“Dirty Shirts” and “American Eunuchs”: Western Pennsylvania Confronts Its Railroad Investments, 1857–1863
- The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 144, Number 2, April 2020
- pp. 179-204
- Additional Information
Municipalities across the East and Midwest sought to speed railroad development in the 1850s by authorizing tens of millions in bonds to subscribe to stock in new projects. Expecting local lines to be completed quickly and to pay dividends consistently, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh anticipated that their more than $4 million in debt would cost little. But a lack of dividends amid economic downturn made the municipalities liable for interest to bondholders, most of whom were from Philadelphia. From 1857 to 1862, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh refused to enact and collect a massive tax increase ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Outraged charges of repudiation and rebellion from the east were more than matched by vituperative resistance meetings in the west. Though the two sides compromised in 1863, this bitter dispute deepened anti-railroad sentiment in western Pennsylvania, which would explode in the railroad strike of 1877.