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If, like us, you’ve ever looked for a quick-and-easy synopsis of North American railroads, you probably, also like us, have been disappointed. That’s why we at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art have created this feature, North American Railroad History in a Nutshell, which does the job in 30-some pictures and accompanying descriptions.

Nutshell’s parent is railroadheritage.org, a service of the Center that was developed with support from the North American Railway Foundation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nutshell doesn’t trace railroad history back as far as the creation of the wheel, then the track and the flanged wheel. But it does deal with the steam engine, whose invention mechanized more primitive railroads and enabled the easy distribution of natural resources and the fruits of industrialization and modern agriculture throughout the world’s inhabited continents.

The railroad revolution in the United States took only 50 years, between about 1830 and 1880. Besides distributing raw materials and goods, railroads helped settle the nation, taking immigrants to newly opened sections of the country and providing them with the materials to build communities, industries, and agricultural enterprises. Railroads enabled that work to be done quickly and, for passengers who were used to jolting rides on horseback and in horse-drawn conveyances, relatively comfortably.

The array of Nutshell images and their detailed descriptions begins with a c. 1849 daguerreotype of “Tioga,” an 1848 steam locomotive made in Philadelphia, and continues through the modern stories of ever-growing freight traffic, Amtrak, and preservation. You will glimpse how railroads influenced popular culture through consideration of a sheet-music cover that shows how composers, writers, playwrights, artists and toymakers reveled in railroading—-the new thing since the 1830s and ‘40s and still a vitally interesting thing for children and grownups alike.

Go to the first image and use the “Next” links to see each image and its description, then let us know what you think.

A print version of Nutshell, with about 50 images and expanded descriptive material, has been published as Railroad Heritage No. 21, and is available as a membership benefit. You also may purchase purchase single copies.

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Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
and Trainmen

Brotherhood's Relief and Compensation Fund
California State Railroad Museum
Center for Railroad Photography & Art
Cleveland Memory Project (CSU)
Kalmbach Publishing Co.
Lake Forest College Special Collections
McLean County Museum of History
Museum of the Rockies Photo Archive
Norfolk Southern Corporation
North American Railway Foundation
New York Transit Museum
Oakland Museum of California
Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

  About Copyright © 2013 Center for Railroad Photography & Art
Major support provided by the North American Railway Foundation