War and Social Upheaval: Industrial Revolution--Railroads


Figure 1.--Railroads were a critical component of the Industrial Revolution. The railroads changed Europe in inumerable ways. A familiar scene in the 19th century was sending boys off to school at the railway station. The boys in the late 19th century and early 20th century often wore Eton collars. This is an Edwardian railway scene from the the British National Rail Museum in York.

Railways appeared in the early-19th century and were a major factor in the economy by the mid-19th century. The new railroads which rapidly spread across Europe and America helped spread the new industrial economy. Railways pre-dated the steam engine. By the mid-18th century the plate or rail track were being used to move coal from the pit head to the colliery or furnace, especially in England. The coal was powered by ponies or people. After the turn of the 19th century, flat were being used outside London, Sheffield, and Munich. Soon they spread to other large cities as well. Europe's rapidly expanding industrial economy created a need for improved and more efficient transport. Richard Trevithick first employed an engine to pull trucks--at a Cornish mine. A railway was opened in the 1830s from Liverpool to Manchester. It was here that George Stephenson employed "Rocket" to pull a train of cars reaching 14 miles per hour. The history of railroads varied from country to country. England was the first country to be heavily covered by railroads in part because England led Europe in the industrial revolution. England experienced a railroad building boom in the 1840s. Railroads faced many difficulties, including vested interests. Canal operators, turnpike trusts, and horse breeders opposed the railroad, but the efficiency of moving goods over rails made the railroads impossible to resist. Falling prices for iron and improvements in machine tools were other factors. England by the 1850s possessed an extensive network of railways. Trains were transporting both people and goods 30-50 miles per hour--speeds unimaginable even a decade earlier. It was freight that became the mainstay of the railroads. The British Government in the 1850s intervened to regulate the railroads, creating monopolies to prevent chaotic building, but limiting prices. Even so, by World War I (1914-18) British railroads had developed problems--over capitalization, rising costs, and state regulation. British railroad construction was soon followed by construction on the continent, in many cases financed by British investors. British equipment and technicians also played an important role. France in the 1840s built a railway system combining private and public enterprise. German railway construction was complicated by the many different states. Army commanders by the 1860s saw the military potential of railways. Railways played an important role in the America Civil War (1861-65) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Railways were especially important in linking large countries like America, Canada, and Russia.

Industrial Revolution

No development in modern history has affected individuals more than the Industrial Revolution and the manufacture of textiles played a key role. Historians debate just where and when the Industrial Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. Some authors might take issue with this, but this would be the most widely accepted view. The first industry affected was the textile or clothing industry--one reason that the study of the clothing industry is so important. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The abundant supplies of coal in Britain combined with the technological advances by British inventors in part explain why Britain led the way in European industrial expansion. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficient source of energy that could be put to work in virtually every industry and because inexpensive energy was available, helped develop new industries. The railroad was essentially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transported at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted around the world. At at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to efficiently move cargoes at low cost around the world.

Rails

Railways pre-dated the steam engine. By the mid-18th century the plate or rail track were being used to move coal from the pit head to the colliery or furnace, especially in England. The coal was powered by ponies or people. After the turn of the 19th century, flat were being used outside London, Sheffield, and Munich. Soon they spread to other large cities as well.

Steam Engine

Technical improvements in the manufacture of textiles was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. Until the steam industry, labor saving machinery was basically limited to areas where cheap energy was available, primarily next to swift flowing rivers. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficient source of energy that could be put to work anywhere that inexpensive energy sources were available. Steam engines were harnessed by the textile industry, but gradually adapted to drive many other key industries. The economies and efficiencies of steam power helped to launch whole new industries. Steam power not only reduced manufacturing costs, but also transportation costs--a key component to large scale manufacturing. The railroad was essentially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transported at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted around the world. At at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to efficiently move cargoes at low cost around the world.

Chronology

Railways appeared in the early-19th century and were a major factor in the economy by the mid-19th century.

Economic Importance

The new railroads which rapidly spread across Europe and America helped spread the new industrial economy. Europe's rapidly expanding industrial economy created a need for improved and more efficient transport.

Biography

Richard Trevithick first employed an engine to pull trucks--at a Cornish mine. A railway was opened in the 1830s from Liverpool to Manchester. It was here that George Stephenson employed "Rocket" to pull a train of cars reaching 14 miles per hour.

Countries

The history of railroads varied from country to country. England was the first country to be extensively connected by rails. The railroads, however, have played a major role in the economics and history of many countries. By the end of the 19th Century the railway linked Europe. It was now possible to catch a train anywhere in Europe and travel in comfort to a foreign country. Rail travel from London to Paris, Berlin or Vienna and other major European cities was now possible. At the border there was little formality and people could travel freely from one country to another. It was this ability for children to experience international rail travel that led many children to have real adventurous railway journeys.

England

England was the first country to be heavily covered by railroads in part because England led Europe in the industrial revolution. England experienced a railroad building boom in the 1840s. Railroads faced many difficulties, including vested interests. Canal operators, turnpike trusts, and horse breeders opposed the railroad, but the effciency of moving goods over rails made the railroads impossible to resist. Falling prices for iron and improvements in machine tools were other factors. England by the 1850s possessed an extensive network of railways. Trains were transporting both people and goods 30-50 miles per hour--speeds unimaginable even a decade earlier. It was freight that became the mainstay of the railroads. The British Government in the 1850s intervened to regulate the railroads, creating monopolies to prevent chaotic building, but limiting prices. Even so, by World War I (1914-18) British railroads had developed problems--over capitalization, rising costs, and state regulation. British railroad construction was soon followed by construction on the continent, in many cases financed by British investors. British equipment and technicians also played an important role.

France

France in the 1840s built a railway system combining private and public enterprise.

Germany

German railway construction was complicated by the many different states.

United States

Railroads played a major role in American history. Canals like the Erie Canal played an important role in America's early economic growth. They were, however, soon eclipsed by the inherent efficiency of the railroads. The canals and railroads helped open the west, but by the 1850s there was still no connection between the east and west. The railway helped in the opening up of America. Many hundreds of immigrants traveled by train to their new homes. To travel to California, however, one had to trek overland by wagon train or sail. There were two routes, one around Cape Horn or two make a land portage across Central America. The desire to connect the east and west coast by rail played an important role in the coming of the Civil War. Southerners wanted a southern route and northerners a norther route. The greatest proponent of the trans-continental railway was Senator Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois who was willing to compromise with the South to get his railway. The greater industrial power of the North including a much more extensive railway infrastructure proved decisive in the Civil War (1861-65). The commitment to build the railway was made during the Civil war, but real progress only occurred after the War. The Union Pacific was chartered in 1862. The Union Pacific built west from Omaha and the Central Pacific built east. The two rail lines met at Promitory Heights, Utah (1869). Railways by the 1890s linked all parts of the country. Travellers could go by train to any part of the country. For the first half of the 20th century, the railroads were the main way Americans traveled from place to place. It was at the railway stations that Americans said their goodbyes and welcomed family home. This did not change until after World War II when as a result of the post-War boom that Americans began buying cars and the Federal Government began an extensive highway building program. And for longer trips people began flying.

Military Importance

Army commanders by the 1860s saw the military potential of railways. Railways played an important role in the America Civil War (1861-65) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

Nation Building

Railways were especially impotant in linking large countries like America, Canada, and Russia. America completed the first trans-continental railway in 1867 following the Civil War. The Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia completed during the 1900s?, however, dwarfed the American achievement an was built almost entirely by hand labor.

Children and the Railway

Literature

The railway had a big impact upon boys because it caught their imagination. Many dreamed of becoming engine drivers and working on the railway. Lots of children received a toy train set as a Christmas present. Children’s authors wrote about train journeys that were settings for adventurous stories. In the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels the children travel by train to their cousin’s home and soon after their arrival they are involved in an adventure story. In C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories the railway is an important aspect of going to Narnia. At the beginning of the books the children travel by train to the home of their uncle. In subsequent books they are whisked away from the platform while they waited for a train and in the final novel they are traveling on a train when the magic comes and takes them to Narnia. Edith Nesbit wrote a story called The Railway Children. It is about a family who leave London and go to live in Yorkshire. The railway is the link between their new life and the one they lived in London. The children are befriended by a host of railway personnel. They enjoy watching the trains go. The railway station is the setting by which the children are re-united with their father. Children liked the railway because it took them on holiday to the seaside or to visit their uncles and aunts.

William Woodruff

William Woodruff was about 9 when he traveled by train from Blackburn, to a small village called Bamber Bridge. It was the first time he had been away from his family. He spent the summer with his two aunts. He traveled alone and looked forward to the summer holidays in the country. He enjoyed being with his aunts who took him on walks and indulged him in lots of treats. This became a regular summer activity for William. He stayed with his aunts for about a month before being put on the train to travel back to Blackburn.

Douglas Sedden

Douglas Sedden was an American boy who went everywhere with his parents. They were very wealthy and liked going on European tours. They traveled by ship to Europe and then traveled to lots of places by train. Douglas was then a boy of 7 years. On one occasion they traveled to Paris on a night train. Douglas found this exciting and enjoyed traveling in a sleeping compartment where he had a bed and slept throughout the journey. When the holiday was over they caught the Paris to Cherbourg Boat train and boarded a ship and had an adventurous voyage back to America. The picture shows Douglas dressed in fashionable clothes. He is dressed in a short panted white suit, full-length stockings, black boots and on his head is a hat.

The NAZIs

The railway took on a sinister aspect with the advent of the Judith Kerr, in her book ‘ When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,’ wrote about how she, her brother and mother escaped by train from NAZI Germany. Other children were able to escape from NAZI persecution in the same way. Kurt Fuchel was born in Vienna in 1931. His father was a banker and his mother was at home to care for him. Kurt was the center of their lives. For the first 7 years he lived an idyllic life. He liked school and enjoyed going there. Life in Austria was good. From this period is a surviving photograph showing Kurt in his school clothes with a school satchel over his shoulders. He looks a happy and contented schoolboy. 1938 was the year he noticed things change. Horrible things started to happen to him. Lots of children chased him and called him names. Sometimes bigger boys roughed him up. Then suddenly one day he could not go to school anymore. He found all this bewildering. He began to fear the night. Jewish people were not liked anymore. His parents knew there was no escape for them but they thought that there was a chance for Kurt to leave Vienna and live in another country where he would be safe His parents were able to make arrangements for Kurt to leave Austria on a refugee train to Britain--the Kindertransport. The day came for him to travel and he went with his parents to the railway station. He carried a haversack and his father carried his suitcase. There was an emotional farewell at the station. Kurt hugged his father and mother. They looked pale and sad and stayed on the platform until the train was out of sight. The journey was an ordeal for Kurt. He suffered from an intestine weakness and was sick several times throughout the journey. He arrived in Britain unkempt and smelly. He must have looked a terrible sight but a kindly couple called Percy and Mariam Cohen took him in. Mariam remembers seeing Kurt for the first time. He looked bewildered, pale and filthy whose clothes smelled of sick. If a child needed a good home it was Kurt. So the Cohen’s took him home. They cared for him throughout the war years. A photograph shows Kurt in a typical English short pants school uniform. He is wearing a school cap, jersey, white shirt and tie. It was thought that Kurt’s parents had perished in the NAZI death camps. In 1946 word came that Kurt’s mum and dad had survived the holocaust. They had fled Austria and settled in the South of France. Several French families had cared for them throughout the war. He was 16 when he was reunited with his parents in 1947. Kurt Fuchel was one of 10,000 refugee children who were brought by the Kindertransport trains to Britain.

The Railway and American Children

Orphan Trains

It was the railway that was used to take orphaned children from New York to new families in the mid west throughout the 19th Century. Many children are thankful to this organisation for the chance they were given to find new families to start a new life. One family involved in the orphan trains was the Lawyer boys.

Lawyer boys

The four Lawyer brothers were not orphaned. They had a mum and dad. They seemed to be making out until the day their mum left home and was never seen again. The boy’s father was blind and he tried his best to look after them. Eventually it was decided to let their grandparents care for the boys. This arrangement worked fine until their grandfather died. The boys were taken into care. They lived in an orphanage for a while. The boys were called Alclo, Noah, Arthur and James. Their plight became known to the ‘ Children’s Aid Society.’ They took charge of the boys. They sent them on an orphan train to Missouri. It was a hard and uncomfortable rail journey. The train ran day and night. At some stops the boys were allowed off the train so that they could play. When the train arrived at Sedalia the boys were taken off the train. They were very scared little boys and were afraid of the future. Foster parents were found for them. Unfortunately they were not kept together and each went to a different family. Noah went to live with a dairy farmer who treated him like his own son. Alclo and James were not quite so lucky. Alclo had to be moved to several families before a suitable placement could be found. Arthur was found a good home and was well looked after. Even though the brothers were separated they managed to keep in contact with each other. There is a photograph of the boys, which might have been taken before the journey or shortly afterwards shows them with their friends. They are wearing suits and boots. They all have white shirts and some of the boys are wearing ties. It shows a happy group of boys. They believed that had they not gone on the Orphan Train they would not have survived their childhood.

Model Railroads

Trains were big, woeful, and noisy. All characteristics which attracted the interest of boys. Most of the children interested in model railroads were boys. Lionel in the United States became famous for building electric toy trains. I think this became a popular pass time for boys (of all ages) during the 1920s. I remember being fascinated by the model train set by my father and brother. They had a wonderful set. I was a little to young to work on it myself. One of the problems with model railroading is that it requires a good bit of permanent space. So beyond the cost of the trains and track, you had to have a house that was big enough to set aside a space for the train set ups. British boys were keen on "train spotting"--identifying individual locomotives. Toy trains were also very popular in Germany. We are less sure about France and Italy.

School Trips

School children became very familiar with trains. This was especially the case in Europe. Many school children travel to school on trains. This is the case both for children attending boarding school as well as commuters attending day schools. This was especially the case before World War II when privately owned cars were not as common as they are today, but trains continue to be widely used even today. This is much more so in Europe than in America. The train is a widely used passenger service in Europe while in America it i primarily used for freight. Even though children are very familiar with trains, they are still fascinated by them. Popular school field trips involve visits to train stations and other facilities as well as to railway museums.

Train spotting

Training is a kind of hobby combining collecting and birding (bird watching). It is collecting in a sense, but because one can not afford to buy a locomotive, let alone bring it home, train spotters instead write down the locomotive number of every train they see. Rather like bird watchers noting down the species they manage to spot. A HBC reader has sent along this description of the sport. I'm not sure who actually wrote it. "Walk along the platform of any station in Britain on a Saturday afternoon and you will see them, huddled together, or standing apart. Clad in less than fashionable clothing (traditionally the “anorak” of legend) they wait for the next train. They record the numbers in their little books and sip tea from their thermos flasks. In Britain “train spotting” is regarded as the lowest, most obsessive, saddest pastime there is. Indeed, both the word “Train spotter” and their favoured attire “anorak” have become synonymous with all that is obsessive and absurd. The participants of this occupation are universally looked down upon – in popular stereo! type they are spotty, socially dysfunctional teenage boys (almost always boys) who can’t think of anything better to do with their weekend than stand in the rain and jot down train numbers." There is a lovely little Scottish film in which train spotting is features--"Train spotting" (1996). We have noted a nice website where a boy from the Lancaster Royal Grammar School describes his train spotting.

Modern World

Railroads are no longer as glamerous as they once were. They continue, however, to play a major commercial role in moving freight. They are also important in passenger service, although this varies from country to country. Some counrties have developed modern high speed trains. In today’s world many boys still find railway journeys exciting and adventurous--although not as many as was once the case. Many still have fun from playing with their model railways. An English reader reports, "My 11-year old nephew was always a railway child. His parents call him Hudson Brunel or H.B for short. He finds it humorous to be referred to by the names of two railway personalities. His uncle worked on the railway and his dad always took him on the train to his shop. While he played he was not far from the railway and he used to watch the trains go by. He sometimes waved to the railway driver and the passengers. They always waved back. So it came has no surprise to learn that H. B. is a model railway enthusiast. Not only has he a model railway but he also is a volunteer helper at a local railway preservation society near to his home. Every weekend he helps with the running of the trains. He has an enjoyable time with his fellow railway enthusiasts learning about the every day running of the trains. He is involved in helping workers to maintain the track and the rolling stock. In the summer he is a porter and escorts passengers to their seats on the train. The railway publicity leaflet shows H.B wearing a 1950 styled British Railway porters uniform. H. B is testimony that the magic and imagination begun so long ago in the 18th Century by George Stephen is still alive today."

Sources

Carr, Judith. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Collins, 1971). ISBN0006754007

Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia.

Nesbit, Edith. The Railway Children.

Nock, O.S. Father of the Railways: The story of George Stephenson (1950).

Patrick and Trickel Orphan Trains to Missouri (University of Missouri Press, 1997). ISBN 0826211216.

Spedden, Daisy Corning Stone. Polar: the Titanic Bear.

Smiles, Samuel. 1858 The Life of George Stephenson.

Spedden, Douglas. (Madison, 1994) ISBN70316806250.

Woodruff, William. The Road to Nan End (Abacus Books, 1993). ISBN 0349115214

Into the Arms of Strangers: The Story of the Kindertransport. A video film.






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Created: June 10, 2003
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Last updated: 12:05 AM 11/2/2009