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of the 




Paper Presented 
Admission to the 
Phi Mu Honorary Engineering Fraternity 
University of Maryland, 

May 1924, 


-j- SUTJi/IARY -;- 

This paper treats of the early engineering 
history of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the 
first railroad in America, It takes up the Incep- 
tion of the project J gives an account of the promo- 
ters and early engineers; treats of the original 
surveys and location of the line; discusses the 
engineering and construction methods and difficul- 
ties Involved; and includes some of the available 
items of original cost. 



A matter of great importance to the City of Balti- 
more about 1826 was the prospect of losing its share of the 
trade of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. This fear was 
inspired hy the developraent of roads and canals in the states 
of New York and Pennsylvania. 

It had been hoped that by cons time ting the proposed 
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal this trade could be recovered, but 
the report on this project made in July 1326 showed its im- 
practicability due to the great cost entailed and scarcity of 
water to maintain the canal in operation, 

Philip E, Thomas, President of the Mechanics Bank 
of Baltimore, and George Brown, son of one of the Directors 
of the same bank, became interested in this matter and called 
a meeting of prominent men of Baltimore "to take Into consid- 
eration the best means of restoring to the City of Baltimore 
that portion of the V/e stern trade which has lately been di- 
verted from It by the Introduction of steam navigation and 
by other causes." This meeting took place on February 12,1327 
at Mr, Brown's residence and was attended by the following mens 

Charles Carroll of Carrollton Philip E. Thomas 

William Patterson, Chairman. William Lorman 

Isaac McKlm George Warner 

Kobert Oliver Benjamin G. Howard 

Charles Ridge ly of Hampton Solomon Etting 

Thomas Tenant W. Vj, Taylor 

Alexander Brown Alexander Fridge 

John McKim, Jr. James L, Hawkins 

Talbot Jones John B, Morris 

James Wlllson Luke Tierman 

Thomas Ell loot t Alexander McDonald 

George Hoffman Solomon Birckhead 

V/ ill lam steuart David *« Inches ter. Secre- 


The available data was placed in the hands of 

a committee composed of: 

Philip iji. Thomas, Chaimian Joseph W, Patterson 

Benjamin C, Hov/ard Evan Thomas 

George Brovm John V, L, McMahon 
Talhot Jones 

On February 19 this committee reported favorably 
for the immediate construction of a railroad. 

The charter of Incorporation was drawn by 
Mr, John V, L. MciJahon, a Baltimore lawyer, and this is 
yet the actual charter of the company. It ivas the first 
legal instrument of this kind written in America, and is 
remarkable for the foresight used to provide for the future 
development of the company. 

The General Assembly of Maryland passed on 
February 28, 1827 a special act of Incorporation to the 
"Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Go," with a capital stock of 
$5,000,000, for the transportation of passengers and freight. 
The company is still operating under this charter, which 
provides for exemption of taxation In Maryland. 

Philip K, Thomas was elected first president of 
the Company and George Brown first treasurer. Three million 
dollars worth of stock was offered and was over subscribed 
by April 24, 1827. The State of Maryland subscribed to 
5,000 shares of stock and later subscribed for a larger amount. 

The rapid sequence of all these important acts 
gives an Idea of the enthusiasm which predominated in the 
community for this great enterprise. 



The ultimate purpose of the company was to build 
a railroad from the City of Baltimore to the banks of the 
Ohio River, prom printed accounts of that period it can 
be inferred that the mind of the promoters was to use ani- 
mal power, 30 that calculations were made on the power of 
average good horses. However, after the success of Peter 
Cooper* 3 "Tom Thumb" locomotive, steam power was considered. 
With a speed of ten miles per hour, it was thought that the 
trip from Baltimore to the Ohio River could be made in 
thirty-six hours, ^'9" ' 

When construction conmenced difficulties, physical, 
financial, and legal, were encountered by the company. The 
physical difficulties were In the form of narrow valleys, 
hard roclc, deep ravines, and the Allegany Mountains, The 
financial difficulties were encountered later, during a period 
not included In this brief account, and were successfully 
overcome. The legal difficulty was mainly with the Chesa- 
peake and Ohio Canal Company on account of rights-of-way. 
This delayed construction TJintll the General Assembly of 
Maryland on March 22, 1B33 passed an act to remedy this con- 
dition. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company paid to the 
Canal Company ^266,000 for land and for damages, 

Tanner in his work on the "Canals and Railroads 
in the United states", printed in 1840, says regarding the 
general location of the line beyond Harper's Ferry, "the 



-^^ -^^ — ^--—3 



rtRST TRIED ON B. & O. AUG. 23, 1630 

£££ EEtL 

Chara cierisfi cs : Sinoie work /no cylinJer^ S^ c// a meter. 
Whee/s^ 30'' c/iatneter. - Sp&ed, (2 miles per hour 



extenaion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the Ohio 
River has been located, and a part of the road is now in 
progress. The line on leaving Harper's Perry, to which 
point the road Is completed, ascends the west bank of the 
Potomac to Opequan Creek, where it turns towards the south- 
west, and, following the valley of that creek, enters 
Mart Ins burg, in Berkeley County, Thence by a nearly direct 
and north-west course the line is conducted over the ridges 
of Berkeley and Morgan Counties, and crosses the Potomac 
Into Maryland. After crossing the Potomac, It turns 
abruptly and pursues a south-west course along the north de- 
clivity of the Potomac to the mouth of Town Creek in Allegany 
County; and thence curving towards the north-west, proceeds 
by the river bank, to the town of Cumberland. Here the road 
leaves the Potomac, and at a distance of seven miles, passes 
Into Pennsylvania, and descends the valley of the Gasselraan*s 
River, whose southern bank Is followed to its discharge into 
the Youghlogeny, thence through gaps In Sugarloaf Mountain 
and Laurel Hill, in Payette County, and running near Union- 
town, it enters and pursues the valley of Redstone Creek to 
Brownsville, on the Monongahela. Prom Brownsville, Its course 
is nearly direct, through v/ashington County, until It reaches 
the western boundary of Pennsylvania and re-enters Virginia, 
when it descends the valley of V/heellng Creek, and finally 
terminates at the town of liVheellng, on the Ohio River. The 
entire length of the line from Harper* s Ferry to VHieellng Is 
about 200 miles, and 280,50 from Baltimore," 



The Board of Engineers organized to consider the 
problems of surveying and construction was selected on 
April 12, 1828,, It was composed of Philip E. Thomas, Presi- 
dent of the Company, Colonel S, H. Long, and Jonathan Knight, 

This Board of Engineers was really doing pioneer 
work in railroad construction; they did not have topographical 
maps to show the character and features of the terrain, nor 
text books on railroad location; neither were there similar 
works v/hich could be studied, A reconnoissance of the pro- 
posed route was made mostly on foot. In the accompanying 
sketch, the routes surveyed are shown. Ft a.- 2 

No original information is available about the 
instruments used on the survey and location of the first sec- 
tion. It is supposed that the open sight compass was used 


for line and/splrlt level for grade. The first American 

transit. Invented by Young in 1831, was used later to locate 
the line from Harper's Ferry to Vi/heellng. 

In the selection of grades, plain common sense 
was used. Since horse-power was to be employed and It was 
estimated that the volvime of freight would be In the ratio 
of 1 outgoing from Baltimore to 5 incoming from the Ohio Valley, 
the engineers tried to equate, so to speak, these conditions 
50 as to arrive at a grade which would nearly require the same 
expenditure of power for hauling one ton of freight upgrade as 
five tons down grade. 




The work done by a horse on a level railroad 
was computed to "be 8,75 tons, at 2 miles per hour for 10 
hours a day. The grade at which the component of gravity 
along the incline would equal the friction for 4* diameter 
wheels was estimated at 30' in one mile, or 0.56 of 1^, 
With this grade. It was estimated that two horses would 
b© required to pull the load. A grade of 13* to the mile, 
in view of this calculation, was decided as necessaryj this 
grade was expected to require equal pull for traf^fic in 
both directions for loads in the ratio of 1 to 5, However, 
as will appear later, in the construction all grades below 
30' per mile were considered level grades. 

At the beginning it was thought that the terrain 
was not of a character which would make expensive roadway 
construction. The soil was apparently argillaceous and 
adhesive, over a substratum of sand, gravel and pebbles, 
which would form a good road bed. 

Timber for sleepers and rails v/as available 
except In the vicinity of Baltimore, where stone was abun- 

A few wooden bridges were necessary; the timber 
for this purpose being available at the rate of |8. per 
thousand feet board measure. 

Stone rails of good quality were available at 
Sfi per linear footj yellow pine rails at 3;^ per linear 
foot. Locust sleepers at about 25 fi each and white or red 
oak sleepers were much cheaper. 


Llmestone prevails between Harper's Ferry and 
Willlamsport , The Smith Mountain gives very good sand- 
stone. Material for masonry work was plentiful and good 
over the entire line, 

HTJimerous culverts and viaducts were found neces- 
sary in the section between Baltimore and Elllcott's Mills, 
and the material had to be hauled, the distance varying from 
one to three miles. Inexperienced labor and lack of machin- 
ery made the work expensive. 

The quarry used for about five miles of this sec- 
tion was the property of Richard Caton, Esquire, and he 
gave free use of it to the company. 

The timber was bought at wholesale market prices 
and brought down by water, 

George Brown did commendable work in devising 
economical methods of construction. 

In the report of the President and Directors of 
the company for the year 1829, the excess of actual cost over 
estimated cost was attributed to the following causes: 

1 - Difficulty in securing good stone for 
masonry in the first fifteen sections. {Sections 
were about three-quarters of a mile.) 

2 - Increased cost of labor. 

3 - Hard rock beds not apparent in the surface, 
(This shows the lack of knowledge of local geological 

conditions) , 

4 - Substitution of stone for timber in 


Following are the engineering principles under 
which operations were carried on: 

1 - Adjustment of road bed grade in a manner 
adapted to the traffic; this was discussed above. 

2 - Location of curves. Since engineering 
books did not contain any method for laying out 
curves, the Board of Engineers engaged itself In 
devising a method of easy application foi' the lay- 
ing out of the serpentine route which v/as to follow 
river banks. Two methods were devised: 

(a) one based on a series of equal chorda 
and corresponding ordtnates at equal divisions of 
the chords, and the relations of tangents to the 
arcs of these chords. some algebraic formulae 
and diagrams are referred to in document K, which 
accompanied the original report of the Board of 
Engineers, but this dociuaent Is missing. 

(b) the second method was based on the 
relation between chorda versed sines and tangents 
to their arcs. Geometrical Illustrations are re- 
ferred to in another document marked L, which also 
la missing, 


In the location of the line, it waa specified that 
the radius of curvature should be not less than 400 feet, 
and the maximum deflection at each station should not exceed 
14-1/2 degrees, the stations to be 100 feet apart. 

Formulae for earthwork computations and width of 
cuts and embankments were also given in the missing document 
K, while instructions from the superintendent of construction, 
paper marked A, also is miaslng. 

Bridges were restricted to 20 foot spans , In some 
Instances, where a greater span was necessary, wooden struct* 
urea were substituted for stone bridges. The method of 
construction of bridges was with little variation that used 
by Burr, noted bridge architect . A bridge exhibit was given 


In paper marked N, but this is missing. 

The width of track was 4 feet, 6 inches. 
Each wooden rail was 6 inches square for jsrabankments and 
6 inches by 9 inches for bridges, and viaducts. The dis- 
tance" in the clear^* betvireen the two interior rails of the 
tracks was 3 feet. The length of wooden rails varied 
from 15 to 60 feet, by increments of 5 feet. 

The road bed was made of fragmented stone 
"weighing no more than four ounces each" (about 3 cubic 
Inches) and this was placed in a layer of 5 or 4 Inches 
and rolled. 

Sleepers were 9 feet long and at least 7 inches 
in diameter J partially imbedded in the stone and placed at 
Intervals corresponding to the length of the rails. The 
rails were laid on these sleepers, the ends coming together 
at one sleeper and fitted into notches. The entire lower 
side of the rail rested on the crushed stone. Besides the 
sleepers there were ties placed at about 5 feet center to 
center, (There is doubt about this construction being 
actually carried out). 

The ties were 5-1/2 to 6 feet in length, 5 to 6 
inches wide suid 2-1/2 to 4 inches thick; "these ties had 
their extremities formed into dove-tailed tenons, and inserted 
Into mortises in the rails fitted for their reception," 

The above construction vfas adjusted to any curvature 
and a second layer of broken stone was placed to hold it In 

Iron plate rails were used with elliptical holes. 


large enough to admit 3/8 inch diameter' nails. The holes 

were staggered on either side of the center line and the ^ 


distance between them, measured on the center line, was -2^ 
"about 10 inches". The holes were countersunk on the upper 
side. The nails were driven sloping toward the center line, 

1 - Board of Engineers previously named, 

2 - special Commission of Engineers, consisting 
of J. Knight, Captain William G, McNeill and Lieut, 

G, Vif, vVhistler, who went to England In November 1828 
to study the British railroads, 

3 - Topographical Engineers, In charge of 
management and superintendence of surveys and field 

4 - Assistant Engineers. Cooperating with 
topographlcl engineers, 

5 - A superintendent of construction appointed 
by the Board of Directors and in charge of general 
contracts and construction. 

6 - Two location parties, - one headed by Cap- 
tain McNeill and in charge of the location of the 
line between Baltimore and Sllicott's Mills, and up 
to the valley of the Patapsco, and another party 
headed by Col. Long, in charge from the Patapsco to 


The Initial ceremonies for the project were held 
on July 4, 1828 when the "first stone" was laid at the S,Vif, 
boundary of the city, by Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, 
one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, F>q~^ 
He said on this occasion: "I consider this among the most 
important acts of ray life, second only to my signing the 
Declaration of Independence, If even It be second to that," 

On July 7, 1828 the final location of the line was 


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conimenced at the "first stone" by Lieutenants Coolc, Hazzard, 
and Dillahunty under the direction of Captain McNeill, An- 
nouncement was made that proposals for grading and masonry 
would "be received between August 1 and 11, 1828, for the first 
12 miles of road. The bids were high as a result of the 
short time open for proposals and due to the lack of competi- 

The company retained as security one -quarter of the 
relative value of masonry and one -fifth of the relative value 
of grading until the completion of the contract. 

The construction of the first railroad section, 
that to Ellic-ott*3 Mills, was in charge of the party of 
Major Vftilstler, superintendent engineer. On this section 
Thomas McMahon was foreman, and Alfred Ray, Nicholas Ridge ly, 
Silas Ficket and Wendel Bollman were carpenters. It might 
here be noted that Bollman, then only a boy, later became 
Master of I^oad, He designed, among others, the Bollman truss 
used in the bridge at Harper's Perry, This truss is still In 
service, but is now used for highway traffic only, Fia.-S 

Beginning at the first stone, the road was kept at 
the constant elevation of 66 feet above mean tide for the 
first 7-1/2 miles. This elevation was chosen as the most c 
economical for cuts and embankments, and, also, because it ^ 
allowed for clearance for an underground crossing for the CO 
Frederick Road at Elllcott's Mills. All grades below 30 feet 
per mile (equivalent to 0,5 of 1^) were considered level 
grades, and anything beyond was taken as an inclined plane. 

Pig. 20. A BoUraan Truss Bridge. 


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Iron rails were 15 feet by 2-1/2 Inches by 5/8 
Inches, nailed at about 3/4 Inches from the Inner edge of 
the stringer. The projecting corner of the stringer was 
cut off diagonally so as to allow the flange of the wheel 
to pass without touching. 

The stone sills were about 16 to 20 Inches long, 
about 12 inches wide and from 8 to 12 inches thick. Holes 
for nailing the rails were made 3-1/2 inches deep and 5/8 
inches in diameter. They were filled with wooden plugs ham- 
mered in, where the rail was to go. As in the case of the 
wooden stringers, after the rail was in place the projecting 
corner was trimmed off to allow the plungers to pass. 

Expansion joints were provided, according to tem- 
perature. In the case of the iron rails, which were 15 feet 
long, one-quarter inch was allowed, F"tQ.-6 

The original gage was 4 feet, 6 inches. However, 
later, (in 1830) the gage was changed to 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches. 
The change was made as a result of calculations by Engineer 
Knight, who found that the larger the gage, the larger the 
difference in length of the two rails on a curve, and there- 
fore, the greater the sliding of the outside wheel. Also 
with a gage of 4 feet, 6 inches, the center of gravity of 
the cars was limited to 6 feet 9 Inches above the rails, while 
with a gage of 4 feet 8-1/2 inches, the center of gravity 
was located at 7 feet, 3/4 Inohea above the rails. 

FiQ - 6 

[-'iff. 7 l-'irst Track Laid from Mt. Clare to \1iicgar Hill. 
Wooden Striiiser.s and Strap Rail— 1828-]8i>J, 

Fig. 8. l'"irst Track Laid irom \ uRKar Hill West. 
Stone Stringers and Strap Rail— 1829-1834. 



For stone and iron tracks let at $10.75 to J^yll-SO 
per rod of traok; the contractor was paid extra for broken 
atone required over 8,5 perches (212,5 cubic feet). 

Including materials, superintendence, and labor, 
the approximate cost per mile of single track was: 

Track with wooden sleepers - 1-^4,000, 

" ' stone block's - 5,000. 

" granite sills - 6,500. 
Oost of horse path per mile- 250, - about, 

(SEPTE M BER 1, 1828 to AUGUST 51, 1829.) 

Cost of grading and bridging, as per con- 
tracts from Baltimore to Dorsey' s Run, 
7-1/4 miles, at an average of iiJ23,855 
per mile . . , . , |172,912. 

Thence to Klllcott*s Mills, as per con- 
tract, 4-1/2 miles at ^6,610 per mile, 
inclusive of wooden viaduct across the 
Patapsco • 25,245, 

Total $198,157. 

" comparison estim ated and actual costs 

Estimated cost in 1827 1^5,000,000, 

Actual cost to 1853 15,600,000, 

Total cost, including track, stations, 

branches and selling stock to 1853, , . ,30,000,000 

Estimated length to the Ohio River in 1327 . 290 miles. 

Actual length to Vftieellng in 1853 379 " 

Estimated annual revenues in 1827. . , , , . $750,000. 

Actual annual revenues In 1852 $1,325,563, 

Actual annual revenues In 1854 5,645,609, " 



As a result of an error made by the resident 
engineer on the section of the Patapsco Pork, the contractor, 
Tuxton Lyon, was able to defraud his men and also the company. 
He was paid nearly twice as much as the work really performed 
called for. Upon discovery of this fact, the contractor dis- 
appeared, and, therefore, his contract was cancelled. Later 
it was fovind that there was a large sum due by the contractor 
to his men and since the fund thought to be withheld by the 
company was now imaginary (the contractor having been over- 
paid) the company tried to appease the workers by offer of 
part-payment, but they insisted upon having all. Upon re- 
fusal by the company they started to destroy the finished 
track. The men, 135 strong, led by Hugh i'^eily, overpowered 
the sheriff, who had a warrant for their arrest, so that it 
became necessary to call for armed force, and 100 volunteers, 
led by Brigadier General Steuart, went to the aid of the sher- 
iff and took about 70 prisoners, among whom was Reily, the 
leader. The damage done was estimated at 1^6074, The time 
lost at about 5 to 6 weeks. 

Owing to disorders and riots taking place in the 
labor camps, the contracts let after July 1829 provided that 
no liquor should be sold or used in the camps, 

BOLLMAN TRUSS - Reference has already been made 
to this structure, f\a. - 5 


THQMAS_ VIADUCT - This viaduct, over the Patapsco 
at Relay, consists of 8 elliptical arches of 58 foot span 
each. The road hed is 66 feet above the siirface of the water. 
It was designed by B. H, Latrobe and constructed by 
John McCartney, Construction coraraenced on July 4, 1833 and 
was completed on July 4, 1835. Contractor TilcCartney was so 
proud of this structure that at his own expense he erected the 
monument shown in the photograph, whidi stands near one of 
the abutments. Figs, - 7- 8- 9 

CARROLLTON BRIDGE - The original plans for this 
bridge called for 2 arches of 40 foot span, but to please the 
owner of a mill, who was afraid that the 40 foot span would 
dam up the stream, the bridge was lengthened to two arches, 
one of 80-1/4 foot span and the other 20 foot span.. 

The structure rises 65 feet from its foundation, 
is over 300 feet long over all, and contains 10,995 perches 
of masonry or 274,875 cubic feet. The rise of the arch above 
the springing Is 35 feet. Its construction time wag six 
months. Its entire cost completed was §58,016,73, The es- 
timated cost was $28,500. 

PARR* 3 SUIfflllT INCLINED PLANES - On the line between 
Baltimore and point of Kocka, is a place called Parr's Summit, 
Pour inclined planes were used to mount this siimmit. The 
total length of the planes was 10,250 feet and with the connect- 
ing level sections was 18,811 feet. The rise on the eastern 
side was 179,98 feet and on^ the western side 240,98 feet. 
The steepest grade was 1 in 20, or about 2*^57' and the smallest 


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Helay station 

John ^o Cuttney ^ 

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1 in 30, or 1 55', as It was expressed at that time, 

A sketch, of these planes is given in figure 10 
Stationary engines and cable v;ere used to pull 
up the trains. It was suggested that these engines could be 
helped by the gravity force generated by a descending train, 
but since the weight of the trains varied, this system could 
not be used in practice. 

The engines were of 40 H.P, The supply of v/ater 
was available from a spring which discharged 2300 cubic feet 
per day. It was expensive to lift this water to the eleva- 
tion of the engine at the top of the planes. These planes 
were abandoned in 1838 and a new line was located which 
shortened the passage of trains by 48 hours, 

The data for this paper have been collected from 
the books and documents listed in the following bibliography, 
as well as from personal inspection. 

The writer is indebted to the following gentlemen 
of the Baltimore and Ohio Kail road for their courtesy In mak- 
ing available their sources of information; 
Mr, G, li, Shriver, Senior Vice-President 

Mr, P., ii, Kennedy, Pilot iinglneer of Valuation J-'epartment , 

1 - Annual reports of the President, Board of Di- 
rectors and Board of Engineers of the Baltimore & Ohio Kail- 
road Company, 1828 to 1838. Office of the B, & 0. H, K. 

2 - Canals and Railroads of the United States 
by H. 3. Tanner, 1840, Library of Congress. 


3 - A Hlatory and Description of the B, & oi 
R. i^. by A Citizen of Baltimore, 1853. Pratt Library 

4 - Remarks., Propositions and Calculations, 
Relative to a Railroad and Locomotive Engines to be used 
upon the same from Baltimore to the Ohio River, by 
Minus Ward, G, E. April 1827. A pamphlet, Llbary of 

The following are books recommended for us© 
by those who desire to continue the stiidy comprising the 
present pauer: 

1 - The Economic History of the B, & 0. K, it., 
1827-1353, by Milton Reizenstein. The Johns Hopkins Press, 
1897, Pratt Library Baltimore, 

2 - Picturesque B. & 0,, History and Descriptive, 
by J, a. Panghorn, Pratt Library, Baltimore, 

3 - JParaphlets of the Maryland Historical Society 
of Bait ignore, 1327-1853, 

4 - Railroads, their Origin and Problems, by 
Charles Francis Adams, Jr. 1878, Pratt Library, Baltimore,