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The Transfer of Pioneering British Railroad Technology to North America

Frederick C. Gamst, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Technology transfer is elemental in industrialization. The industrial revolution in North America depended upon industry, first, diffused from and, then, developed as a continuation of technology in Great Britain. Railroads were no exception. Beginning with a line on Boston's Beacon Hill, in 1795, pioneering railroads in North America emerged as part of the long British development of railways before the general use of the locomotive steam engine, from about 1600 through 1830. The transfer of railroad technology from Great Britain to North America is a kind of cultural diffusion. Such diffusion from Great Britain was an important variety of the cultural dynamics leading to change in and the shaping of American society, even though it was politically independent.

Early North American railroads represent a full transfer of technology from the British mother country to its culturally contiguous two daughter lands across the Atlantic, America and British Canada. In exploring the transfer of technology this paper has five purposes. First, to create a foundation for subject matter, I define a railroad. Second, I examine the concept of cultural diffusion. Third, I review the overall cultural continuities between Great Britain and the United States and, from this, the Anglo-American technological continuities in railroading. Fourth, I outline the channels of transfer in diffusion of railroad technology. And, fifth, for the period from 1795 through 1830, I discuss the twenty-five pioneering railroads of North America.

What Is a Railroad?

Sometimes an old line of rails is dismissed in an unreflective manner as not being a railroad, and is, then, labeled 'only a tramway'. Accordingly, any discussion of railroad genesis must first reflect on the underlying question: What is a railroad? Using a core definition grounded in my research on present-day technological forms and functions, a railroad can be defined as an overland right-of-way bearing self-guided vehicles, which obtain support and guidance from wheels on rails. The guide way, or fixed path, consists of paired rails. These are elevated out of much of any debris strewn upon the way and the results of inclement weather. Self-guidance is accomplished by a flange, either on the vehicular wheels or supporting rails, usually the former. A hard wheel tread on a hard rail surface offers less friction and resistance than in ordinary vehicles on common roads. Not germane to the functional definition of a particular line of rails, and hence to questions of its classification as a railroad, are: the source of motive power, kind of material for rails and supporting ties (sleepers), varieties of things transported, or classification under law as a private or public carrier. From their modern English beginnings about 1600, all railroads are on one evolutionary continuum. Neither technological nor operational discontinuities exist regarding the devices and structures found on the steadily developing railroads.

Cultural Diffusion….

Anglo-American Overall Cultural Continuities….

The Channels of Transfer in Diffusion of Railroad Technology…..

The Pioneering Railroads of North America

First, in 1795 on Boston's Beacon Hill, a wooden railway of about a two-foot gauge in the form of a double-track inclined plane took earth removed from the top of the hill to its base. This excavation prepared a level area for the new State House of 1798, designed by the architect and construction engineer Charles Bulfinch. Earth-laden cars descended while returning empty cars ascended. We know almost nothing about this railroad. The discussion following, for the railroad on the same hill in 1805, informs us, however. The interviewer of eyewitness Edward Howe thinks the track and cars of the 1795 line could have been used in an 1805 line on the same hill. This view seems reasonable given the persons involved and dates.

Second, about 1805, in a similar project also involving Bulfinch, a double-track inclined plane, plus spurs at either end, facilitated removal of much of two of the three 'mountains' of Boston's Tremont. The line filled in Boston's tidal Back Bay to provide lots for the growing Federalist city. Consequently, only a decapitated Beacon Hill remained as the easternmost of the three original peaks of the Tremont. Who built the 1805 line (and, perhaps, that of 1795)?

We know that from 1785 to 1787, Bulfinch, who became a master of the cut-and-fill technique, extensively toured England where railroads were common objects of curiosity. His travels included trips on canals, with which early railroads were associated. In 1795, Bulfinch joined a syndicate for development of real estate by large-scale cutting and filling of earth and by constructing houses on the newly filled land. To provide the technical knowledge needed for the inclined plane and its haulage and braking mechanisms, track switches and spurs, flanged-wheeled cars and their couplings, and the dynamics of gravity-propelled cars upon tracks, Bulfinch out of necessity must have used a person informed about the functional detail and limitations of this technology. The knowledge needed for the resulting railway construction and maintenance and for the quick-paced operations would have been too arcane and complex for the uninitiated. To build the Beacon Hill line, Bulfinch undoubtedly used a technician, now unknown, of British birth living in America, just as Thomas Leiper did.

Third, in 1809, Philadelphian Thomas Lieper, from Scotland, built a short, experimental horse-powered railroad in Philadelphia. The line, of a 4-foot gauge, demonstrated the feasibility of such a mode of transport. Lieper's technician was a Scots construction carpenter and millwright named Somerville. Somerville had observed a similar railway in Great Britain. Constructed at Bull Tavern, Philadelphia, Lieper's railroad was temporary and described, not surprisingly, as the kind 'introduced in England'. Advocacy of British-design railways, both of wood and of iron, began in the Philadelphia Aurora as early as 1801.

Fourth, in 1810, Lieper built a heavier, wooden, horse-powered railroad to haul stone from his quarry at Crum Creek to barges at a landing at Ridley Creek, Pennsylvania. Oak ties and rails supported the cast-iron flanged wheels of the cars. Lieper's 1810 railroad was the first in the U.S. planned as permanent.

Fifth, shortly after 1810 at Falling Creek in Chesterfield County, Virginia, a wooden railroad carried explosives from a powder mill to a magazine. Seymour Dunbar perceptively generalizes: 'The details of this Virginia railway show that in its general features it was not far removed from similar constructions then being used in England. . . .'.

A local practical engineer, George Magers, built the line. He laid 'solid timber' hardwood rails of approximately 'an ordinary wagon gauge' upon pine ties. One of the massive timber rails was grooved – U-shaped – and the opposite one tongued. The car wheels on each side of the vehicle were likewise, respectively tongued and grooved to mate with their matching rails.

The line was a variety of single-track gravity railroad, not self-acting. A lever-actuated manual brake controlled the single loaded car on its descending run to the magazine. A rope winding onto a large vertical drum, powered by the mill's water wheels, hauled the empty car upgrade. The line was within the range of variation of British railroads. Both the line's U-shaped channel rails in which a vehicle wheel could run and its double-flanged wheels riding on a rail were known in Europe. In Europe, water wheels powered rope-worked inclined railroads.

Sixth, in 1816, a Mr. Boggs constructed a wooden railroad with a self-acting inclined plane on the Kiskiminetas Creek, not far from Lewistown, western Pennsylvania. George Washington Smith, a specialist on British railroads, incorrectly claimed that for America the line was 'the first Rail-road on which self-acting inclined planes were erected'.

Seventh, in 1818, a wooden railroad operated, similar to the second one of Thomas Lieper. It ran from Bear Creek Furnace to river navigation, in Armstrong County, western Pennsylvania, The line transported ore and iron products.

Eighth, certainly by about 1820, the windlass-powered inclined plane of the Niagara Portage in Ontario, used since about 1762 to haul military stores, most likely used rail cars. Operators could have replaced the capstan and rope haulage of freight by sledges on a plankway with wheeled cars on rails. The original vehicle was called truck, carriage (both terms in 1762), and cradle (in 1764), but no description has yet been found. This vehicle could have been fitted with wheels at almost any time. Thus 'about 1820' is a conservative guess. The date could well have been much earlier, considering both the prowess of British military engineering and the existence of numerous railways in England throughout the 1700s.

Ninth, in 1823 or soon after, at the Quebec citadel on Cape Diamond, a permanent inclined plane with double track operated. It carried stone for constructing the citadel and other freight up the cliff face to the summit, 350 feet above a connecting riverside wharf. A stationary steam engine near the wharf powered the line's two cars, one descending while the other ascended. The line operated through the late 1840s and also carried passengers.

Tenth, in 1825 at Nashua, New Hampshire, a wooden inclined plane transported earth excavated from a high point called Indian Head to fill low ground for building a woolen textile mill. The railroad, a temporary contractor's line, was similar to that of 1805 on Beacon Hill. Sometimes confused with the railway, a nearby oxen-powered plankway transporting quarried granite on sledges to riverside.

Eleventh, in 1825 at Hoboken, New Jersey, John Stevens built and operated a small-scale, experimental, circular track and a locomotive. Stevens, who applied in 1811 for America's first railroad charter, used British information to champion the railroad. The rails were wooden, capped with iron straps. A cast-iron rack rail, at track center, meshed with a driving cog wheel on the steam engine.

Twelfth, during 1826, a civic group building the Bunker Hill monument, north of Boston, constructed the Granite Railway from Bunker Hill Quarry, Quincy, Massachusetts some 2 3/4 miles to a wharf on the Neponset River at Milton. There, barges carried granite blocks to construction sites. At least one trial run occurred before the end of 1826. Rails at first were of wood and then of granite, both topped by iron straps. Oxen and then horses served as motive power. In 1831, gravity powered an added inclined plane.

The Granite Railroad of 1826 has frequently been incorrectly labeled as the first in the United States. From the devices on this line, some historians incorrectly claim much regarding the native-American origins for railroad technology in the United States. Track switches and frogs were of a kind used earlier in England and not invented independently.

Thirteenth, in 1826 or 1827 a wooden horse railway, planned by James George in 1824, was built near Kingsey, Quebec. The line hauled timber from forest sites some 4 miles to the St. Francis River.

Fourteenth, near Ottawa, canal builders constructed a wooden horse railway in 1827 and operated it from that date through 1832. It ran from a stone quarry at Hog's Back about 5 miles along a canal bank to the construction site of locks for the Rideau Canal at Nepean Point.

Fifteenth, in 1826 or, more probably, 1827, Abraham Potts built the first of many railroads in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Potts operated a gradually descending, horse-powered, wooden line, from his anthracite mines at Broad Mountain. It ran for 1/2 mile to Port Carbon on the newly completed Schuylkill Canal. Potts did not plate the rails with iron. The line had a gauge of 40 inches. One horse could pull 10 tons of coal on the rough track, in cars having drop-bottoms. In 1829, Potts was the first to fuel a (stationary, mill) steam engine with anthracite coal. Phoebe Snow's spotless ride on a railroad of anthracite was now eventually assured. The origins of his British technologies are obscure.

Sixteenth, during 1827 at Mauch Chunk (mountain of bears), Pennsylvania, construction began on a single-track railroad of 3 foot, 6-inch gauge having wooden strap rails. It operated using mules and inclined planes on 9 miles of line and 3.7 miles of spurs. The line transported coal from the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company's pits at Summit to the Lehigh River.

Seventeenth, the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company obtained a charter for a railroad in 1826, began its construction in 1828, and completed and operated it in the fall of 1829. Transportation on the 16 1/2-mile line required 6 inclined planes. Five had stationary steam engines. It ran from the mines at Carbondale, Pennsylvania, up over a 930-foot ridge, and down to a canal basin at Honesdale. Wooden rails with iron straps rested on stone supports. During 1829, Horatio Allen, just returned from England, operated the English-built Stourbridge Lion over the line. He thus handled the first locomotive steam engine on a nonexperimental line in the U.S.

Eighteenth, in 1829, Francis Nichols and Henry Morris began, with partial operation in that year, and completed in 1830 the horse-powered Mill Creek Rail Road. The line had wooden strap rails and a length of more than 4 miles, from the southern foot of the mines at Broad Mountain to Port Carbon. A total of about 3 miles of mine spurs ran from the main track. This was the first Schuylkill railroad completed after the half-mile line of Potts. Imported English strap iron covered the rails. British-experienced Monocure Robinson consulted on Schuylkill County railroads from about 1829. Ignorant of railways, Robinson visited Great Britain and the Continent to obtain his knowledge of the technology. He became an important transferor of British rail technology to America.

Interesting for the evolution of railroads, Broad Mountain looms over St. Clair, once the site of the world's largest rail freight yard and roundhouse for locomotives – the former Reading Railroad's successors to its early wooden ancestors. Today, we no longer burn anthracite for heating and nothing remains of the site save for an enormous graded area devoid of any structure.

Nineteenth, the Tuscarora, or Schuylkill Valley, Rail Road began construction and partially operated in 1829, as a horse-powered, double-track line having wooden strap rails, set to a 40-inch gauge. It saw completion on 12 July 1830, running 10 miles from navigation on the Schuylkill – past numerous wayside pits connected by some fifteen spurs – to mines at Tuscarora, Pennsylvania. A train of twenty-one cars of coal could be hauled down to the water by three horses. Moncure Robinson served as the principal engineer for this short railroad, as well as for the monumental Allegheny Portage of Pennsylvania, under construction in 1831.

Twentieth, the Union Canal Rail Road was the first in Schuylkill County to be chartered, on 3 March 1826. Construction began in 1827 and ended in 1829. It ran from Pine Grove borough to the junction of the Lorberry and Swatara creeks. Horse-drawn cars hauled coal and timber. Oaken rails without iron straps were fastened by wooden keys on wooden ties. The track had a 40-inch gauge. A car shop provided for the cars, which held about a ton. Two horses pulled the first train of twelve cars.

Twenty-first, on 1 April 1830, the Charleston & Hamburg of South Carolina opened and operated 1 mile of its 136-mile route, then by far the longest under construction in the world. In September 1829, Horatio Allen became principal engineer of the line. Earlier, in February 1829, a temporary track at the Charleston terminal afforded successful experiments with a mule-drawn car heavily loaded with cotton bales, and, in April, a wharfside short stretch of track facilitated the unloading of iron strap rails from England. Cotton, general merchandise, and passengers comprised most of the revenue traffic. In addition to passing sidings, the single-track line had 1 mile of double track for an inclined plane, 3,800 feet long with a descent of 180 feet.

Twenty-second, the Norwegian and Mount Carbon railroad began construction in 1829 with some operations in 1830 and completion in 1831. About 1 mile above Pottsville the line bifurcated, running up the east and west branches of Norwegian Creek. Some 3 miles were double track. The line was planned to be a part of the later Pottsville & Danville Railroad, a line with which Moncure Robinson was involved.

Twenty-third, near Pictou, Nova Scotia, in the summer of 1829, the General Mining Association began plans for a horse railroad. In 1830, the line first operated, from the coal pits of the Albion Mines to a wharf on the East River at Lourdes. The rails were made of iron of the fish-belly kind, during 1829, at a blast-furnace site near the mines. They undoubtedly represented the first entirely iron rails made in North America.

Twenty-fourth, in 1830, the General Mining Association opened a horse railroad from a coal mine in Old Bridgeport, Nova Scotia, some 2 miles to open Atlantic tidewater.

Twenty-fifth, in 1826, Baltimore bankers Philip E. Thomas and George Brown sent Evan Thomas to England. Thomas transmitted back to his brother information on railroads. William Brown, a resident of Liverpool, sent to his Baltimore brother details of the proposed construction of the Liverpool & Manchester [L&M]. These data convinced the two bankers that a railroad could be operated between Baltimore and the Ohio River.

On 12 February 1827, Baltimore businessmen held the first meeting to consider building a Baltimore & Ohio [B&O] railroad similar to those in Great Britain. On 22 October 1828 the line's engineers (Jonathan Knight, William G. McNeill, and George Washington Whistler) traveled to England to learn about its railroads. On 22 May 1829, the now-educated participant observers returned to Baltimore. And, from 6 through 14 October 1829, the line's George Brown and Ross Winans observed the Rainhill locomotive trials of the L&M and discussed rail technology with concerned persons.

In October 1828, the B&O began construction, and it opened 16 miles of line to Ellicott Mills on 22 May 1830. The first vertical-boilered Grasshopper locomotive, uniquely American, entered service in September 1832. British designs of the Stephenson kind of locomotive soon displaced these home-grown engines. The B&O opened to Harpers Ferry on 1 December 1834. In the first years of operation, the line handled considerable freight and passenger traffic in horse-drawn rail cars. For the double-track line, the earliest rails were of wood or granite, topped by iron straps.

According to the American Rail Road Journal, the British-derived B&O served as 'the Railroad University of the United States' and the line's annual reports constituted 'a text book, and their road and workshops have been a lecture room to thousands'. James Dilts summarizes that the line became 'the prototypical American railroad'. Dilts concludes, 'The B&O imported and improved British rail technology.' It could not be otherwise for such a set of complexes of interconnected technology, developed for over two centuries in the mother country.

In all, during the period 1795 through 1830, by channeled diffusion of British technology, North American railroads grew exponentially from a few, short, local lines of wood into the beginnings of a continental network of iron. John Ringwalt succinctly concludes: '. . . few things were attempted which were not imitations of something that had previously been done in Great Britain'. In terms of culture, it could not have been attempted in a different manner.


For the definitive work comprehending early British, and Continental, railroads, see M. J. T. Lewis, Early Wooden Railways (London, 1970). For a pithy review of the sites of the evolution of British railways, see, N. Cossons, The BP Book of Industrial Archaeology (Newton Abbot, 1975), pp. 366-99, 483-4.

F.C. Gamst, The Hoghead: An Industrial Ethnology of the Locomotive Engineer (New York, 1980), pp. 122-3.

W.E., 'The First Railroad in New England', Locomotive Engineers' Monthly Journal, 15 (1881), pp. 115-16.

Gamst, 'America's First Railroad', 66-100.

E. S. Bulfinch, The Life and Letters of Charles Bulfinch, Architect (New York, [1896] 1973), pp. 41-57; Suffolk Deeds (Boston) Lib. 436, fos 130, 132.

On British wooden railroads, track work was carpenters' and joiners' work. For the complexities of wooden railway construction see, 'Queries respecting wooden Railways used in the neighborhood of Newcastle-upon-Tyne', [1807], Buddle (collection), vol. 15, pp. 201-3, Northumberland Record Office; 'Willington Lease Book', 1807, p. 297, item 2003/29 Tyne & Wear Archives Service; J. C. Inglis and F. Inglis, The Fordell Railway (Perth, 1946), pp. 7-13.

'Rail-Ways', Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, September 27, 1809, September 28, 1809.

J.T. Scharf and W. Thompson, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1884), vol. 1, p. 510.

R.P. Robbins, 'A Short Account of the First Permanent Tramway in America', Proceedings of the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, 5 (1886), pp. 418-20; G. Smith, History of Delaware County (Philadelphia, 1862), p. 389.

S. Dunbar, A History of Travel in America, 4 vols., 3, (Indianapolis, 1915), p. 879. The primary source on the line is: Thomas A. McKibben, 'Another Addition to the Railroad History of the Country', The American Engineer , 12 (7 July 1886), p. 3. The analysis of the line is: F.C. Gamst and M. Gamst, 'Virginia's First Railroad on Falling Creek, about 1810', RH no. 168 (1993), pp. 5-16.

Lewis, Early Wooden Railways, 44-61, 193, 266, 346, 350.

Lewis, ibid., 55.

G.W. Smith, 'Appendix' in N. Wood, A Practical Treatise on Rail-Roads (Philadelphia, 1832), p. 501.

J.G. Pangborn, The World's Rail Way (New York, 1894), p. 25; G. P. Doehoo, Pennsylvania: A History, 4 vols. (New York, 1926), vol. 3, p. 1306.

J. Montresor, 'Journals', 1757-1758 in Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1881 (New York, 1882), pp. 258, 260; R. Izard, 'Diary', in F. H. Severance, Studies of the Niagara Frontier (Buffalo, 1911), pp. 241-3; R.R. Brown, 'Canada's Earliest Railway Lines', Bulletin R&LHS, no. 78 (1949), pp. 50-2.

G. Johnson, Alphabet of First Things in Canada, 3d ed., (Ottawa, 1897), p. 148; Brown, ibid., p. 52.

'Early Days of Railroading in New Hampshire', Nashua Weekly Telegraph, 8 Jan. 1881, p. 4; 'An Old Resident', Nashua Daily Telegraph, 25 Oct. 1902, p. 12; E. E. Parker, History of the City of Nashua, N. H. (Nashua, 1897), pp. 589; Works Progress Administration, 'Noah W. Roby', p. 1, in 'Reminiscences and Historical Articles', MS, Nashua Public Library (no. R 974.21 N171 R) (n. p., n. d.).

C. E., MacGill, 'The History of the Nashua Manufacturing Company', MS, Nashua Public Library (n. p., 1923?).

J. Stevens, Documents Tending to Prove the Superiority of Rail-Ways and Steam-Carriages over Canal Navigation (New York, 1812); J.E. Bloomfield, '"Railways 1812." – Honor to whom Honor is Due. – Col. Stevens', American Railroad Journal 24 (1851), pp. 577-8; C.W. Mitman, 'The Beginnings of the Mechanical Transport Era in America', Smithsonian Institution Reports for 1929 (Washington, D. C., 1929), pp. 523-7, 533-5.

For typical statements concerning the Granite Railway as the first in the United States and for correct engineering details of the line see: Boston Daily Advertiser, 16 March, 9 October 1826; C.H. Snow, A Geography of Boston (Boston, 1830), p. 159; F.C. Gamst, ed., Early American Railroads: Franz Anton Ritter von Gerstner's Die innern Communicationen (1842-1843), 2 vols. (Stanford, Calif., 1997 [1842-43]), vol. 1, p. 295. H.V. Poor, History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States of America, 3 vols. (New York, 1860), vol. 1, pp. 85, 415; Granite Railway Company, The First Railroad in America: A History of the Origin and Development of the Granite Railway at Quincy, Massachusetts (Quincy, Mass., 1926); 'Celebration of America's First Railway', Bulletin R&LHS no. 12 (1926), pp. 6-9; J.E. Lee, 'America's Very First Railroad', Trains , 35, no. 6 (1975), pp. 28-32.

Gamst, 'America's First Railroad', 97-8.

Brown, 'Canada's Earliest Railway Lines', 52-5

J. Mactaggart, Three Years in Canada: An Account of the Actual State of the Country in 1826-7-8, 2 vols. (London, 1829), vol. 2, pp. 88-9; L. Brault, Ottawa Old and New (Ottawa, 1946), pp. 49-50, 189.

Hazard's The Register of Pennsylvania, 2 (1828), p. 80; D. Rupp, History of Northampton, Lehigh, Monroe, Carbon, and Schuylkill Counties (Harrisburg, Penna., 1845), pp. 303-4; anon., History of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (New York, 1881), p. 46.

Niles' Register, 32 (1827), pp. 42-3, 35 (1828), p. 197; G.W. Smith, 'Notes on the Internal Improvement of Pennsylvania', Hazard's RP, 1 (1828), pp. 413-14; 'Mauch Chunk', Hazard's RP, 2 (1828), pp. 31-2, 3 (1829), pp. 44-5, 5 (1830), p. 271; Gamst, innern Communicationen vol. 2, pp. 611-12; M.S. Henry, History of the Lehigh Valley (Easton, Penna., 1860), pp. 349-400; E. J. Heydinger, 'Railroads of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company', Bulletin R&LHS, no. 110 (1964), pp. 59-60; J.N. Hoffman, Anthracite in the Lehigh Region of Pennsylvania, 1820-45 (Washington, D.C., 1968), pp. 106-10.

G.W. Smith, 'Notes on the Internal Improvement of Pennsylvania', pp. 414-15; Gamst, innern Communicationen vol. 2, pp. 625-6; E.D. Leroy, The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company: A History (Honesdale, Penna., 1950), pp. 1-32; G.M. Best, 'The Gravity Railroad of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company', Bulletin R&LHS, no. 82 (1951), pp. 7-24; W.C. Kessler, 'Horatio Allen's Impressions of English Railways', Bulletin R&LHS, no. 61 (1943), pp. 35-54; 'Allen, Horatio', Dictionary of American Biography 1 (New York, 1964), pp. 193-4; H. Allen, The Railroad Era: First Five Years of its Development (New York, 1884).

Gamst, innern Communicationen, vol. 2, p. 622; Rupp, Northhampton, p. 303-4; anon., Schulykill County, p. 46.

D.H. Stapleton, The Transfer of Early Industrial Technologies to America (Philadelphia, 1987), pp. 141-54.

D.H. Stapleton, 'Moncure Robinson: Railroad Engineer, 1828-1840', in ed. B. E. Benson, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Moncure Robinson: The Engineer as Agent of Technology Transfer, (Greenville, Del., 1975), pp. 37-44; 'Robinson, Monocure', Dictionary of American Biography 16 (New York, 1935), pp. 48-9.

Stapleton, Early Industrial Technologies, 199.

F.C. Gamst, Review of: Anthony F. C. Wallace, St. Clair: A Nineteenth-Century Coal Town's Experience with a Disaster-Prone Industry, in Anthropological Quarterly 64 (1991), pp. 50-1.

Gamst, innern Communicationen, vol. 2, pp. 621-2; Rupp, Northampton, 304; anon., Schulykill County, 46.

'Schuylkill Valley Rail Road', Hazard's RP, 4 (1829), p. 224; M. Robinson, 'Allegheny Portage', Hazard's RP, 5 (1830), pp. 97-103.

G.B. Haas, ed., History of Pine Grove Schuylkill County Pennsylvania (Pottsville, Penna., 1935), pp. 83-4.

Niles' Register, 41 (1831), p. 219, 49 (1834), p. 138; ARRJ 3 (1834), pp. 466, 769; Gamst, innern Communicationen, vol. 2, pp. 710-15; U.B. Phillips, A History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt to 1860 (New York, 1968), pp. 132-67; 'Allen, Horatio', 193.

Rupp, Northhampton, 304.

'Danville & Pottsville Rail Road', Hazard's RP, 16 (1828), pp. 401-3.

G. Patterson, A History of the County of Pictou, Nova Scotia (Montreal, 1877), p. 404; C.W. Vernon, Cape Breton, Canada at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century (Toronto, 1903), pp. 168, 174. Reprinted from the Patriot of 28 January 1829, in Patterson, ibid., p. 404.

Brown, 'Canada's Earliest Railway Lines', 63.

J.D. Dilts, The Great Road, (Stanford, Calif., 1993), does a superb analysis from myriad arcane primary sources. See also: Baltimore & Ohio, 'Rules to Be Observed by All Drivers Employed on the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road' [broadside], (Baltimore, ca. 1829-30); 'The Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road', North American Review, 28 (1829), pp. 166-86; C. Varle, A Complete View of Baltimore, (Baltimore, 1833), pp. 75, 107-23; Gamst, innern Communicationen, vol. 2, pp. 640-57; J.H.B. Latrobe, The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (Baltimore, 1868); W.H. Brown, The History of the First Locomotives in America (New York, 1871); J.T. Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County (Philadelphia, 1881), pp. 310-26; J.E. Semmes, John H. B. Latrobe and His Times, 1803-1891 (Baltimore, 1917); T. Hamlin, Benjamin Henry Latrobe (New York, 1955).

The three quotations are in Dilts, The Great Road, respectively on p. 2, p. 3, and p. 2.

J.L. Ringwalt, Development of Transportation Systems in the United States (Philadelphia, 1888), p. 64.

[ ... abridged from the following chapter and lists [of] early [North American Railroads,] as I had researched them by 1998. Paper delivered at the International Early Railways Conference, St. Johns College, University of Durham, September 12, 1998. ...
Published: 2001 "The Transfer of Pioneering British Railroad Technology to North America." In Early Railways, Andy Guy and Jim Rees, eds. London: Newcomen Society.]

Courtesy Frederick C. Gamst, from the R&LHS Newsgroup, reproduced by permission of the author.

First railroads

> Regarding the list, #15 and #16 should be reversed.

First, it is Abraham POTT, not POTTS. There is a famous Potts family of ironmasters who settled in the lower Schuylkill Valley around what is now Pottstown. PottsVILLE in Schuylkill County at the head of the Schuylkill River was founded by the unrelated John POTT, father of Abraham, who was the proprietor of an iron furnace. The Hagley Museum and Library has some of John Pott's account books, for a description of which with biographical notes, see our on line catalog. The ur-source for the Pott railroad is the first annual report of the Coal Mining Association of Schuylkill County, which was published ca. 1832-33. The wording is ambiguous but consistent with meaning that it was only the first railroad in the Schuylkill Coal Field around Pottsville, not the first-ever coal road in Pa. The Pottsville "Miners Journal", which gives considerable notice of the Mauch Chunk Railroad, makes no mention of any railroad in its own neighborhood, hence it seems certain that the Pott railroad was built in late 1827 or 1828 and was probably based on the Mauch Chunk Railroad. There is no known UK connection to Pott for the purpose of technology transfer. Later, county boosters inflated the Pott claim, just as they created a mythical "first" anthracite coal discoverer in one Necho Allen, by moving him back about 15 or 20 years so his "discovery" would antedate documented discoveries in the rival Lehigh Region and the Wyoming Valley. Surviving manuscripts prove that he did not come to the area until much later. Furthermore, Pott's claim to be the first to use anthracite in a stationary steam engine is suspect. I belive that the Thompsons also have a claim, and experiments were done at the Schuylkill Water Works and by Oliver Evans in the very early 1800s.

The Mauch Chunk Railroad is well documented and has been covered in excellent articles and a book by Vincent Hydro. What is less well known is the UK connection. Josiah White, the acting manager and leading spirit of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, which built the MCRR, supposedly heard of British railroads from friends George and Jonah Thompson, proprietors of the nail works at Phoenixville, Pa., one of whom had traveled in the UK. Second, the LC&N subscribed to the book by William Strickland documenting his British tour, and White appears to have used the mine railroad plates as a pattern book. Third, Strickland was hired as a consultant for the railroad. A short piece was built in 1826 using stone blocks and cast iron rails made at a furnace on the site, in which the company was also experimenting unsuccessfully with anthracite smelting. Fourth, Erskine Hazard, White's junior partner, was sent on a tour of UK railroads in 1826, which he described in an article in one of the early numbers of the Journal of the Franklin Institute. It was apparently on the basis of Hazard's expedition and the failure to make Wigan-type rails in the necessary quantities at a reasonable price that led the company to construct a wooden, plate-rail track. Incidentally, the MCRR was not separately chartered because it ran entirely on company property.

#4, the Thomas Leiper railroad of 1810 is known from its survey, which was prepared by John Thomson, father of J. Edgar Thomson of PRR fame. The map has been reproduced and was supposedly given to the county historical society. The railroad was superseded by a canal around 1829. It in turn was superseded by a second Leiper railroad around 1852.

#18 is properly the Mill Creek & Mine Hill Navigation & RR Co. I am not sure of Moncure Robinson's involvement with this company. Robinson was most closely associated with state surveys for railroads between the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers and later with one of these routes, the Danville & Pottsville RR, which was incorporated in 1826, but not begun until 1832. Many of the coal laterals were built under the supervision of second-string engineers who were part of the pool attracted to the state by the building of the state canals and railroads.

#19 is properly the Schuylkill Valley Navigation & RR Co.

#20, Union Canal Company RR, should be rechecked. When I was doing my "Railroads & Canals of the Mid Atlantic States" we had construction begun in 1829 but finished in 1833.

#22 is properly Mount Carbon RR. It was not planned as a part of the Danville & Pottsville RR, but got built first and the D&P was so pressed for funds that they wisely decided not to duplicate it.

The minutes and other records of the early Schuylkill County coal railroads are at the Hagley Museum and Library. Records relating to the Mauch Chunk Railroad are at the Pennsylvania State Archives, Haverford College, and Lehigh University.
—Christopher T. Baer, Hagley Museum & Library, from the R&LHS Newsgroup.

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