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Baltimore and Ohio


Baltimore and Ohio

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Reporting mark BO
Locale Illinois
West Virginia
New Jersey
New York
Dates of operation 1828–1987
Successor Chessie System
CSX Transportation
New York City Transit Authority
Track gauge (standard gauge)
Length 5,658 miles (9,106 kilometres)
Headquarters Baltimore, Maryland

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (reporting mark BO), one of the oldest railroads in the United States, was the country's first common carrier, its Class I railroad, and the first to offer scheduled freight and passenger service to the public. During its peak years, the railroad extended east to Staten Island, New York, and west to Illinois.

Today, most surviving trackage is operated by CSX Transportation; trackage on Staten Island is operated by the Staten Island Railway as a branch of the New York City Transit Authority.[1]


19th century

The B&O grew out of competition among the most important U.S. seaports of the early 1800s, which included Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston, South Carolina.[2][3] Baltimore had a natural advantage: located almost at the head of navigation on Chesapeake Bay, the estuary of the Susquehanna River, it was farther inland than the others and therefore closer to many targeted developing markets.[3]

High on the list of these were the trans-Allegheny lands filling with a steady stream of new settlers building new settlements in the wild Ohio Country, and beyond its forks, up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Trains reaching the Western Pennsylvania rivers could easily connect with Boats, and even reach 'to points south' such as New Orleans, Louisiana— a railroad across the western mountains would connect the whole continental interior.


During the decades following the revolution a large population had been migrating west over the Cumberland Narrows in western Maryland —recognizably, an early emigration trail to the outfitting and boat building centers in Brownsville and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via the same route widened by Major George Washington for Braddock's Expedition up the Cumberland Narrows. The route wending its westward climb above Cumberland, Maryland, had become famous as the Cumberland Road making its way through one of only five passes through the rough terrain of the Appalachian barrier ridgelines which otherwise blocked travel to the lands of the near west, as they still do today. Water transport still being the gold standard of transportation technology, the Baltimore business community purposely meant to tap into supplying those burgeoning populations reachable by the broad placid waterways connected to the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers and conveying its wealth back to the east. Reaching a boat building center like Brownsville or McKeesport with a freight and passenger capability would give Baltimore an edge in the race for servicing the multitudes heading into the near west.

The competition

When the Lehigh River was tamed by the Lehigh Navigation in 1822 it set of a flurry of private investment, land speculation and state government funded public works. When New York opened a water link to Lake Erie with the 1825 Erie Canal, and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania chartered a system of canals to link Philadelphia with Pittsburgh in 1826, when construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal was begun in 1828, Baltimore responded to the competition by chartering the B&O Railroad on February 28, 1827. The B&O's publically announced mission was to build a railroad from Baltimore to a suitable point on the Ohio River,[2][4]:17,75[5] a bold and daring speculative venture given the short history of steam locomotives in that early day and the steep grades which had to be surmounted on both sides of the Alleghenies.

Successful beginning

Ground was broken for the railroad with great celebration of July 4, 1828. The first stone was laid by 90-year-old Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. A route was laid out to follow the Patapsco and Monocacy rivers to the Potomac, and work began.[6] The line was opened for scheduled service to Ellicott's Mills (renamed Ellicott City) on May 24, 1830. On December 1, 1831, the road was opened to Frederick, 60 miles (97 km). The B&O opened a branch from Relay, Maryland (then called Washington Junction) to Washington in August 1835, crossing the Patapsco River on the Thomas Viaduct, one of the B&O's signature structures. Two years later, a bridge was completed across the Potomac to Harpers Ferry.[7]

Growing pains

At Harpers Ferry, the B&O connected with the Winchester & Potomac Railroad, thus forming the first junction of two railroad companies in the U.S.[2] The line continued west through Cumberland, Maryland, to Grafton, West Virginia, where it turned northwest to reach the goal of its charter at Wheeling, West Virginia, 379 miles (610 km) from Baltimore, on January 1, 1853, almost 25 years after commencing construction. Another line was pushed west from Grafton to reach the Ohio River at Parkersburg, West Virginia in 1856.[2][8]:441n47[need quotation to verify]

Civil War victim

The B&O suffered much in the way of collateral damage during the American Civil War as incompetent Union leaders often failed to properly assign their forces and secure the region, despite the vital importance of the rail company to the Union cause.

"There is no interest suffering here except the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and I will not divide my forces to protect it."

— General Philip Sheridan[9]

Canny Confederate commanders conducted free-ranging military operations against the region and railroad, helping to extend the war. The B&O and its president John W. Garrett are particularly remembered for their part in the Battle of Monocacy. When agents of the railroad began reporting Confederate troop movements 11 days before the battle, Garrett passed the intelligence to the War Department and to Major General Lew Wallace, who commanded the department that would defend the area. As preparations for the battle progressed, the B&O provided transport for federal troops and munitions, and on two occasions Garrett was contacted directly by President Abraham Lincoln for further information. Though Union forces lost this battle, the delay allowed Ulysses S. Grant to repel the Confederate attack on Washington at the Battle of Fort Stevens two days later. After the battle, Lincoln paid tribute to Garrett, saying, "The right arm of the Federal Government in the aid he rendered the authorities in preventing the Confederates from seizing Washington and securing its retention as the Capital of the Loyal States."[10]

The following prominent raids involving the B&O took place
B&O Locomotives Captured During the Great Train Raid of 1861
Engine Name Eng. No. Type
No. 17 Norris 4-2-0
No. 34 Mason 4-4-0
No. 187 Camelback 0-8-0
Lady Davis (CSA name) No. 188 Tyson 4-4-0 "Dutch Wagon"
Engine Name Eng. No. Type
No. 193 Camelback 0-8-0
No. 198 Hayes Camelback 0-8-0
No. 199 Camelback 0-8-0
No. 201  ?

Post-war growth spurt

After the war ended, the B&O continued to extend its tracks westward. In 1866, it leased the Central Ohio Railroad, a line from Bellaire, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, through Newark to Columbus, and in 1869, it leased leased a line from Newark to Sandusky, Ohio. From 1872 and 1874, a subsidiary, Baltimore & Ohio & Chicago, built west to Chicago from a point on that line called Chicago Junction (now Willard).[2]

Under Garrett, the B&O expanded in several directions at once. In 1871, the Pittsburgh & Connellsville Railroad completed a Cumberland-Pittsburgh line, which it leased to the B&O the following year. In 1873, the Metropolitan Branch connected Washington to the main line at Point of Rocks, Maryland.[11]

Riding the storm

Amid poor national economic conditions in the mid-1870s following the Panic of 1873, the B&O reduced its workers' wages twice in a year, leading workers to launch the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in Martinsburg, West Virginia on July 14th, 1877. The strike spread to Cumberland, and when on July 20 the governor of Maryland attempted to put down the strike by sending the state militia from Baltimore, riots broke out that led to 11 deaths, the burning of parts of Camden station, and damage to several engines and cars.[12] The next day workers in Pittsburgh staged a sympathy strike that was also met with an assault by the state militia; Pittsburgh then erupted into widespread rioting. The strike ended after federal troops and state militias restored order.

Turf fights

The line into Pittsburgh put B&O into Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) territory, and even in 1871, the PRR was something of a bully. Washington-New York passenger service in the 1870s was operated jointly by the B&O between Philadelphia and Jersey City. In 1872, the PRR built a line of its own from Baltimore to Washington. B&O rerouted its trains off the PRR to the Reading Railroad (RDG)/Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) route between Philadelphia and Jersey City (known as the "B-R-J" route)[13] and proposed to construct terminal facilities of its own on Staten Island. Both B&O and PRR wanted control of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (PW&B) — PRR managed to get it in 1881. B&O set out to build its own line — the Philadelphia Subdivision — from Baltimore to Philadelphia, parallel to the PW&B and no more than a few miles from it. PRR responded in 1884 by refusing to handle B&O trains east of Baltimore. B&O opened its new line to Philadelphia in 1886.[2]

New management

Garrett died in 1884 and was succeed by his son Robert for two years, Samuel Spencer for one, and then Charles F. Mayer. Mayer undertook to improve the railroad and at the same time keep its financial situation from crumbling. The most significant improvements were control of the Pittsburgh & Western Railroad (Pittsburgh-Akron), construction of a line from Akron, Ohio, to Chicago Junction; control of a route from Parkersburg, West Virginia, through Cincinnati to St. Louis (the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern, which included the former Ohio & Mississippi Railway, completed in 1857); construction of a line through, around, and under Baltimore to connect the Philadelphia route with the rest of the B&O; and electrification of the Baltimore Belt, the first mainline electrification in North America.[2][14]

The financial situation was more difficult. The B&O had a large debt. Freight and passenger rates were low and revenues were dropping — in 1889 B&O handled 31 percent of the country's tidewater soft coal traffic; in 1896, that had dropped to just 4 percent because of competition from other railroads. The B&O cut back on expenditures for maintenance and quickly acquired a reputation for unreliability. The Panic of 1893 was well underway, and business was in bad shape nationwide. B&O entered receivership in 1896.[2]

20th century

B&O came out of receivership in 1899 still under its original charter, which included tax exemption privileges. In 1901 the PRR managed to buy a large block of B&O stock and appoint Leonor F. Loree president of the railroad. Loree undertook a line improvement program that reduced grades and curves and added many miles of double track, and he secured for B&O a large interest in the RDG, which in turn controlled the CNJ. The PRR sold some of its B&O stock to the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) in 1906 and traded the remainder to UP for the Southern Pacific stock in 1913. UP eventually distributed its B&O stock as a dividend to its own stockholders.[2]

Daniel Willard became president of the B&O in 1910. More than anyone else he is responsible for the company's conservative, courteous personality in the mid-twentieth century. Further expansion included the purchase in 1910 of the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad, a belt line that was renamed the Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad; the acquisition in 1917 of the Coal & Coke Railway from Elkins to Charleston, West Virginia; and acquisition that same year of portions of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railway and its leased lines to form a route from Cincinnati to Toledo.[2]

In 1927 B&O celebrated its centennial with the Fair of the Iron Horse, a pageant and exhibition at Halethorpe, Maryland. Much of the rolling stock exhibited there was from B&O's museum collection, which formed the nucleus of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, one of the earliest railroad museums.[2]

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) merger plan of the 1920s put B&O into an expansionist mood. In 1926 B&O purchased the Cincinnati, Indianapolis & Western Railroad's line from Hamilton, Ohio to Springfield, Illinois. In 1927 it acquired an 18 percent interest in the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway (W&LE) and began to purchase Western Maryland Railway (WM) stock. In 1929 B&O bought the Chicago & Alton, reorganized it as the Alton Railroad, and operated it as part of the B&O. (Alton regained independence in 1943 and merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad in 1947.) In 1932 B&O acquired the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway from the Van Sweringen brothers in exchange for its interest in the W&LE and also purchased the Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad. In 1934 B&O arranged for trackage rights on the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad's (P&LE) water-level route between McKeesport and New Castle, Pennsylvania, bypassing the curves and grades of its own route (which remained in service for local business). B&O's through passenger trains moved to P&LE's Pittsburgh station across the Monongahela River from the B&O station.[2]

For many years the B&O competed with the PRR and New York Central Railroad (NYC) in the New York-Chicago and New York-St. Louis passenger markets and with PRR on the New York-Washington run. B&O's trains were slower, partly because of their longer route through Washington, but they were dieselized a decade before the competition. Many preferred B&O's New York-Washington trains to PRR's, but the most frequently stated reason for preferring B&O — "You could always get a seat" — was the reason B&O dropped its passenger service east of Baltimore in April 1958.[13]

In 1960 the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) began to acquire B&O stock. NYC made a bid, but B&O's stockholders approved C&O control, and on May 1, 1962, so did the ICC. By early 1964 C&O owned 90% of B&O's stock. In 1967 the ICC authorized C&O and B&O to control WM; B&O's WM stock had long been held in a nonvoting trust. On June 15, 1973, B&O, C&O, and WM were made subsidiaries of the newly created Chessie System, although they continued to operate as separate railroads. There was no great surge of track abandonment, because in most areas B&O and C&O were complementary rather than competitive. In 1981 B&O leased the former Rock Island trackage from Blue Island to Henry, Illinois.[2]

B&O continued to exist with the Chessie System. On May 1, 1983, B&O assumed operations of the WM. Four years later, on April 30, 1987, C&O merged B&O, and four months after that, CSX Transportation merged C&O.[15]

Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
1925 19459 6 1585 376 3 15
1933 12111 6 (included in B&O) (included in B&O) (included in B&O) (included in B&O)
1944 34802 9
1960 24840 15
1970 28594  ?
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
1925 878 67 47 14 0.004 0.1
1933 435 52 (included in B&O) (included in B&O) (included in B&O) (included in B&O)
1944 2758 81
1960 533 37
1970 64  ?

Industry firsts


B&O invented many new managerial methods that became standard practice in railroading and modern business. B&O became the first company to operate a locomotive built in America, with the "Tom Thumb" in 1829. It built the first passenger and freight station (Mount Clare in 1829) and was the first railroad that earned passenger revenues (December 1829), and published a timetable (May 23, 1830). On December 24, 1852, it became the first rail line to reach the Ohio River from the eastern seaboard.[4]

First telegraph line

In 1843, Congress appropriated $30,000 for construction of an experimental 38-mile (61 km) telegraph line between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore along the B&O's right-of-way. The B&O approved the project with the agreement that the railroad would have free use of the line upon its completion. An impressive demonstration occurred on May 1, 1844, when news of the Whig Party's nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President was telegraphed from the party's convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington. On May 24, 1844, the line was officially opened as Samuel F. B. Morse sent his famous words "What hath God wrought" from the B&O's Mount Clare station to the Capitol Building along the wire.[4]:59–60


When construction began on the B&O, railroad engineering was in its infancy. Unsure exactly which materials would suffice, the B&O erred on the side of sturdiness and built many of its early structures of granite. Even the track bed to which iron strap rail was affixed consisted of the stone.

Though the granite soon proved too unforgiving and expensive for track, most of the B&O's monumental bridges have survived to this day, and many are still in active railroad use by CSX. Baltimore's Carrollton Viaduct, named in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the B&O's first bridge, and is the world's oldest railroad bridge still carrying trains (world's oldest railway bridge is Causey Arch, UK). The Thomas Viaduct in was the longest bridge in the United States upon its completion in 1835, and remains in use as well. The B&O made extensive use of the Bollman iron truss bridge design in the mid-19th century. Its durability and ease of assembly aided faster railroad construction.

As the B&O built the main line west to Parrs Ridge, it had limited information about the operation of steam locomotives. Consequently the company was uncertain if the engine's metal wheels would grip the metal rails sufficiently to pull a train up to the top of the ridge. The railroad decided to construct two inclined planes on each side of the ridge along which teams of horses, and perhaps steam-powered winches, would assist pulling the trains uphill. The planes, about a mile long on each side of the ridge, quickly proved an operational bottleneck, and before the decade of the 1830s ended the B&O built a 5.5-mile (8.9 km) long alternate route that became known as the Mount Airy Loop. The planes were quickly abandoned and forgotten, though some artifacts survive to the present.

In popular culture

Named cars


B&O Railroad Museum.
Relay, Maryland, in 1949

See also


Further reading

  • Ramage, James A., Gray Ghost: The Life of Colonel John Singleton Mosby. University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
  • Sagle, Lawrence, and Alvin Staufer. B&O Power, Alvin F. Staufer, 1964.
  • Schoettinger, Daniel G., "Railroad Growth in the Shenandoah Valley: 1865-1895" 2000.

External links

  • Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum
  • 1827 report shows motivations of early boosters
  • John W. Garrett Collection, 1850–1880 Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
  • The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Network
  • Maryland Railroads as of 1850
  • Virginia (and West Virginia) Railroads as of 1850
  • Mileposts from CSX Transportation Timetables
  • List and Family Trees of North American Railroads
  • B&O Whistles, Whistle museum
  • Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Station From Walnut Street Wharf Schuylkill River, June 29, 1889 by D.J. Kennedy, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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