Timeline of Significant Railroad Events

Railroad Events Timeline
by Terry Cox

Date Event
Feb 22, 1804 First steam tramway (road, as opposed to railroad) locomotive in Wales.
1814 George Stephenson built first steam railway locomotive (Blucher) for Stockton & Darlington Railway.
1815 First North American railroad charter for Camden & Amboy.
Mar 8, 1817 New York Stock & Exchange Board organized.
1819 Panic of 1819, often blamed on the Second Bank of the United States tightening credit, but probably the result of long-declining agricultural prices.
Oct 7, 1826 First horse-powered railroad (3 miles long) completed in United States at Quincy, MA granite quarry.
Feb 28, 1827 First railroad, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, chartered in the United States.
May, 1827 Mauch Chunk (9 miles long) gravity railroad built near Carbondale, PA.
Dec 22, 1828 Baltimore & Ohio completes first section of horse-drawn rail service.
Aug 8, 1829 Delaware & Hudson Canal Co runs first steam-powered locomotive “Stourbridge Lion” near Carbondale, Pennsylvania.
Aug 28, 1830 Peter Cooper operates “Tom Thumb” – the first locomotive manufactured in the United Stares – on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
1830 John Stevens invents T-Rail.
Nov 14, 1832 John Mason starts first horse-drawn streetcar service along Bowery Street in New York.
1835 Samuel Morse uses earlier technology (Joseph Henry, 1830) to create telegraph.
1836 First railroad in Canada opens – Champlain & St Lawrence.
May 10, 1837 Banks in New York City stopped payment in gold and silver, precipitating the Panic of 1837. Six-year depression follows.
1837 First railroad in Cuba (Havana to Guines.)
1842 Brokers begin trading stocks too small for listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Since they had no offices, and merely traded on Broad Street, they became known as “Curbstone Brokers” and “New York Curb Market.” This outdoors arrangement lasted until 1921.
Mar 24, 1844 First message transmitted over telegraph line completed between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Apr 13, 1846 Pennsylvania Railroad chartered.
1846 British government adopts “standard gauge” of 4′ 8-1/2″, the same as the Stockton & Darlington road.
Sep 16, 1850 First railway in Mexico opens – 11 km between Veracruz and Molino.
Sep 20, 1850 President Millard Fillmore signs Land Grant Act.
1851 Trains dispatched by telegraph.
Feb 20, 1852 First rail connection between East Coast and Chicago.
Jan 28, 1855 Panama Railroad completed across Isthmus of Panama.
Apr 21, 1856 Chicago Rock Island & Pacific train crosses first railroad bridge across Mississippi River between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa.
Sep 21, 1856 Illinois Central Railroad completed between Chicago and Cairo, IL.
Aug 24, 1857 New York branch of Ohio Life Insurance & Trust Co fails, precipitating the Panic of 1857.
Oct 14, 1857 Run on bank deposits forced suspension of withdrawals on Wall Street banks. Numerous bank failures.
1857 St Louis connected by rail to East Coast.
Oct, 1861 Overland Telegraph and Pacific Telegraph complete transcontinental system and quickly merge into Western Union.
Jul 1, 1862 Congress passes Pacific Railway act, authorizing construction of Transcontinental railroad. Act creates Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Jan 10, 1863 First subway opens in London.
Jan 29, 1863 New York Stock & Exchange Board changes name to New York Stock Exchange.
1864 George Pullman invents Pullman sleeping car.
Dec 25, 1865 Giant Union stockyards open in Chicago.
1865 Smelters in Chicago mill first steel rails.
Dec 7, 1867 Charles T Harvey successfully demonstrates first cable-pulled elevated railway in New York.
Jan 16, 1868 William Davis patents refrigerator car.
Apr 20, 1868 New York legislature gives full control of Erie (first Gould railroad) to Jay Gould and James Fisk; Commodore Vanderbilt defeated.
Jul 1, 1868 West Side Elevated opened between Cortlandt Street and Battery Place in New York.
Feb 1, 1869 New York Stock Exchange requires shares of all listed companies to be officially registered.
Apr, 1869 George Westinghouse patents automatic air brake.
May 10, 1869 Union Pacific and Central Pacific drive “Golden Spike” at Promontory Point, Itah, completing the transcontinental railroad.
Sep 24, 1869 Jay Gould and James Fisk precipitate “Black Friday” gold market crash after driving gold to 162.
1869 In response to Gould’s and Fisk’s market manipulations, the New York Stock Exchange outlaws “stock-watering” (issuuing shares in secret.)
Jan 17, 1871 Andrew Smith Hallidie patents first cable car.
Apr 20, 1871 First steam-powered elevated railway operation in New York City.
Jan 6, 1872 Edward Stokes murders James Fisk in Grand Central Hotel, New York.
Mar 15, 1872 Jay Gould resigns from board of Erie.
Sep 4, 1872 New York Sun begins exposing Credit Mobilier financing which culminates in huge railroad financing scandal.
1872 Canadian railroads converted lines to standard gauge of 4′ 8-1/2″.
1872 Vanderbilt interests acquire sufficient Union Pacific stock to install Horace Clark as president.
Jun, 1873 Jay Gould acquires first Union Pacific shares upon death of Horace Clark.
Aug 1, 1873 First cable car opens for operation in San Francisco.
Sep 18, 1873 Jay Cooke & Co brokerage fails because of problems financing the Northern Pacific. Failure of Cooke and 37 additional brokerages and banks precipitates the Panic of 1873. New York Stock Exchange closed for 10 days. Five-year depression follows.
1873 Eli H. Janney patents knuckle coupler.
Mar, 1874 Jay Gould elected to Union Pacific board of directors.
Jul 4, 1874 Eads steel arch bridge at St Louis opens across the Mississippi.
Jul 14, 1877 Railroads decrease pay because of depression. Strikes, labor unrest, and violence follows. Labor unions increase in power.
Jan, 1880 Jay Gould acquires Missouri Kansas & Texas stock and becomes president.
Mar 21, 1882 Chicago Stock Exchange organized.
Aug 8, 1883 Southern Pacific and Atlantic & Pacific complete line from New Orleans to Pacific Coast at Needles, CA.
Sep 8, 1883 Northern Pacific Railroad drives last spike.
Nov 18, 1883 U.S. and Canadian railroads adopt four standard time zones.
Jul 3, 1884 Charles Dow creates stock average (precursor to Dow Jones Industrial Average) whic includes nine railroad issues: Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul, Chicago & North Western, Delaware Lackawanna & Western, Lake Shore, Louisville & Nashville, Missouri Pacific, New York Central, Northern Pacific (preferred), and Union Pacific.
Feb 16, 1885 Charles Dow modifies “Dow Dozen” to include twelve railroads and two industries. New railroads include Central Pacific, Central RR of New Jersey, and Delaware & Hudson.
Jan 2, 1886 Two companies removed from Dow Average; constituents include Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul, Chicago & North Western, Delaware & Hudson, Delaware Lackawanna & Western, Lake Shore, Louisville & Nashville, Missouri Pacific, New York Central, Northern Pacific (preferred), and Union Pacific.
May, 1886 Standard gauge of 4′-8-1/2″ adopted by the Southern railroads.
Feb 4, 1887 Interstate Commerce Act become law. Intended to insure reasonable rates, prevent pooling, and stop two-tiered pricing.
Sep 29, 1890 Congress passes law to require railroads to forfeit unused land grants.
Apr 19, 1892 Charles and Frank Duryea perfect first automobile.
Jan 6, 1893 Great Northern Railway drives last spike at Scenic, Washington.
Feb, 1892 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad fails with $125,000,000 debt, leading to collapse of stocks on New York market.
Jun 27, 1893 New York stock market collapses, resulting in 4-year depression.
Apr 9, 1894 Dow average modified; constituents include Chicago Burlington & Quincy, Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul, Chicago & North Western, Chicago Rock Island & Pacific, Delaware & Hudson, Delaware Lackawanna & Western, Louisville & Nashville, Missouri Pacific, Northern Pacific (preferred), and Union Pacific.
May 11, 1894 Pullman Palace Car Co slashes wages and causes workers to strike.
Jul 2, 1894 U.S. government issues injunction against striking Pullman Palace Car Co. workers.
Jul 3, 1894 President Cleveland sends U.S. troops to Chicago to enfore injunction. Two men are killed on July 6. Troops are withdrawn on July 20.
Jan 14, 1895 Trolley employees strike in New York. Riots follow, eventually stopped by New York and Brooklyn militia.
May 26, 1896 Charles Dow creates Dow Jones Industrial Average. All roads moved to Dow Jones Railroad Average.
May 26, 1896 Dow creates Industrial Index and moves railroad stocks to Dow Jones Railroad Index.
Sep 1, 1897 First electrified U.S. subway opens in Boston.
May 9, 1901 James Hill and J.P. Morgan fight with Edward Harriman and Kuhn Loeb over control of Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Stock hits $1000/share, causing panic and collapse in other stocks.
Nov 13, 1901 Northern Securities Co formed to control Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Near-monopoly in northern shipping follows, eventually resulting in major trust company.
Mar 10, 1902 Attorney General begins prosecution against Northern Securities Company for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust law.
Feb 19, 1903 Congress passes Elkins Act, outlawing all rebates on published railroad freight rates.
Mar 14, 1904 Supreme Court rules against Northern Securities Co. for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust law.
Oct 27, 1904 First New York subway opens.
May 21, 1906 Congress passes Hepburn Act, allowing the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroad, pipeline, and terminal rates.
Jun 18, 1910 Congress passes Mann-Elkins Act allowing the Interstate Commerce Commission to begin proceedings against railroads, pipelines, terminals, telegraph, and telephone companies in violation of rate regulations.
Jul 31, 1914 Chicago Stock Exchange closes through December 11 upon declaration of war.
Jul 31, 1914 New York Stock Exchange closes through November 27 upon declaration of war.
Aug 29, 1916 Congress passes Army Appropriations Act which includes clause allowing the President to take control of any system of transportation during times of war.
Aug 10, 1917 Congress passes Priority Law authorizing President to make carriers give precidence to military defense traffic.
Dec 28, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson uses Federal Possession and Control Act to take possession of “each and every system of transportation…within the boundaries of the United States.” U.S. Railroad Administration created.
Mar 19, 1918 United States adopts five standard time zones across the nation and Alaska.
Mar 21, 1918 Congress passes Railway Control Act to officially control U.S. railway system during World War I.
Feb 28, 1920 Congress passes Esch-Cummins Act, creating the Railroad Labor Board.
Mar 1, 1920 Government returns control of all railroads.
Apr 26, 1920 Stock Clearing Corporation established.
1921 “Curbstone Brokers” (“New York Curb Market”) moves indoors.
Oct 4, 1922 Canada creates Canadian National Railway and nationalized system.
Dec, 1923 First diesel locomotive demonstrated.
1925 Diesel locomotives start production.
Oct 24, 1929 Stock prices collapse on New York Stock Exchange. This day becomes known as “Black Thursday.” Forerunner of Great Depression.
1929 “Curbstone Brokers” (“New York Curb Market”) renames itself the New York Curb Exchange.
Sep 3, 1930 Thomas Edison runs first experimental electric passenger train between Hoboken and Montclair, NJ.
Mar 6, 1933 President Roosevelt orders “Bank Holiday” from Mar 6 to Mar 9 (Executive Proclamation 2039). Banks and stock exchanges close.
Mar 9, 1933 President Roosevelt extends “Bank Holiday” indefinitely. (Executive Proclamation 2039.)
Mar 10, 1933 President Roosevelt orders banks reopened (Executive Order 6073.)
Apr 5, 1933 President Roosevelt orders confiscation of gold coins, gold certificates, and bullion (Executive Order 6102.)
Apr 19, 1933 President Roosevelt takes U.S. off gold standard.
May 27, 1933 Congress passes Federal Securities Act requiring full disclosure about stocks offered to the public.
Jun 5, 1933 Congress nullifies all U.S. contracts that promise to repay interest or principal in gold. (H.J. Res. 192, 73rd Congress, 1st Session. ‘Joint Resolution to Suspend the Gold Standard and Abrogate the Gold Clause’.)
Jun 6, 1934 President Roosevelt signs Securities Exchange Act establishing the Commission to regulate exchanges and stock transactions.
Jun 7, 1934 Congress passes Corporate Bankruptcy Act allowing corporate reorganization with support of two-thirds of creditors.
June, 1937 Mexico nationalizes railroads.
1937 Streamlined diesel locomotives appear.
Dec 27, 1943 President Roosevelt orders (Executive Order 9412) Federal takeover of railroads to prevent shutdown by labor. Army controls railroads until Jan 18, 1944
Jan 18, 1944 Army returns control of railroads to private ownership.
May 17, 1946 President Truman (Executive Order 9727) authorizes Federal control of railroads to prevent collapse of transportation system during strike. Strike ends May 25.
May 10, 1948 President Truman (Executive Order 9957) authorizes Army to operate railroads.
Jul 9, 1948 Army terminates operation of railroads allowed on May 10.
Jun 5, 1950 United States Supreme Court decides that segregation in railroad dining is illegal (Henderson v United States.)
Aug 26, 1950 President Truman orders Army to operate railroads to prevent strike from crippling transportation. (Executive Order 10155.)
May 23, 1952 Army returns railroads to private control.
1953 New York Curb Exchange renames itself the American Stock Exchange.
Apr 25, 1963 President Kennedy authorizes Department of Interiorr to operate Alaska railroads (Executive Order 11107.)
1970 Dow Jones adds air lines to Railroad Index of 20 stocks. Renames average to Transportation Average.
Oct 14, 1980 President Jimmy Carter signs Staggers Rail Act, deregulating railroads and leading to divestiture of thousands of miles of unprofitable lines.


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