We The Kids

“Returning God
to America’s Story”

Building America and Expanding Narrow Minds with Iron Rails – By Daniel Sheridan

#OTD, June 9, 1781, a man was born whose world-changing invention built America.

In the 1830s, the world began progressing technologically at unprecedented levels through the efforts of inventors busily applying their talents for humanity’s sake. One revolutionized travel, helped build America, and expanded narrow minds as a by-product. Here’s the story. 

In 1807, Bostonians built the first American railroads, called tramways, which were temporary rail lines designed to transfer loads out of coal mines. Meanwhile, boats and factories utilized steam engines. One day, a clever inventor combined the two technologies.

George Stephenson, an English civil and mechanical engineer, was born June 9, 1781. In 1814, he invented a steam engine running on wheels grooved onto rails dragging attached cars loaded with cargo.

People mocked Stephenson’s contraption. A parliamentary committee man interrogating Stephenson sarcastically asked,

“Suppose, Mr. Stephenson, that a cow were to get in front of your engine moving at full speed, what would happen?”

George, however, unmoved by the little faith cynic, replied with his Northumberland accent,

“It wad be vera bad for the coo!” 

In 1821, Stephenson engineered and oversaw the Stockton and Darlington railway construction, becoming the first public railway four years later.  

Americans adopted Stephenson’s invention by 1830. Within a few years, Americans could travel from New York to Portland, Oregon, at the same time it previously took to go from New York to Portland, Maine, in the days of John Quincy Adams. 

Before the railroad, people traveled at a snail’s pace by wagon carrying small loads, which was not easy, especially maneuvering through muddy trails and weather conditions. After Stephenson’s invention appeared in America, freight trains crossed the country through any weather carrying large loads at lightning speeds. 

The railroad lowered transportation costs, encouraged travel, and added new cities and states to the American landscape. America became smaller and easier to govern, too. 

Furthermore, the railroad expanded people’s minds. Mark Twain said that travel cures bigotry. Efficient transportation exposes people to new worlds and promotes expansive commercial exchanges, bringing people closer and more frequent contact and eliminating bigotry and prejudice from the hearts of the sincere. 

In 1830, Americans laid 23 miles of track for horse-drawn cars. By 1840, they embedded 2,800 miles of rail powered by Stephenson’s invention and blanketed over 30,000 miles of the country by 1860. Railroads and steamboats put westward expansion on the fast track.

On this day, June 9, 1781, George Stephenson was born.

–Daniel Sheridan

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