North American Railroad History in a Nutshell

Special Online Feature Traces the History and Impact of American Railroads

Click here to begin viewing the entries. (Click “next” at the end of each description to step-through each record sequentially.) You may also purchase an expanded, printed version in our journal, Railroad Heritage No. 21, at our online store.


America is what it is because of railroads. In the span of only 50 years between 1830 and 1880, railroads hastened settlement, encouraged agriculture and industry, made travel quick and, ultimately, comfortable, and fueled commerce. Library shelves groan with scholarly and popular books and magazines about railroads and their role in America’s development and life.

But you no longer have to work your way through books and magazines to learn the fundamentals. Now you can visit Railroad®, the Center’s online web portal, and in 25 images you can discover the rudiments about railroad history, technology, design, cultural and economic influence, and highly diverse work force.

The array of images and their detailed descriptions begins with a circa 1849 daguerreotype of “Tioga,” an early steam locomotive made in Philadelphia, and continues through the modern stories of ever-growing freight traffic, Amtrak, and preservation. Composers, writers, artists and toymakers reveled in railroading and gave railroads a permanent niche in the nation’s popular culture. Click on “nutshell,” savor the pictures and their descriptions, let us know what you think. Thanks for viewing!