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Moving Freight before the Railroad


The flow of goods to and from the city of Baltimore by land and sea had been the lifeblood of its economy well before a ninety year-old Charles Carroll of Carrollton presided over the laying of the “First Stone” of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1828. Prior to railroads like the B&O, the nation’s transportation network consisted of waterways (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) and of improved roads (known as turnpikes like the National Road). These were the major arteries used to bring goods to market.

Travel along existing waterways and turnpike roads was anything but quick and efficient by today’s standards; however, during the early 19th century they were the “highways” for important port cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In fact, these routes were so important to trade that it was the successful completion of the Erie Canal in New York in 1825 that would lead to the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland and ultimately the B&O Railroad.

The completion of the B&O Railroad would change how the majority of long distance freight reached Baltimore and allow the city to compete with other major ports. This did not happen overnight, but what began as just a trickle of freight carried by rail soon became a strong and constant flow of commerce to and from Baltimore. Trains were filled with raw materials from the resource rich interior regions bringing the goods to market. The industrialization of America was under way and moving full speed ahead, but the story of trade before the railroad was much different!

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