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Railroads and the American People

H. Roger Grant

Publication Year: 2012

In this social history of the impact of railroads on American life, H. Roger Grant concentrates on the railroad's "golden age," 1830-1930. To capture the essence of the nation's railroad experience, Grant explores four fundamental topics—trains and travel, train stations, railroads and community life, and the legacy of railroading in America—illustrating each topic with carefully chosen period illustrations. Grant recalls the lasting memories left by train travel, both of luxurious Pullman cars and the grit and grind of coal-powered locals. He discusses the important role railroads played for towns and cities across America, not only for the access they provided to distant places and distant markets but also for the depots that were a focus of community life. Finally, Grant reviews the lasting heritage of the railroads as it has been preserved in word, stone, paint, and memory. Railroads and the American People is a sparkling paean to American railroading by one of its finest historians.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Railroads Past and Present


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Nearly twenty years ago an editor at a New York City publishing house suggested that I write a social history of American railroads. The idea appealed to me, and a contract and advance were forthcoming. Yet I could not rapidly deliver a manuscript, not because I had lost interest, but because I changed jobs, ...

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pp. xi-xiv

For more than 150 years railroads have exerted a pronounced influence on the American people. The iron horse literally became the engine for development and general well-being. By routinizing movements of raw materials, goods, and people, railroads orchestrated the growth of the national economy. ...

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1. Trains

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pp. 1-94

From the time that the first train in America turned a wheel, the railroad generated excitement. Powered by its captivating steam locomotive, the moving train was much more than an instrument of progress; it was a true wonder. In his 1876 “To a Locomotive in Winter” poet Walt Whitman captured the essence of the attraction for this mechanical marvel: ...

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2. Stations

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pp. 95-164

It would be during the “Demonstration Period,” roughly the 1830s and 1840s, that the railroad station evolved. At the dawn of intercity railroads, officials did not fret much about depot design or construction, instead concentrating on tracks, bridges, and other physical aspects of their new lines. ...

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3. Communities

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pp. 165-247

When railroads made their debut, there were Americans who seemed uncertain about this exotic transportation form, failing to foresee that rail lines would rapidly become the nation’s economic arteries. Individuals occasionally expressed real hostility. “If God had designed that His intelligent creatures should travel at the frightful speed of 15 miles an hour by steam, ...

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4. Legacy

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pp. 248-290

The legacy of the railroad in American life is enormous, extensively documented, and remembered by passing generations. In the twentieth century the automobile became the dominant form of personal transport and in the process helped to shape the national identity. Still, the railroad had a greater initial impact; ...

Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 291-296


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pp. 297-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780253006370
E-ISBN-10: 0253006376
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006332

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 122 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Railroads Past and Present
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OCLC Number: 817813517
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Railroads and the American People

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Subject Headings

  • Railroads -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Railroads -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Railroad travel -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Railroad travel -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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