The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, 1831-1840: a study in early railroad transportation

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University of Delaware
The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore railroad was the result of the union between four small lines stretching from Philadelphia across the Delaware peninsula to the Susquehanna River and down the western side of the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. Built in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the line represented the first link in a chain of roads connecting north and south, New York and New England with Baltimore, Washington and Virginia. ☐ The impetus for this and other railroads originated in the trade rivalry between the two terminal cities. By 1825, both Philadelphia and Baltimore were seeking methods of internal improvement that would secure trade from the hinterland. Canal projects ran rampant in the minds of capitalists in both cities. It was felt that whichever city gained easy communication with the interior of Pennsylvania would thereby emerge as the great trading center of the mid-Atlantic region. The Susquehanna River, the largest natural waterway into the interior was, therefore, the prize which both cities sought to control. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, for example, was an attempt on the part of Philadelphia to gain hegemony over the trade of the River. ☐ At the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the concept of railroad transportation was becoming popular. Pennsylvania was the first to attempt an application of this innovation to the trade problem. In 1823, the Pennsylvania legislature chartered a railroad to run from Philadelphia to Columbia on the Susquehanna. Agitation for a railroad from Baltimore to the Susquehanna did not begin, however, until 1828. By 1831, there was some hope on the part of a few Philadelphia capitalists that a line might be constructed to connect the two cities. As a result, application was made to the Pennsylvania legislature for a charter to construct a railroad from Philadelphia to the Delaware state line. This action was followed in Delaware with the chartering of the Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad Company to build a road from Pennsylvania to the Susquehanna River. In Maryland, application was made for a third company to operate under the title of the Delaware and Maryland Railroad. In the following year, the Baltimore and Port Deposit Railroad Company was chartered, thus completing, on paper, the line from Philadelphia to Baltimore. ☐ All tour lines met with failure in their initial funding efforts. Only the Baltimore and Port Deposit succeeded in raising enough capital to permit preliminary organization. As a result, three charters fell into disuse until 1835. At that time, interested capitalists such as Roswell L. Colt, Matthew Newkirk, James Canby, and Nicholas Biddle gained control of all tour railroads. Success followed the efforts of these men, and by late 1837, trains were in operation between Baltimore and the western side of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. In February, 1838, an organic union was consummated between the separate companies, and the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Company was formed. This important railroad continued its operations until it was finally merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1881.