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Feb. 28, 1827: Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, America's first commercial passenger railway, is founded

Christy Karras
February 28, 2014

American railroads existed before the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, often simply called the B&O, but it was the first commercial railroad offering scheduled service to the general public. The railway would have a major influence on travel, commerce and the creation of great American cities from the East Coast to the Midwest.

Baltimore, near the head of the Chesapeake Bay, was an ideal eastern terminal. But other coastal cities, including New York City, were also planning major railroad projects to take advantage of an ever-expanding canal system that could link them to waterways. Incorporating the B&O in 1827 was Baltimore's first step in winning the race against those other cities.

Charles Carroll, the last surviving Declaration of Independence signer, helped lay the first stone in a grand opening ceremony on July 4, 1828. The first railway segment opened in 1830, and track ran through West Virginia all the way to the Ohio River by 1852. Eventually, the B&O would connect to Chicago. Among its innovations: It was the first to use timetables, and the nation’s first telegraph line was built along its right-of-way.

Parts of the railway (now incorporated into other lines) are still in use, as are some of its original bridges. They include the Carrollton Viaduct (named for Charles Carroll) in Baltimore, the world’s oldest active railway bridge. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, in the city's old Mount Clare Station, houses America’s largest collection of 19th-century locomotives along with other treasures of railroad history.