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Photograph taken by Eric A. Hegg of Copper River & Northwestern Railway in Alaska in September 25th, 1910. Courtesy of: Alaska Digital Archives

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Black and white photograph taken in June 1913 of locomotive 1721, pay car, formerly Houstonic Railroad locomotive 33, built in 1889. Courtesy of: UCONN Library Archives & Special Collections. 


Railroads were first developed in 1825 in Great Britain by George Stephenson who successfully applied steam technology to create the first locomotive. Railroads significantly reduced the cost of shipping/transporting goods and travel time. The cost of shipping by train was 60-70% lower. Early locomotives traveled 20-30 miles per hour but by the end of the 19th century, traveling speeds reached up to 110 miles per hour which was much faster than horse-drawn carriages whose speeds reached up to only 10-12 miles per hour. In addition, railways allowed for products to be transported in greater quantities. For these reasons, railroads became increasingly popular and it did not take long for the U.S to be impressed and build railroads across the country.

Some achievements in the history of American railroads leading up to 1910:

  • In 1827 the first railroad in North America was opened, the Baltimore & Ohio.
  • In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln formally inaugurated the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
  • In 1865 railroads played a vital role in the Civil War because they helped both sides mobilize. 
  • By 1902, railroad mileage exceeds 100,000 miles in the United States.

  One significant change resulting from the invention of railroads was the implementation of regional time zones in the United States. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, before the establishment of time zones in the late 19th century, the United States had 144 local time zones. Lack of time standarization created conflict because differing schedules on the same tracks would not be coordinated and cause collisions. For this reason, railroad companies chose to operate on a four time zone system since 1883. 


  Railroads were popular in Connecticut during the first half of the 19th century after the first railroad line in the state was completed, connecting Stonington with Rhode Island. Industrialization and railroads worked hand in hand. By the beginning of the Civil War, Connecticut had the highest railroad density with 601 miles of tracks. By 1920, there were 938 miles of railroad tracks laid in the state.