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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Off and Running-Building Up Steam

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Zerah Colburn.
The Don Juan.
Philadelphia?: Unknown printer, Ca. 1850.

Zerah Colburn was a gifted mechanical engineer who started his career in the industry as an apprentice in Lowell, Massachusetts. His work impressed his peers, and he began writing and publishing technical works on steam locomotives in the 1850’s and edited the America Rail Road Journal for a time. This drawing, from the early 1850’s, appears to be from his time at Baldwin Locomotive Works, but the design itself does not appear to have been built. 

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Albert Fink.
Map & Profile of the Location of the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road from Cumberland to Wheeling...
Baltimore: Hoen & Co., 1850.

Albert Fink was a German-born civil engineer who emigrated to the United States and soon found employment in the burgeoning railroad industry. This map shows the planned route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through the Appalachian Mountains to its terminus at Wheeling, then in Virginia, on the Ohio River. It would take two years from the time this map was printed for the railroad to complete its route linking Baltimore with the Ohio River.

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Zerah Colburn.
The Locomotive Engine…
Philadelphia: H. C. Baird, 1854.

Written by Zerah Colburn during his tenure as editor of The American Railroad Journal, this work became a standard technical text on steam locomotives in the United States. Colburn’s command of the subject was evident in this work and by its widespread use, but his temperament prevented him from being successful in the industry in the long term.

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Author unknown.
Hudson River & The Hudson River Railroad with a Complete Map and Wood Cut Views of the Principal Objects of Interest Upon the Line.
Boston: Bradbury & Guild, 1851.

As railroads expanded, competition for passengers on similar routes and modes of travel increased. Because of this, railroads invested heavily in advertising. The Hudson River Railroad was chartered in 1846 and was part of the continuing efforts to link New York and Albany by rail. This book was a promotional piece for the line to help stimulate passenger travel and capture traffic from the steamboats and stage lines already in existence. 

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Rock Island and La Salle Rail-Road Company.
Report of the Chief Engineer of the Rock Island and La Salle Rail-Road Company…
New York: Caspar C. Childs, 1850.

This report is from one of the earliest railroads that would help make Chicago the railroad center of America. The Rock Island and La Salle was another Midwest regional railroad that had modest goals at the beginning of its life. Originally built to link the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Mississippi River, the line would soon be reorganized as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific with a more expansive objective in mind.

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Virginia Central Railroad Co.
Exhibit of the Condition and Prospects of the Virginia Central Railroad Co…
Richmond: Colin and Nowlan, 1852.

When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia, it was directed to reach the Ohio River at Wheeling, in the Northern part of the state. The Virginia Central was chartered to do the same thing with the Southern portion of Virginia. This report outlines the engineering and financial challenges facing the company in 1852 to meet this objective. These obstacles, and the Civil War, would delay completion of the route for years.

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Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad Company.
Engineer's Report on the Milwaukee and Mississippi Rail Road for the Year 1850.
Milwaukee: Sentinel and Gazette Steam Press, 1850.

This report is from one of the first railroad companies in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee and Mississippi. While originally built to link Lake Michigan with the Mississippi, it also had the added benefit of generally following part of Asa Whitney’s proposed transcontinental railroad route. It was hoped that this line would help secure the eastern terminus for Milwaukee instead of Chicago or another city.