What Were America's First Trains?


Quick Answer

America’s first trains appeared around 1829 and consisted of horse-drawn cars on a system of overland rails that formed the Pennsylvania Railroad. The cars were initially halves of canal boats that transported passengers and goods from Philadelphia to the foot of the Allegheny Mountains.

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Full Answer

One horse could haul as much weight on rails as 12 horses could on overland roads, and passenger trains reached speeds of 12 to 15 miles per hour. Stationary steam engines helped haul goods over a system of inclined rails and cables over the mountains to Johnstown, where the canal boats were assembled to carry passengers and goods to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.

In 1829, Peter Cooper built the "Tom Thumb," a steam engine mounted to a flat car on rails that traveled at 13 miles per hour between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills. The earliest steam-powered locomotives appeared a few years later, and but they still required teams of oxen or horses to transport them over several parts of the journey.

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