The earliest days of railroading were pioneering days. Much of the technology that we recognize today came in to being through trial and error, after years of refinement and experimentation. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was one of the premier outdoor laboratories and many of its innovations would gain acceptance across the country, earning the B&O the nickname “the Railroad University of America. This is especially true with regard to the development and experimentation in how trains would be pulled.
Many of the locomotives in the B&O Museum’s collection date from the earliest days of railroading and help tell the story of the transition from the first horse powered cars to steam engines. Early horse drawn vehicles were designed for many purposes, from the stagecoach to the flour barrel car, and they did not disappear with the development of the steam locomotive. Just like canals and steamboats, they continued to function as part of an integrated transportation system linking the cities of the east to the expanding western frontier. But the future of domestic freight and passenger travel was riding on those rough looking rails that carried the first American built steam locomotive, Peter Cooper’s diminutive Tom Thumb, a few milesto the west of Baltimore in 1830 on the B&O’s line.
Slowly at first, but accelerating quickly, our country was pulled into the industrial age by the steam engine.