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The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

the nation's first common carrier

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was incorporated on February 28, 1827 by a group of 25 Baltimore merchants and bankers afraid of losing business to the proposed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; Philip Thomas was listed as president of the corporation, George Brown as treasurer. On April 24 of that same year, the B&O was granted a charter to build the nation's first commercial rail line, from Baltimore to the Ohio River. Ground was broken for the railroad on July 4, 1828, with the first stone being laid by 90-year-old Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The first passenger and freight station was opened at Mount Clare on January 7, 1830, and the thirteen-mile stretch to Ellciott's Mills (later renamed Ellicott City) was opened for scheduled service on May 24, 1830. In August 1830, the B&O placed the first American-built locomotive, Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb, into service. The line reached Frederick on December 1, 1831, the nation's first railroad iron suspension bridge was completed in 1833, a branch to Washington, D.C. was opened in August 1835, and Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was reached in 1837.

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. The line continued west through Cumberland, Maryland, to Grafton, Virginia, where it turned northwest to reach the goal of its charter at Wheeling, Virginia, 379 miles from Baltimore, which was reached on January 1, 1853, almost 25 years after commencing construction. Another line was pushed west from Grafton to reach the Ohio River at Parkersburg, Virginia in 1856.

Despite being the victim of numerous Confederate raids during the Civil War, the B&O was able to keep its principal routes operating. After the war, the railroad began expanding again. In 1871, a bridge was constructed over the Ohio River, connecting the B&O with the Central Ohio Railroad.

While the B&O was expanding its original lines a number of other railroads were building new routes, and by the end of the 19th century the B&O was in financial distress. The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired controlling interest in the Baltimore & Ohio in 1901, and in 1963 both companies were acquired by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which became CSX Corporation in 1980. The B&O remained an independent entity within CSX until 1986, when it was fully merged into CSX.

B&O Railroad Historical Society
B&O Railroad Museum
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Network

Peter Cooper
Civil War

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The Robinson Library >> Economics >> Transportation and Communications >> Railroads and Rapid Transit Systems

This page was last updated on October 29, 2017.