Little Bits of History

B&O Railroad

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 28, 2013
B&O Railroad Museum

B&O Railroad Museum

February 28, 1827: Maryland passes Chapter 123, a law permitting the formation of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad. The Commonwealth of Virginia passed the law on March 8 and the railroad was formally incorporated on April 24. Philip E. Thomas and George Brown provided the impetus behind the new enterprise. They had spent the previous year in England, studying the commercial value of railways. They called a meeting with 25 prominent men, most of whom were Baltimore merchants and bankers. They proposed building a railroad from Baltimore to some suitable place on the Ohio River.

The Erie Canal was 7 years old and successful. But a faster route was needed for getting supplies, goods, and people to and from the Midwest. The beginning capital was set at $5 million or about $90.5 million in today’s currency. Construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 4, 1828 with Charles Carroll (a delegate to the Continental Congress and signatory of the Declaration of Independence) throwing a spade full of dirt. The first section of track from Baltimore west to Ellicott’s Mills, now Ellicott City, opened on May 24, 1830.

Moving ever westward, new sections of the B&O line opened periodically until finally reaching Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) with a grand opening on January 1, 1853. There was a flurry of legal activity in the early-1830s between the B&O Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as they fought over control of land along the Potomac River. The suits led to a sharing of the right of way.

B&O built a line from Baltimore to Washington, DC which was chartered in 1831 and completed in 1835. In 1843, Congress approved $30,000 ($660,000 in today’s money) to build a telegraph line along the right of way between Washington and Baltimore. The railroad played a major role in the Civil War. It supported the Union and was a major artery from the Capitol to all points north. As such, it was the focus of 143 raids and battles, suffering significant losses. The company continued to operate until 1963 when it was purchased by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

“When the scheme for the construction of a railroad from Baltimore to the waters of the Ohio River first began to take form, the United States had barely emerged from the Revolutionary period.”

“The United States as we know it today is largely the result of mechanical inventions, and in particular of agricultural machinery and the railroad.”

“Many of the railroad evils were inherent in the situation; they were explained by the fact that both managers and public were dealing with a new agency whose laws they did not completely understand.”

“If we seek the real predecessor of the modern railroad track, we must go back three hundred years to the wooden rails on which were drawn the little cars used in English collieries to carry the coal from the mines to tidewater.” – all from John Moody

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The B&O Railroad Museum is located in Baltimore, Maryland and dedicated to the railway. It was opened in 1953 and houses what is purported to be one of the greatest treasures of railroad memorabilia. They have the greatest collection of 19th century locomotives in the US. The building is the old B&O Railroad’s Mount Clare Station and the adjacent roundhouse. These structures were part of the B&O’s railroad manufacturing complex and began in 1829, making them the oldest complex in the US. They hold 250 pieces of rolling stock from the 19th and 20th centuries. They also have 15,000 artifacts related to railroad history. The mile of track that is part of the complex is considered to be the oldest extant track in the US.

Also on this day: Dord – In 1939, the unknown word DORD was found in Webster’s Dictionary.
Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen – In 1983, the final episode of M*A*S*H was televised.
Betrayal – In 1844, an explosion aboard the USS Princeton shocked the nation.

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