 pounds weight, and calculated to carry two tons on each wagon, laid four feet two inches wide, on stone or wood sleepers, placed on a bed of sleek, so as to fix it solid and firm. The expense of completing one mile of such a road, where materials of all descriptions lie convenient, and where the land lies tolerably favorable for the descent, will be £900 or £1,000 per mile, single road, fenced, &c., exclusive of bridges, culverts, or any extra expense in deep cutting or high embankments. Rails are made from twenty to forty pounds per yard, agreeable to the weight they have to bear."


Smiles' Life of George Stephenson states that in 1630 Master Beaumont laid down wooden rails from his coal pits, near Newcastle, to the river side. In 1738 iron rails were first laid down at Whitehaven. In 1789 Jessop introduced at Loughborough the cast-iron edge rails, and flanches cast upon the tires of the wheels, so as to keep them in the track. In 1800, at Little Eton, Derbyshire, Outram used stone sleepers. From his name is derived the term "tramways." In 1802 Trevethick invented and patented his railway locomotive. In 1812 Blenkinsop's engine worked at Leeds, drawing 33 coal wagons at the rate of three and three-quarter miles per hour. In 1815 George Stephenson constructed his locomotive, and in 1816 he invented a new rail and chair. On September 27th, 1825, the railway from Stockton to Darlington was opened for traffic.

An interesting condensed statement of the gradual development of tramways in England is furnished in the following abstract of a paper read before a meeting of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants of Great Britain, in which Mr. Clement E. Stretton, C. E., an honorary member, traced the growth of British railways from 1630 to 1830: "About the former year a Mr. Beaumont took the lead in a movement to facilitate the conveyance of coal from the mines to the points of shipment by means of wooden ways, consisting of cross sleepers placed about two feet apart, upon which were nailed wooden planks or rails six feet long and about four inches wide. This pioneer of progress also introduced four-wheel wagons to run on the wooden ways, instead of the ordinary two-wheel carts. Like most men, however, who attempted to make innovations on British methods, Beaumont lost his fortune in the attempt, and emerged from his reforming schemes reduced to poverty. Although the inventor of wooden ways obtained only loss and annoyance from his improvement of transportation facilities, his invention outlived him, and was improved by being covered with sheet iron, to prevent the attrition caused by the iron-shod wheels. This was 'plating' the rails, from which the word platelayer comes, the appellation still borne by all trackmen in Britain. The transition from plated wooden rails to rails made of cast iron was easy and natural where iron working was developing. The rails for 150 years after this form of track was first tried were flanged, so as to keep a vehicle with plain wheels on the track.

One of the greatest improvements was introduced, 1789, by Mr. William Jessop, when constructing a railroad at Loughborough, in Leicestershire. This engineer decided to abandon the flat wheels and flanged rails, and to introduce iron rails with flat top, and wheels with a flange cast upon the tire. Mr. Jessop's rail was known as the 'edge rail,' because the wheels ran upon the upper edge. These rails were of cast iron, 3 feet long, having a single head 1¾ inches wide. They were of the 'fishbelly' pattern, that is, deeper in the centre than at the ends, it being considered that it combined the greatest strength with the least expenditure of material. They were fastened to cross sleepers by iron pins or bolts passing through a projecting base at the ends of the rails. It was soon found that the cast-iron projections were broken off, and the rails rendered useless, as there was then no way of fastening them. This led to a great and important improvement. The base was removed from the rail itself, and cast as a separate 'chair or pedestal.' The plan of bolting the chair to the sleeper, and fastening the rail by means of a key driven between it and the chair, is in use in England to this day.

The long wrought-iron rail was first introduced about the beginning of this century, and gradually pushed out its cast-iron predecessor.

The usual width of the old wooden and cast-iron tramroads practically determined the gauge of our present railways. The usual width or gauge of these old tramroads was five feet over all, that is, including the width of the two rails, and, as Jessop's edge rails and the Killingworth tramroad had rails 1¾ inches wide, the width of two such rails deducted from 5 feet leaves 4 feet 8½ inches between the rails, or what we now consider the national gauge. George Stephenson saw no reason to alter the gauge. Therefore, he adopted 4 feet 8½ inches for the Stockton and Darlington, and Liverpool and Manchester railways, and, when consulted as to the gauge for the Leicester and Swannington, and the Canterbury and Whitestable railways, he replied: 'Make them of the same width. Though they may be a long way apart now, depend upon it they will be joined together some day.' The 'fish-belly' rails, fifteen feet long, were adopted for all these lines,"


Of the advance made by Jessop, 1789, by which flanged wheels were substituted for flanged rails, a distinguished English engineer forcibly says that it "was an organic change which has been the forerunner of the great results accomplished in modern traveling by traveling by railway. You may easily imagine the condition to which our railways would be reduced if they were constructed on the principle of street tramways; how they would be obstructed by slight impediments, and how difficult the construction of junctions would be rendered, by considering how the speed and convenience of railway traveling would have been retarded if it had not early been discovered that the rail should be lifted clear of the ground, and the guide put upon the wheel instead of the rail."


It is a remarkable fact that previous to this time no one seems to have seriously thought of using railways for miscellaneous traffic. The locomotive or steam wagon had received consideration, and steam had even been experimentally applied to land transportation at low rates of speed, but the drift of inventive effort continued to be towards steam wagons or vehicles adapted to common road or turnpike movements until some years after the edge rail and flanged wheel had been devised. It would be difficult to designate any three general ideas which, above all others, helped to promote railway construction, to a greater extent than this Jessop edge rail, Oliver Evans' high-pressure locomotive, and George Stephenson's favorite doctrine that the railway and locomotive should be inseparably wedded, like man and wife.

In view of the relative antiquity of crude colliery and quarry railroads in England, it is rather surprising that the construction of similar lines, even for short distances, does not seem to have been attempted anywhere in the United States until near the close of the first decade of the nineteenth century.


was probably a short one built by Silas Whitney on Beacon Hill, Boston, in 1807. It is claimed, however, that this was preceded in the same locality by an incline plane used to draw bricks in 1795, which had as part of its appliances a wooden tramway, of about two feet gauge, on which loaded cars were forwarded to the foot of Beacon street, while empty cars were drawn to kilns at the top of Beacon Hill.

At one time it was believed that the first of such lines was constructed by Thomas Lieper, in Delaware county, Pennsylvania, which it was alleged was finished in 1806. But it seems to have been erroneously antedated, and a controversy relating to this subject resulted in the publication of the following statements: A millwright from Scotland, named Somerville, who had seen tramways in his native land, was employed by Mr. Thomas Lieper to lay a track sixty yards in length, at a grade of one inch and a half to the yard, and this experimental track was laid down at the Bull's Head tavern in Philadelphia, in September, 1809. A memorandum book of Mr. Lieper's shows that in May, 1809, he made estimates of the cost of a line from his quarries, and in January or February, 1810, Mr. Lieper estimated that a railroad three-fourths of a mile long, leading from his quarries to the landing place on Crum creek, had cost, including the survey, $1,592.47/100. It had then been completed under the direction of Mr. John Thomson, father of J. Edgar Thomson, who subsequently became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. A minute of the proceedings of a meeting of the Delaware County Institute of Science, held on February 1st, 1873, embraced the following: "Mr. John M. Broomall read Dr. Joshua Ash's answer to the question, 'when and where was the first railroad built in the United States?' It gave credit to the road built by Thomas Lieper to move stone from his quarries in Nether Providence (not Ridley), and built October, 1809, as shown by the original draft made by John Thomson. The original map was presented to the institute by Dr. Ash, who procured it from J. Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, son of the draughtsman."

The third railroad or tramroad in the United States was probably one constructed on Falling's creek, Chesterfield county, Virginia, about ten miles from Richmond, soon after 1810, to furnish transportation facilities for a powder mill. Of this work Mr. Thomas A. McKibben, of Baltimore, in a letter to the Chicago American Engineer, dated July 1st, 1886, says that it was devised by George Magers, and that "it was about a mile long, and run between the magazine and the mill. It was down a grade to the magazine, and I estimate from my uncle's remarks that the gradient was about 8 feet in 100. Cross ties or floor joists were laid, and the rails, of hard wood, were laid about an ordinary wagon gauge. One rail was grooved, and the other tongued. The rails were cut out of the solid timber, and between them a flooring, securely fastened to the cross ties, was laid the entire length of the road. The country was very hilly, and at one point on its length it passed over a valley about a quarter of a mile wide. Across this valley the inventor erected an immense trestle some 75 feet high. My uncle says it was an immense piece of work, securely braced in every conceivable way. The wagon that ran upon it was very large, 18 or 20 feet long in the body, running upon low wooden wheels about two feet in diameter, composed of double plank of hard wood, cross-grained to each other, and securely fastened. The wheels one side were tongued, and the others grooved, to suit their respective rails, and there was a lever or brake to control the speed down to the magazine. When the car was unloaded it was hauled up again by a stout rope winding on to a huge vertical drum, operated by the water-wheels at the mill. My uncle has no recollection of how they signaled to the mill for the return trip, or whether they run the car on time.

Mr. George Magers died in Chesterfield county, and was buried in a church-yard, near the court house, in 1818. My uncle returned to Baltimore in 1823, and at that time the railway was still in use, but only as a curiosity, as the mill blew up in 1819. The railway was not affected by the 'blow up' and the people around the country used to visit it, the hands living in the neighborhood operating it for their own amusement making excursions on the road."

The fourth tramway is said to have been built at Bear Creek Furnace, Armstrong county, Pa., in 1818. Its tracks consisted of wooden rails. The fifth was probably one laid in Nashua, N. H., in 1825, and the sixth, the Quincy Railway, in Massachusetts, about four miles in length, built in 1826, to haul granite to the port of Neposit.

The construction of the


was suggested and superintended by Gridley Bryant, who was a builder and contractor of Boston, and the owner of the quarry containing the stone be desired to remove to tidewater by the railway, which stone was to be used in the Bunker Hill Monument. Chiefly on account of interest in that patriotic undertaking, the means for constructing the road were advanced by Colonel T. H. Perkins. The plan adopted was to lay stone sleepers across the track eight feet apart, upon which wooden rails, six inches thick and twelve inches high, were placed. On the top of these wooden rails, iron plates three inches wide and one-fourth of an inch thick, were fastened with spikes. At crossings of public roads stone rails were used instead of wood, on the top of which large iron plates firmly bolted to the stone were placed. It is said that the road continued to serve the contemplated purpose for more than a quarter of a century with very slight expenditures for repairs.

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