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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Beginning

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Wallpaper of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Baltimore: Unknown, ca 1830.

Believed to be one of the earliest commercial uses of railroad imagery in the United States. This piece of wallpaper shows four wheeled cars labeled for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Interestingly, these cars seem to match English freight car designs rather than the early cars of the Baltimore & Ohio from the 1830s.

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Richard Boyce Osborne. 
Topographical plan & profile of the Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road.
Philadelphia: No publisher specified, 1838.

This map shows the rugged topography faced by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad when it went out of the Schuylkill River Valley and into the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The line was chartered in 1833, and its sole purpose was to bring coal from the mountains to Philadelphia. The coal was a profitable commodity and the railroad was an immediate success, unlike other early railroads that struggled to earn money in their early years.

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The Railway Magazine.
London: Effingham Wilson, 1835.

The Railway Magazine was one of the British contemporaries of The American Rail Road Journal. This issue is from 1835, when the magazine first appeared and was originally sent to a subscriber in Philadelphia, PA. It shows how railroad technological and business information was being exchanged between both sides of the Atlantic. While British railroads did enjoy a technological head start, they soon found Americans catching up and, in some ways, surpassing their technology.

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Link and Pin Coupler. ca. 1840.

This link and pin showcases the simple and dangerous method used to couple cars together for the first decades of railroad operations in the United States. These pieces of hardware, made from wrought iron, were manually attached to railroad cars and locomotives. The lack of safety devices for these items led to the injury of many workers and would not be alleviated until more modern “automatic” couplers began to appear after the Civil War

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Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvements to the Commonwealth.
Philadelphia: Publisher not identified, 1825.

This work by a society of Pennsylvania civic and business leaders is a study of railways and how they might be constructed in Pennsylvania. The society was formed after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1819 and the ensuing fear that traffic to and from the interior would concentrate in New York. While canals were proven technology, some people saw railroads as a way to overtake canals and capture that commercial traffic.

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D. K. Minor, ed.
American Rail Road Journal.
New York: No publisher specified, 1832.

This is the first volume of the American Rail Road Journal from 1832. This publication was one of the first industry magazines for the railroad industry. It provided a forum for railroad entrepreneurs and inventors to exchange ideas about the railroad business and technological developments.

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Thomas Tredgold.
A Practical Treatise on Rail-Roads and Carriages...
London: J. Taylor, 1825.

In the UK, railroad technology improved rapidly. Thomas Tredgold’s 1825 work shows the expansion of technical literature as the industry began to grow and develop specialized equipment. This work on Carriages became a standard reference work for the industry in the first years of railroad expansion in the United Kingdom and later in the United States.

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Thomas Gray.
Observations On A General Iron Rail-Way.
London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1822.

This work is an early proposal for an entire network of railroad lines in Great Britain. Thomas Gray was a railroad promoter in Great Britain who advocated for steam rather than horse powered trains and sought to have all of the major cities in the UK linked by rail. The rail network that developed in the ensuing decades matches much of Gray’s proposal.

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Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
1825 Annual Report.
New York: The Company, 1826.

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was created to access the coal resources and transport them to New York City. This work is a survey to improve the canal operations by building a railroad into the interior of the coal region to improve access and lower costs of moving coal to New York. This hybrid approach would lead to the construction of one of the first railroads in the United States.

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Robert Eddington.
A Descriptive Plan…of a Rail-Way from London to Portsmouth.
London: A. Topping, 1803.

One of the earliest proposals for a railway presented to Parliament in support of the war against Napoleon. This proposal was for a lengthy horse-powered railway, to help defend Portsmouth and its vital naval facilities against a feared French invasion. This proposal helps show the acceptance of the fundamentals of railroad technology well before the application of steam power to railroads.

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Delaware and Raritan Canal Co. 
Railroads, At a Meeting of the Stockholders of the Camden and Amboy Rail Road and Transportation Company… 
Camden, 1836.

This document is interesting because of the combination of the corporate authors. The Camden and Amboy and Delaware and Raritan Canal Companies came to an agreement early in their shared existence. The two companies opted to negotiate the use of a right of way crossing the length of New Jersey. This report from 1836 provided an update on railroad developments and was shared with the directors of the canal company as well.

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Mohawk and Hudson Rail Road Company.
An Act to Incorporate the Mohawk and Hudson Rail Road Company: Passed April 17, 1826 and an Act to Amend the Act to Incorporate the Mohawk and Hudson Rail Road Company Passed April 17, 1826, Passed March 28, 1828.
New York: Ludwig & Tolefree, 1830.

The Mohawk and Hudson was New York’s realization that railroads were superior to canals in moving goods across the continent. The Mohawk and Hudson would parallel the Erie Canal between Albany and Schenectady and take an entire day off of the travel time between those two cities. It would also be one of the early adopters of steam locomotives with the arrival of the DeWitt Clinton in 1831.

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No Author Listed.
Proceedings of Sundry Citizens of Baltimore: Convened for the Purpose of Devising the Most Efficient Means of Improving the Intercourse Between the City and the Western States.
Baltimore: William Woddy, 1827.

This 1827 work is the foundational document of the first common carrier railroad in the United States, The Baltimore & Ohio. The citizens of Baltimore opted to invest entirely in a railroad and not a canal to link their city with the Ohio River. This publication was used to help get government support and private investment in this massive project, with the company being incorporated in 1827 and construction starting in 1828.

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William Norris.
Locomotive steam engine of William Norris. 
Philadelphia: Kiderlen & Stollmeyer, 1838.

This work shows the technological development in American steam power after seeing imported British locomotives in use. William Norris was a Philadelphia businessman and mechanic. He was present for the demonstration of the John Bull locomotive on the Camden and Amboy Railroad and began work on his own design for an American-built locomotive. Norris’ successful design borrows heavily from the John Bull and improves on it to meet the unique needs of American railroads.

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Stephen H. Long.
Railroads, Atlantic to the Mississippi: Letter from the Secretary of War Transmitting a Report in Relation to the Survey of Certain Routes for railroads from the Atlantic to the Mississippi…
Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1835.

Col. Long was a busy man in the early railroad era, along with the rest of the Army Engineers. This report examines railroads in the South that would cross the Appalachian Mountains to reach the Mississippi River. The fact that the survey was done, at the request of the House, shows that despite a lack of widespread enthusiasm for railroads in much of the South, it was evident that railroads were crucial to the region’s economy.

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Stephen H. Long.
Letter from Lieut. Col. S. H. Long, U.S. Topographical Engineer, to Philip E. Thomas, Esq., On The Subjects of Rail Roads.
Baltimore: S. Sands, 1827.

US Army engineer Stephen H. Long wrote this report to Philip Thomas of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shortly after the company was incorporated. The document itself is a fairly standard engineering analysis of the proposed project in general, but it is a wonderful piece showing the Federal investment in transportation that took place in the 1820’s. Army engineers were sent out to help many infrastructure projects throughout the decade to help improve transportation.

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J.B. Petitval.
Report: Engineer’s Office…To the President and Directors of the South-Carolina Canal and Rail-Road Company.
Charleston: Publisher unknown, 1829.

The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, like the Delaware and Hudson, investigated what would need to be done to build a railroad to supplement its canal. This report became the basis of the planning for the South Carolina Railroad, one of the first railroads in the United States. It’s notable in that it was the Southernmost of the early railroad projects and one of the earliest railroads to employ steam power on its trains.