The long struggle to connect the cities of the eastern seaboard with the frontier is a story of the triumph of man’s ingenuity in the face of obstacles thought by many to be insurmountable. Transporting the plentiful resources of the regions to our west with the cities of the east started as a trickle, but soon became a powerful torrent. Freight trains played a central role in the revolution that changed our country from an agricultural to an industrial society. They became a principal force in the transportation system of the nation. The following activities are designed to encourage students to look more closely at the “railroad era” and to express themselves on issues related to both the expansion of the railroad and the preservation of its heritage.
Transport yourself back in time. Create a newspaper or magazine advertisement promoting the use of freight trains for the shipment of goods by business owners during the 1850s. Be sure to emphasize the advantages of shipping by train over other forms of transport available at the time. The ad should include artwork, slogans, and persuasive text that would convince business owners with a need for long distance carrier service that freight trains are the way to go.
Freight shipping costs were based on freight rates. Freight rates were determined by the weight and class of the material being shipped. Using the “Local Freight Tariff” document, calculate how much it would cost to transport 400 pounds of onions (designated a second class item) from Wheeling to Baltimore. How much would it cost to ship 400 pounds worth of clocks (designated a first class item) from Baltimore to Wheeling? Which shipment was more expensive, why?
Schedule a visit to the B&O Railroad Museum and use the Roads to Rails Worksheet for each respective site as an activity for students while at the museums.