Home  

KNOWLEDGE OF RAILWAYS IN 1825.

LABORS OF THE PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF
INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS.

THE earnest advocacy of railways by such men as Oliver Evans and John Stevens, the success of primitive railroad or tramway experiments in several places, the growing interest in railway improvements that was manifested in England, and the general progress of this country, created a strong desire in some influential and important circles to obtain more definite knowledge than had previously been available of the exact nature of the English railways. One of the outgrowths of this state of affairs was the organization in Philadelphia, in December, 1824, of the "Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvements in the Commonwealth." At the outset it contained forty-eight members, each of whom subscribed one hundred dollars, to form a fund for the immediate promotion of the object in view, and the further sum of ten dollars annually. Efforts were speedily commenced to expand the sphere of its operations by increasing the number of members, and obtaining assistance from numerous friends of internal improvement, which were successful. Early in 1825 the society resolved to send William Strickland, Esq., to Europe to collect information relating to valuable improvements in the construction of canals, roads, railways, bridges, steam engines, and various industrial arts. The instructions to Mr. Strickland, explanatory of the views and wishes of the society, are dated March 18th, 1825. They are signed by the following members of the acting committee: Matthew Carey, Richard Peters, jr., Joseph Hemphill, and Stephen Duncan. They are somewhat lengthy and elaborate, entering minutely into details, but their general scope, aside from references to investigations of methods for making coke and iron, which he was directed to institute, is indicated by the following extract:—
"It is not a knowledge of abstract principles, nor an indefinite and general account of their application to the great works of Europe, we desire to possess through your labors. . . What we earnestly wish to obtain, is the means of executing all those works in the best manner, and with the greatest economy and certainty; and for these purposes you will procure and exhibit in your reports, all that will enable those who shall undertake the formation of canals, railways, and roads, and the construction of bridges, to perform the work, without such persons having the science by which such works were originally planned and executed. To use a term which is familiar to you as an architect, we desire to obtain working plans of the best constructed canals, and their locks and inclined planes; of railways, and all means of using them to advantage; of roads and of the mode of their formation and preservation; and of the construction of bridges. To be more definite on this head, we desire that you furnish such minute and particular descriptions, plans, drawings, sections, estimates, and directions, as, possessed of them, that these works may be executed in Pennsylvania, without the superintendence of a civil engineer of superior skill and science." The instructions also requested that his first efforts should be directed to railways.

The amount of knowledge possessed in 1825 in the most enlightened circles in the United States in regard to railways is indicated by the specific instructions relating to them, from which we extract the following: "Of the utility of railways, and their importance as a means of transporting large burdens, we have full knowledge. Of the mode of constructing them, and of their cost, nothing is known with certainty. . . You will bear in mind in your investigations of this subject that we have, as yet, no complete railway in Pennsylvania; and you will, therefore, so exhibit your facts, as that they may be understood by reference to the drawings which you may make, and which Shall accompany your report.

Commencing in your examinations with the plans observed in making surveys and forming the line of the route of the railway, it is desired that you ascertain with precision the greatest angles of ascent (grades) which the profitable use of railways will bear. In our mountainous state, if railways shall be adopted, they must pass over numerous elevations, some of them abrupt, and many of them so formed as to render their reduction impossible.

The foundations for the reception of the iron rail will next require your attention. Climate must enter materially into the decision upon the question how the foundation of a railway shall be made in Pennsylvania; and the differences between the moist and moderate winters of England, and the deep snows, sudden and hard frosts, variable temperature, and long continuance of our winters, must have your consideration, and attention in these examinations. Without entering into the subject particularly, but submitting it, with great deference, to your consideration, we would remark that if masonry could be avoided in the construction of the foundation for the iron rails; if wood, however large in size, and great in quantity can be employed here, the influence of our climate upon the work would be less injurious. . . In relation to the construction and form of the road and rails, we desire you to ascertain every mode which is now in favorable use in England, Scotland, and Wales. It is said that recent improvements have been made in the form and position of the rails; and that different forms are used for different purposes. How railways are crossed by wagons heavily laden, how wagons pass when proceeding in opposite directions, what means are taken for the protection of railways from injury by wheels not properly constructed to pass upon them, and how their wagons and their carriages are constructed, and of what materials? Upon all these subjects we ask particular information, accompanied with drawings which will make the same easily understood and employed.

The expense of railways will be a subject of careful and particular investigation. In your statements under this head you will inform us of the separate cost of each part, distinguishing accurately between the charges for the formation of the line and the preparation of the foundation, and the expense of the materials employed.

Locomotive machinery will command your attention and inquiry. This is entirely unknown in the United States, and we authorize you to procure a model of the most approved locomotive machine, at the expense of the society."

MR. STRICKLAND'S REPORT.

Mr. Strickland continued to make reports from time to time, his first report on railways and locomotive engines being dated June 16th, 1825. He also obtained a model of an English locomotive of that period, which he brought or forwarded to this country, and which presumably embodied the first accurate and detailed representation of that important device that had ever been exhibited in the United States. It has long been one of the standard curiosities of the Franklin Institute. While he was abroad the controversy in regard to the relative merits of railways and canals, which continued for a number of years to form a pivotal feature of American transportation struggles and efforts, was attracting an increasing degree of attention. This fact led the society to address a letter to Mr. Strickland, on September 19th, 1825, which contains the following extract:—
"Canals and railways present the most important of all subjects for your attention. Upon every matter connected with both you will be expected to be well informed; and if you shall have to decide between them you must be able to furnish the facts and circumstances by which the decision shall be produced. Much excitement prevails in this state upon the question whether railways are superior to canals, and the inquiries that are in progress in relation to them are in the hands of men of ingenuity and well disposed to the cause of internal improvement. It is, however, feared by many that the question between canals and railways will have an injurious influence in Pennsylvania, as it will divide the friends of the cause of improvement, and thus postpone, if not prevent, the commencement of the work. The importance of correct information in relation to them is thus greatly increased."

Mr. Strickland shortly afterward returned to Philadelphia, and in 1826 his "Reports," illustrated by large and handsome plates, was issued. The information furnished by this publication rendered useful service in connection with a number of improvements, and especially canals. But a competent authority, Mr. W. Hasell Wilson, in his notes on internal improvements in Pennsylvania, says that" at that time railways were only beginning to attract attention for purposes of general traffic, and the information given in relation to them was neither full nor important."


Transport Systems | Antebellum RR | Contents Page

Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery