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Early Twentieth Century Railroads


Railroad Passenger Improvements
Before 1900, most railroad cars were built primarily of wood. As accidents involving wooden cars increased, composite steel and full-steel passenger cars began to appear, like this steel-built Pullman sleeping car, "Fernwood".
Before 1900, most railroad cars were built primarily of wood. As accidents involving wooden cars increased, composite steel and full-steel passenger cars began to appear, like this steel-built Pullman sleeping car, "Fernwood".
California State Railroad Museum

The railroad passenger benefitted greatly from technology's advance. For example, the introduction of steam heating got rid of the coal stove, always prone to uneven warming and unsafe in the event of collision. Following Edison's successful demonstration of the incandescent light bulb, electric lighting was introduced aboard passenger trains (although only on the finer trains; it would take until World War II for many railroads to fully convert to electricity for lighting). ­Tanks for fresh water would be introduced as well, allowing drinking and washing to be undertaken in good hygiene. And the all-steel passenger car's introduction in 1906 helped to assure greater safety in the event of a collision, at the same time reducing the likelihood of fire if such a misfortune did occur.

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Electricity eventually provided clean, safe lighting aboard passenger cars, but a related event in Richmond, Virginia, in 1887 was almost immediately of concern to America's steam railroads. When inventor Frank J. Sprague successfully electrified that city's street railway system, the stage was set for the large-scale application of street railways to towns and cities of all sizes. Up to this time, only the largest cities could support the necessary high ridership or large capital investments required for horse- or cable-propelled railway systems.

In a pre-automobile age, Sprague's success meant that city workers could now get to and from their jobs much more efficiently; it also meant that development was spurred to the edges of cities, a precursor to our modern-day pattern of suburban living.


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