Cover

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Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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p. vii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

The history of railroading in Illinois looks from a distance like an orderly sequence of events. The story, seemingly preordained, tells of rise, fall, and tentative renaissance. After a slow, parochial start—so the narrative goes—railroad...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xii-xiv

This book has been many years in the making, and the debts incurred are staggering. It is a pleasure to acknowledge them, beginning with two historians who have been incredibly supportive throughout. To Roger Grant I owe massive...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xv

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1 Preliminaries

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pp. 1-5

The topography of Illinois is particularly conducive to railroading. Trains move best over flat land, and the state has few hills of any size and nothing that could be mistaken for a mountain. Its 56,400 square miles vary from a low of 279 feet above sea level to the 1,235 feet of Charles Mound...

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2 Development Delayed

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pp. 6-11

The earliest attempts to build steam-powered railroads in Illinois failed miserably. Several private projects laid a few miles of track before going bankrupt; two short coal lines used animals to haul wagons; and an ambitious state-funded network fell victim to an economic depression—...

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3 Optimism Revived

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pp. 12-23

Travelers in Illinois during the 1840s may have paused to puzzle over sporadic strips of artificially flattened ground, mute testimony to the recent infatuation with railroads. In Bureau County, for example, work on the original Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) got no further than “cutting away strips of timber” and leveling small stretches of territory for rails that never arrived. The Jacksonville...

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4 Cultivating the Prairie

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pp. 24-30

In the beginning, railroads needed land and the federal government had it. For settlers, it seemed in plentiful supply. The earliest European immigrants entered an apparently empty territory rich in resources and potential. Initial colonization—despite charters from British...

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5 Financing Railroads

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pp. 31-41

Railroads drew Illinois into a global network of capital and capitalists. Fewer than 50 miles of track existed in the state in 1850; by 1860 the Prairie State’s 2,500 route miles connected it with a world marketplace, thanks primarily to foreign money and the growth of Chicago. The iron for all that track was scarce, and much of it had to come from overseas, primarily Great Britain. Rails told only part of the story: railroads needed rolling stock...

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6 Conflagrations and Expansion

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pp. 42-56

The railroad-building surge of the 1850s made Chicago into an international marketplace and would help the North win the Civil War. Railroads transformed Illinois by bringing in people and capital, mechanizing and growing the grain trade, and dramatically expanding the labor force. A national financial downturn in 1857 caused an immediate drop in traffic volume, brought expansion to a halt,...

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7 Illinois Railroad Labor

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pp. 57-72

As Confederate forces were winning the Battle of Chancellorsville and Union troops prepared to lay siege to Vicksburg, a group of disgruntled railroad engineers met secretly in Marshall, Michigan. Unhappy about the treatment they were receiving at the hands of their supervisors, they decided to assert their republican rights and defend themselves from arbitrary rule. They formed the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), a...

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8 A Kaleidoscope of Regulations

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pp. 73-80

Strikes alienated customers, angered politicians, and fomented a climate of mistrust. Passengers and shippers began to feel that railroad corporations wielded too much influence. Politicians at every level—from municipal to federal—created regulations to address their concerns. Legal precedents based on US Supreme Court cases originating in Illinois gave the federal government...

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9 Panic and Innovation

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pp. 81-87

Regulators could do little to help the railroad industry in the face of global economic downturns, though their strictures did not help the bottom line. The capital needed to build railroads came from the Netherlands and Great Britain, from New York and Rock Falls. Financiers and farmers proffered their savings in hopes of earning a profit, but sometimes disaster struck. Connecting with a transatlantic economy could prove painful, as events in 1873 would demonstrate. In that...

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10 Bridge Building and “Overbuilding”

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pp. 88-102

Illinois railroad expansion began to fall behind national growth rates in the 1870s and 1880s. For the decade of the 1870s, railroads built 3,095 route miles in Illinois, adding 64 percent compared with 76 percent nationally, but in the 1880s, Illinois’s 26 percent fell dramatically behind the nation’s 79 percent of added mileage. The reasons were simple: railroads continued to push farther west, while...

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11 Excursions and Interurbans

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pp. 103-112

Railroads created new markets by advertising special excursion trains for vacationers. Long-distance holiday services gained in popularity as Niagara Falls, the Florida coasts, and other locales became fashionable destinations for escape-minded Illinoisans. Growth in this area did not hinder the development of locally oriented interurban railroads around the turn of the twentieth century. Usually powered by overhead electrical wires and using lightweight equipment, interurbans attracted...

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12 Coal and Competition

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pp. 113-126

Coal lies beneath two-thirds of Illinois and has been mined at one time or another in three-quarters of the state’s counties. More than 7,400 mines have operated within the Prairie State’s borders. Illinois is in a bituminous (soft coal) field also covering much of Indiana, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania, providing a source of power for individuals and industries along the East Coast and into the Midwest. The price of Illinois coal fluctuated with national demand trends and regulatory shifts, creating periods of...

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13 Progressive Regulation

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pp. 127-136

The perceived excesses symbolized by the Reid-Moore syndicate’s bleeding of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway contributed to a political and social climate conducive to further regulation. Behind this renewed regulatory fervor was a fear of dependence on enormous economic entities. Corporations appeared to be getting too big, too powerful, and too likely to control an entire industry. Democratic republics were not supposed to give...

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14 World War I and the 1920s

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pp. 137-145

The First World War—or the “war to end all wars,” as President Woodrow Wilson called it—nearly brought private ownership of the railroads to an end. Refusing to cooperate and unwilling to coordinate train movements, the lines became so congested in the East and so empty in the West that the federal government took them over. Plans were prepared, and seriously considered, to leave the trains in government hands at war’s end...

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15 Depression, Dieselization, and Another War

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pp. 146-158

The Great Depression prepared the railroad industry for another world war. The twin pains of unemployment and lost revenues forced railroads to reexamine their operations. Investment in building projects enhanced capacity, which, combined with new equipment, gave many companies the ability to respond quickly and positively to American entry into the war in 1941. Unlike World War...

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16 Postwar Challenges

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pp. 159-169

World War II was the last golden age of railroading in the United States. Between 1935 and 1945 in Illinois, freight revenues more than doubled, passenger income increased by over 300 percent, and the network operated as smoothly as could be expected given the emergency conditions prevailing. Things would deteriorate after 1945, but that could not be known at the time and railroad executives exuded optimism following V-J Day. A bright...

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17 National Solutions?

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pp. 170-178

The age of the private railroad passenger train finally ended in 1971. Declining revenues, customers siphoned off by other modes, and bad service precipitated the transfer of most common-carrier passenger trains from the railroads to the federal government. Railroad corporations, which had precious little time for celebrating glittering pasts, saving famous trains, or reducing large deficits, could then put all their energies toward surviving....

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18 Salvation

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pp. 179-188

The collapse of the Rock Island and the failure of Penn Central sent shockwaves throughout the railroad industry and beyond. The former suggested that recovery would be a slow process, while the latter indicated that mergers alone could not save the trains. A dramatic shift was needed or they would vanish completely. The ICC paid attention to the consequences of delaying merger proposals, and a period of consolidation followed. Then, in 1980, reacting to the continued decline of the industry, the federal...

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Epilogue

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pp. 189-192

Sown into the success of the railroad industry were the seeds of its own decline. Well into the twentieth century the trains went everywhere and carried everything, exercising a power critics called monopolistic and dangerous. Farmers and small businesses resented their dependence on the railroads, believing the corporations were squeezing inordinately large and unjustified profits out of small producers. Responding to popular grievances,...

Notes

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pp. 193-204

Bibliography

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pp. 205-212

Index

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pp. 213-216

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About the Author

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pp. 217-217

Simon Cordery researches, writes, and rides the rails on both sides of the Atlantic. He is a historian specializing in the nineteenth century, with a particular interest in and appreciation for the railroad industry. He serves as chair of the Inductions Committee of the National Railroad Hall...