Fast Forward: We Challenge New York

Luann Bourgeon, Baltimore Sun

Apr. 21, 1849

“The dominance of New York was unbearable!” I said, “That how we thought after the Erie Canal helped New York flourish.”

The city of Baltimore was suppressed under the uprising of New York [3]. Since the operation of the Erie Canal in 1825, the New York State and the Midwest have thrived due to their rapid economic growth [2]. As the third largest city in the country, we were facing serious economic stagnation since New York has became the most significant economic center it could ever be in the country, and this was all just because of a canal connecting it with the Midwest [7].

Mr. Alexander Mackay and I were having a conversation about the railroad development of America last week when he traveled to the US  to learn about the transportation system of our country [1].  Mr. Mackay himself is British, a journalist as well [1].

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Route

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Route

“I think New York was actually quite a good model for leading the economic growth of the country,” Mr. Mackay commented, “Because of the flourish of New York under the operation of the Erie Canal, other regions that had previously shared the privilege as the important economic centers emerged jealousy, causing big cities like Baltimore to want to outcompete New York.”

Indeed, two years after the operation of the Erie Canal, in 1827, we decided to build our own unique commercial transportation system, to sustain our relative dominance in the country.

“I agree, and that was when we came up with the idea of establishing a new transportation system. Considering the restrictions like landform and low speed due to water resistance, we designed our system to be on land instead of water. Canals were actually not feasible in many regions of the country [2].” I responded.

To take over New York, we needed to be faster, stronger, and to build a wider coverage across of transportation system across the nation. So the answer was to build a railroad, not only just a railroad, but the first commercial railroad in the country [3]. That was how the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came to existence and it has kept expanding ever since then.

“The idea of railroad building was not random I believe. It has bee a common thing in Europe [1] since the 1820s, and I believe America has became the leading practitioner since the Baltimore and Ohio railroad [2].” Mackay said, “A brilliant way to speculate upon the probabilities of a speedy dissolution to challenge New York [1].”

With the first stone laid on the ground on July 4th, 1828, we completed the railroad in 1830, 5 years less than the Erie Canal. Ever since the completion of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the mileage of railroad increased rapidly across the nation centering at Baltimore.

“I am really impressed with Peter Cooper, a great man who invented the Tom Thumb [4], replacing horse pulling trains by the first steam locomotives [3].” I added.

“It was just like how Mr. Robert designed the first commercial steamboats replacing the non-engine boats, only the Tom Thumb is way faster since we do not need to worry about water resistance.” Mr. Mackay said, “Moreover, railroad building was just about iron bars, nails and hammers, way cheaper and less manual effort compared to digging up a canal. It took them seven years to dig one, and they have been expanding it since 1835 [6], no one knows how long that will take.”


Tom Thumb

“I have to agree on this. As a witness of the evolution of the Erie Canal and a resident of Baltimore, I see clearly that railroad system will one day take over the canals, steamboats [2].” I said.

The builders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad hoped merchant would move, ship good by rail, passengers travel by rail not only because it has a faster speed, but also it would be a great alternative for the canals since they freezes in winter [3]. Also, the basic principles of the railway is simple: a smooth surface consisting of rails, reduction of the fiction of wheels passing over it as far as possible, and efficient application of stream, which is the locomotive, to expand the carrying capacity [2].” I answered. Because of the great potential profits railroad would generate, Middle Atlantic region, including Baltimore had a railway investment of 64.9 million dollar during the year 1828 to 1843, which was almost half of the railway investment in the entire country [2]. In order to compress the cost of railroad construction to as far as possible, iron rails were replaced by wood with iron bars as well [2].

“I heard just last year, they have expanded the Baltimore and Ohio railroad again?” Mr. Mackay asked.

“Yes, indeed they have. The United State actually had more than 3000 miles of railways in operation by the end of 1839 [2]. And these thousands of miles of railroad tracks linked the nation’s major cities and many smaller towns in a transportation network that would continue to expand over the next hundred years and more [7]. Last year, they just expanded the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to cover more regions and cities. So this way, goods, passengers may travel directly from place to place [3].”

“I believe that this railroad system of transportation would prove itself to be the most dominant of all, not just because of its convenience, it as well essentially promotes the economic growth, like how Erie Canal brought New York and the Midwest to prosperity.” Mr. Mackay concluded.

Fifteen years has passed since the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and it had proven itself to be more sufficient than the Erie Canal since more and more railroads are been built [2]. Railroads deserved its triumph because they overtook the volume of traffic canals carried [2]. Its speed, techniques and efficiency inevitably made it one of the most successful creations of the century. As a result, America’s economy grew as the transportation system kept on refining among the different states and cities in the United States. Even though it is unknown how long will railroad thrive in the future, it definitely marks a milestone in our transportation revolution history [8].

Work Cited: 

[1] Alexander Mackay, “Railroads Link East and West,” in The American Spirit, by Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, 8th ed. (Lexington: D. C. Health and Company, 1994), 1:330.

[2] Engerman, Stanley L., and Robert E. Gallman. The Cambridge economic history of the United States, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.

[3] Baltimore and Ohio railroad:

[4] Cooper, Peter:

[5] Robert Fulton:

[6] Stories About the Erie Canal:

[7] History of Baltimore:

[8] Transportation in the 19th Century:

[9] Image 1 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Route:’s_Baltimore_and_Ohio_Railroad.jpg

[10] Image2 Tom Thumb:   

[11] This interview with Alexander Mackay is mostly fictionalized.

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