The History of Railroads

Believe it or not, the history of railway transport goes back over 500 years! Some of the first rails weren’t even made of metal as they have been for hundreds of years.

Back at the start of the railway industry, the rails were made of carefully-carved stone – or even wood! Modern rail transport started out in England around the 1820’s utilizing steam locomotives and steel rails that connected rural farming communities with urban markets. This helped country farmers to get their vegetables, meat and dairy products to the better markets in larger cities, where the demand – and prices – were higher.

Back in those days, many people worked for the railway as it was the main form of transportation linking many communities.

How the Use of Trains Evolved

Because steel rails were so much smoother and stronger than the roadways at the time, rail cars were used to transport coal and other essential minerals from the mines and quarries in the countryside to the needy cities and factories.

The onset of the Napoleonic Wars created a huge demand for materials including such things as gunpowder, lead for shot and fodder for the many animals required to carry out a war. Many infantry were on horseback and oxen were still being used to haul around cannons and military wagons loaded with food and supplies. During this time, the railway wasn’t used as much for commercial delivery of goods as many of the rail cars were simply too full of materials such as coal and iron ore.

As each steam locomotive could only reliably pull a certain number of heavily-laden cars, the priority was to go with the better-paying and essential coal and iron ore markets.

It’s no secret that the construction of cross-country rail systems in North America helped to develop many areas that might’ve stayed too remote for settlement in any other way. As the trains were able to travel further, many new communities sprang up along the rails ready to cater to the new passengers that were coming to settle with every train that arrived.

Without the railways, many people might have stayed home and not dared to cross the country and start a brave new life on the American frontier.

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