■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
All transportation power measurements are attributed to the horse. Whether it be motorcycle or jet engine. The question is always, “What’s the horsepower?”
The term originated sometime during the 1760s when a Scotsman named Thomas Newcomen designed an early version of the engine. Contrary to popular opinion, James Watt did not invent it, he improved the engine’s efficiency. It takes a lot of horsepower to pull a hundred loaded boxcars. So, when did the Iron Horse come into existence?
Iron horse loses race with horse
In 1827, The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the first U.S. company granted a charter for transporting both passengers and freight. The first attempts to produce a steam engine able to travel over all kinds of terrain. Consequently, as the inventors struggled with the problem, the first trains relied on teams of horses to move them forward.
An industrialist named Peter Cooper, who happened to own enormous land over the proposed railroad route, offered to design and built an engine that would actually pull a train through the roughest terrains. In August 1830, Cooper’s invention, dubbed the “Tom Thumb,” was matched against a horse-drawn train in a race to see how the new machine operated under pressure.
With all parties in agreement, the race began. It looked like Cooper’s engine would walk off with an easy win as it moved forward leaving the horse drawn train behind. However—and it seems there is always a however at the beginning of anything—when a belt broke loose on Cooper’s invention, the engine came to a stop and the horse-drawn train moved on to the finish line.
Nonetheless, the executives with The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were quite impressed with the engine’s energy thrust and decided to take a chance on it after Cooper assured them that a stronger belt could be made to replace the broken one.
Converting to steam proved to be a sure gamble for the railroad. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the most successful railroad in the United States.
Lincoln and Pullman make history
In the 1850s, George Pullman, in order to make railroad passengers more comfortable, came up with the Pullman Sleepers. They were comfortable and only the wealthy initially had access to them.
It was the assassination of our 16th president that really brought railroads into full public view and acceptance. A Pullman car was used as part of the cortege that traveled across the country, transporting Lincoln’s body to his home in Illinois for burial.
No Madison Avenue advertising agency could have cooked up the publicity that funeral train produced. It resulted in a public demand for more trains. Pullman had revolutionized passenger travel.
An interesting little known fact: When Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln replaced him as president of the Pullman Company.
The Iron Horse and The Industrial Revolution
The rapid expansion of population, factories and movement towards the west required new forms of transportation. Railroads were not available in the westward movement during the first 30 or 40 years of the 19th century.
During the Industrial Revolution of the 1850s, they emerged in their own right. As the country moved, so did the railroads. They would eventually link east and west like the metal belt that keeps wooden kegs together.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad did not reach its dream of connecting Baltimore with the Ohio River until the 1850s. Despite their progression, railroads had opposition. Most people considered railroads to be of little value in the world of commerce.
Skeptics said they were dangerous—tracks would not hold up under stress, sparks from the rails would set fire to grassland and buildings along their route, and the unheard of speeds (20 to 30 miles per hour) would endanger wagons, and human life. Others harped that they would be too expensive to be of any commercial value. Canals were rated number one when it came to commercial transportation.
It was passenger service that brought railroads their acceptance as a means of transportation.