home | sitemap

45-855 Railroads, The First Big Business: Topic 5

  1. The Evolution of Railroad Technology With A Comparison to the Evolution of the Automobile and the Radio

    1. Railroad Technology

      1. Steam Locomotives

        1. The first steam locomotive to run on rails was built by Richard Trevithick in 1803. It could haul 20 tons at a speed of 5 miles per hour and it is know to have hauled a load of about 9 tons.

Richard Trevithick's Locomotive, 1803

        1. The "Father of American Railroads" was Colonel John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey. As early as 1811 he proposed building a railroad in New Jersey and in 1815 and in 1819 made further proposals but he could not obtain the necessary financing. In 1825 he decided to prove, at his own expense, that railroads and locomotives were a practical possibility. Consequently he built a small circular railway on his Hoboken estate and had a locomotive built that ran on it. Finally, in 1830 Stevens and his sons Robert L. and Edwin A. were granted a charter for the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company.
John Stevens' Locomotive, 1825

John Stevens' Circular Track and Locomotive, 1825

        1. The Stourbridge Lion was ordered by Horatio Allen for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company (still in business as the Delaware & Hudson Railroad). It was built in Stourbridge, England and shipped to the U.S. in 1829 where it was run on the D & H tracks on 8 August 1829. The intent was to use it to haul coal from Carbondale to Honesdale, PA. However, it proved to be too heavy for the existing trestles and was never used for that purpose.

          The Lion cost $3000. It weighed 7 tons and had vertical cylinders, all wheels being coupled. The wheels were of oak with iron tires and "grasshopper" beams were used to transmit the power to them from the cylinders.
The Stourbridge Lion: Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, 1829

        1. Horatio Allen was appointed chief engineer of the Charleston & Hamburg Railroad in 1829 shortly after he piloted the Stourbridge Lion on the D & H. He recommended that only steam be used for traction on the C & H and the first locomotive purchased by the railroad under his supervision was the The Best Friend of Charleston. The locomotive was built in New York and shipped by sea to South Carolina. It was tested in November and December of 1830 and was the first locomotive in America to pull cars (14 December 1830).

          The locomotive weighed 4.5 tons with cylinders sized 6 by 16 inches, a 54 inch diameter driving wheel, a steam pressure of 50 pounds, and a tractive effort of 400 pounds.
The Best Friend of Charleston: Charleston & Hamburg Railroad, 1830

        1. In October 1830 Robert Stevens, President and Chief Engineer of the Camden & Amboy Railroad went to England to purchase rails and a locomotive for the company. On the passage he invented the "T" rail (see below) and the hook-headed spike for fastening it -- both are still in use today.

          Stevens commissioned the construction of The John Bull by George and Robert Stephenson and it was shipped to Philadelphia from England in 1831. Stevens hired Isaac Dripps, a young mechanic, to take charge and assemble the engine. Dripps had never seen a locomotive and had no drawings or measurements to guide him. Nevertheless, he was able to assemble the engine. Since no tender had been supplied, Dripps made a four-wheeled car and fastened a whiskey cask to the platform (this was the first tender). A leather pipe connected the cask to the engine. On 12 November 1831 the members of the New Jersey legislature were the first passengers to be hauled by the John Bull. The engine did not go into regular service until 1833 when there was enough trackage for the C & A to begin operations. When the John Bull went into service Dripps modified the locomotive so that it had a play in the leading axle which enabled it to handle curves better. Later he invented the two-wheeled "cow catcher" on the front of the locomotive which not only helped the locomotive navigate curves but also helped with stray cows on the tracks.
The John Bull: Camden & Amboy Railroad, 1831

The John Bull: Camden & Amboy Railroad, 1833

        1. The Essex was built for the Morris & Essex Railroad in 1838 by Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey. The locomotive had a tender, 4 pilot wheels, and driving wheels at the rear of the engine. The locomotive weighed 6 tons with 8.5 by 26 inch cylinders and 53.5 inch driving wheels. With the addition of a cab for the engineer and fireman and a cowcatcher on the front, this is a standard steam locomotive.
The Essex: Morris & Essex Railroad, 1838

        1. Matthias Baldwin invented the flexible-beam truck or six-wheels-connected engine in 1842. His aim was to use all the locomotive's weight for traction. With this arrangement, the two front pairs of wheels could move laterally, their axles working in cylindrical, vertical pedestals. The pedestals were held by beams which could move independently of each other and of the engine's main frame. The rear pair of drivers was mounted in the conventional way and coupling rods connected all the wheels. This design permitted operation on curves without binding any of the wheels.
Baldwin's Six-Wheels-Connected Engine, 1842

        1. The first "ten wheeler" or 4-6-0 locomotive was The Chesapeake. Designed by Septimus Norris it was built in 1847 for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. It weighed 22 tons with 14.5 by 22 inch cylinders and driving wheels 46 inches in diameter.
The Chesapeake: Philadelphia & Reading, 1847

        1. The Irvington was the first coal burner on the Hudson River Railroad. It was constructed by the Lawrence Machine Shop of Lawrence, MA, in 1852. All the elements of the standard steam locomotive are present in the design.
The Irvington: Hudson River Railroad, 1852

      1. Railroad Roadbed and Track

        1. The early railroad roadbeds and track were adapted from those used in mining. Many early railroads used wooden beams surfaced with strap iron for rails. Others used strap iron bars mounted on granite sills.

          By the late 1830s the standard roadbed and track had emerged. It was quickly discovered through trial and error that railroad vehicles should have single-flanged iron wheels with the flange on the inside of the rail (simple physics -- with the flange on the outside the vehicle tended to ride-up on the rail under a lateral force). The rails should be solid rolled "T" iron mounted on wooden ties on top of a crushed stone foundation. This provided cushioning as well as proper drainage.

          The illustrations below were made by the great German engineer Franz Anton von Gerstner. He traveled throughout the U.S. in 1839 examining in great detail all the canals and railroads then in operation or under construction. He made detailed engineering drawings of everything he had seen and wrote highly detailed reports. These have been reprinted as Early American Railroads, edited by Frederick C. Gamst, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1997.
1839: Mohawk & Hudson 2.5" by 9/16" Strap
Saratoga & Schenectady 2.5" by 1/2" Strap

1839: Philadelphia & Columbia 41.25 lb Iron T Rail
Camden & Amboy 42 lb Iron T Rail

1839: Baltimore & Ohio 51 lb Iron T Rail

        1. Below is an ad for switch plates from the November 1999 industry journal Railway Gazette. Note that after more than 160 years the basic rail is still the same.
1999: An Ad for Switch Plates

        1. Below are the front and back covers to the November 1999 Railway Gazette. The front cover shows a machine that removes, cleans, and replaces ballast, a job that used to require several large crews of men.

          The back cover shows a vendor of wheel sets. Note that the wheels and axle are a single unit. Railroads discovered very early on that this design kept the whole unit in guage much better than allowing the wheels to rotate around a fixed axle. In addition, the single unit wheel set made efficient bearings and lubrication possible.
1999: Front Cover of Railway Gazette

1999: Back Cover of Railway Gazette

    1. The Evolution of the Automobile

      1. Gottlieb Daimler (1834 - 1890) is generally credited with building the first 4-wheeled automobile -- a horseless carriage. Daimler was responsible for the engine (a greatly improved version pioneered by Nikolaus August Otto [1832 - 1891]) but had another firm build the carriage which housed it.

        The early cars did not have a gearing system so they were very slow -- less than 10 mph. To gain road speed without increasing the speed of the engine, gearing was necessary and it was Louis Renault (1877 - 1944) who produced the first "gearbox" -- Gears in a box. In 1891 the French firm of Panhard and Levassor obtained the rights to use Daimler's patents. In 1894 the Daimler V-type two cylinder engine was incorporated in the first automobile designed to place the driving elements in the same position that they occupy today in most cars; the engine at the front, followed by a clutch, a gear box, and a propellar shaft to a differential connected to live, driving axles on either side, although these driving axles were individually connected to the rear wheels by chains. Early French leadership in the industry is responsible for common English terms such as chassis, chauffeur, coupe, detour, garage, and even for the coined word automobile.
1886: The first 4-wheeled automobile. Engine built by Gottlieb Daimler.

      1. In the U.S., Charles and Frank Duryea brought out their horseless carriage in 1892-93 and in 1894 they used a two cylinder motor. Elwood Hayes and Elmer Apperson, of Kokomo, Indiana, ran their first horseless carriage in 1894, and in 1896 Ransom E. Olds and Alexander Winton separately built their own automobiles. Henry Ford built his first experimental car in 1893 and his first practical model in 1896.
1892: The Duryea brothers construct the first American cars. Below is an 1896 version.

1896: Henry Ford's First Car

1896: Henry Ford at the Wheel of his First Car

1907: Henry Ford's Model T goes into Production -- this is the 1913 Model on Display at the Smithsonian

      1. In 1911 Charles F. Kettering (1876 -1958) perfected the electric self-starter and it was introduced by Cadillac in 1912. One of the most important inventions in history, it led to a social revolution.

        Kettering was a mechanical genius. While he worked for NCR he invented the electric cash register among other less well known business inventions. These formed the basis for NCR's highly profitable business. After NCR, he invented the modern battery ignition system for the automobile, the storage battery that could be recharged as the engine ran (he founded DELCO about this time), four-wheel brakes, ethyl gasoline, faster drying automobile paint, freon, and the Diesel locomotive.

1911: Charles F. Kettering perfects the Self-Starter

      1. By World War I, front bumpers, electric horns, rear-view mirrors, foot pedal accelerators, V-8 engines, and overdrive had all appeared. The technology had gelled and the modern car had emerged.
1915 Mercer: A Recognizably Modern Car

    1. The Evolution of Radio

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The Electromagnetic Spectrum: Wavelength vs. Frequency in Hertz (Cycles)

The Wavelengths of Visible Light
      1. Many discoveries in the field of electricity were necessary before the concept of radio was possible. One of the most important of these was the work of Michael Faraday. In 1821 Faraday plotted the magnetic field around a conductor carrying an electric current. In 1831 he followed this accomplishment with the discovery of Electromagnetic Induction. Faraday demonstrated the induction of one electric current by another.
Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867)

      1. The history of radio really begins with the publication in 1873 of Treatise of Electricity and Magnetism by James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell built upon the work of Faraday but his insights were extraordinary. Around 1865 Maxwell developed his electromagnetic theory of light. Maxwell saw light as consisting of transverse waves of electric and magnetic force and had come to this conclusion by explaining electromagnetic induction mathematically. He calculated that the velocity of the induced electric waves was the same as the speed of light. He then realized that there was no set lmit to the wave length (frequency) of these waves and he predicted the existence of other electromagnetic waves. His theory also suggested the ability to create electromagnetic waves artificially.

        All these insights were combined in Maxwell's famous four equations -- Gauss' Law for Electrostatics; Gauss' Law for Magnetostatics; Faraday's Law; and Ampere's Law. The Maxwell equations allowed one to calculate and predict the relationship between electricity and magnetism. It was not until the development of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity that the reasons for the relationships developed by Maxwell were fully understood.
James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879)

      1. Heinrich Hertz was the first person to demonstrate experimentally the production and detection of Maxwell's waves. In 1887, using the spark of an induction coil, Hertz succeeded in producing and detecting electromagnetic waves. He showed experimentally that these waves possessed many of the properties of light, i.e., measurable velocity and wave length, reflection, refraction, and polarization. Hertz' demonstration of the existence of electromagnetic waves was originally of purely theoretical interest as confirmation of Maxwell's theory of the electromagnetic nature of electricity and light, but his discoveries led directly to the development of radio.
Heinrich Hertz (1857 - 1894)

      1. Guglielmo Marconi is generally credited with the invention of radio -- wireless transmission of a message. Around 1895 he developed an improved coherer -- a glass tube loosely filled with zinc and silver filings. The device was originally invented by Joseph Lodge and was used to detect radio waves. The coherer would become conductive in the presence of a strong radio wave. The coherer was the earliest true radio receiver. Marconi hooked the coherer to a crude antenna with its lower end grounded. He also improved the spark oscillator -- the earliest true radio transmitter -- and hooked it to an antenna. He used a telegraph key to turn the spark oscillator on and off thereby sending out a message to the antenna hooked to the coherer. The coherer actuated a telegraphic instrument through a relay.

        In 1896 Marconi succeeded in sending a message over a distance of 1 mile and by 1897 was able to send messages to a ship at sea 18 miles distant. In 1901 he sent messages over a distance of 200 miles and by 1902 across the Atlantic ocean.
Guglielmo Marconi (1874 - 1937)

The Basic Spark Transmitter

The Basic Receiver

      1. The early spark equipment could only be used to send and receive morse code. For voice to be transmitted the vacuum tube was necessary because voice required amplification and much more sophisticated detection. The original vacuum tube was developed by Thomas Edison. He discovered that a current will flow between the hot filament of an incandescent lamp and another electrode placed in the lamp and that this current will flow in only one direction. In 1904 John Fleming developed the diode, or two-element tube. This tube was used as a detector, rectifier, and limiter.

        A key advance in the history of radio and the beginnings of the science of electronics ("computers" are an application of electronics), was the creation of the triode tube by Lee De Forest in 1906. Although some claim that Reginald Fessenden was the real inventor and De Forest stole the design, nevertheless De Forest patented the design in 1906. The breakthrough was the addition of a grid between the filament and the plate. This made the triode an amplifier and made voice transmission and reception possible.
Lee De Forest (1873 - 1961)

1904 Radio Installation (Location Unknown)

1905 Radio Installation in Puerto Rico

      1. Edwin Howard Armstrong is the man who took De Forest's triode and turned it into a practical amplifier and oscillator with his invention of the regenerative circuit in 1913. One year later Armstrong invented the superheterodyne circuit that made modern tube radios practical devices. A superheterodyne receiver is based upon the fact that it is possible to mix two oscillating currents of different frequencies to produce a "beat" current whose frequency is equal to the difference between the two. This was a fundamental discovery and broadcast radio was a reality by the early 1920s. Armstrong would later go on to invent FM radio transmission in 1933.
Edwin Howard Armstrong (1890 - 1954)

    1. Common Threads

      1. Multiple Inventors of Original Technology -- Near Simultaneous Emergence of the same technology in several different locations.

      2. Rapid Incremental Improvements

      3. "Mature" Technology After 20 Years Followed by a Long Period of Relative Technological Stability

Copyright 1999 KPoole@ucsd.edu Keith T. Poole
All Rights Reserved

Quotations and concepts may be used for review or academic purposes only if proper credit is given to the author. Unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.
[Keith Poole's (K7MOA) Home Page]
[American Economic History]
[Railroads, The First Big Business]
[Entrepreneurs and American Economic Growth]

Site Links

NOMINATE Data, Roll Call Data, and Software
Course Web Pages: UC San Diego (2004 - )
University of San Diego Law School (2005)
Course Web Pages: University of Houston (2000 - 2005)
Course Web Pages: Carnegie-Mellon University (1997 - 2000)
Spatial Models of Parliamentary Voting
Recent Working Papers
Analyses of Recent Politics
About This Website
K7MOA Log Books: 1960 - 2006
Bio of Keith T. Poole
Related Links