Moving freight by rail has always been the main source of income for railroads. Railroads carried more freight, over longer distances, faster and cheaper than wagons could move freight over the National Road. The first year the B&O began carrying freight it averaged 26 tons of freight a day. By 1858 the B&O moved an astonishing 224 thousand tons per day! What had begun as a trickle became a flood of produce, products and goods flowing to and from the interior of the United States and the Atlantic coast. It would steadily increase as faster, more powerful locomotives pulled longer and longer trains over an increasing web of rail that crisscrossed the nation.
Locally, the B&O Railroad carried every imaginable kind of freight, including flour, tobacco, grain, meal, food, livestock, whiskey, granite, lime, firewood, lumber, bark, ore, iron, wool, cotton, feathers, cotton good, and paper. Initially flour was the “cash crop” of the railroad. During an eleven-day span in January 1832, the B&O carried over 4,000 barrels of flour from Frederick to Baltimore! However, after the B&O reached Cumberland, Maryland in 1842, coal surpassed flour as the major moneymaker for the railroad. In fact, coal is still a major revenue source for railroads today and coal cars can still be seen unloading at the Port of Baltimore.
What began as an idea using untried technology would become one of the largest and most significant means of transporting goods in American history.