Impact of Railroads (Industrial Revolution)

Where would we be today if it wasn't for railroads? Would cars and airplanes exist today? Would people still have to walk long distances to get across the continent. Here in this website, you will read about how the railroad has changed the world.

Railroads without engines were used in European coal mines as early as the mid-1500s. Men and animal pushed wagons loaded with ore along wooden tracks. Later, they used iron tracks and steam powered engines which were introduced in the late 1700s. In Wales in 1804, Richard Trevithick developed the first successful railroad steam locomotive. In 1810, George Stephenson also began studying steam engines. In 1825, the Stockton and Darling railway near Newcastle, England, became the first common company to use steam locomotives. In 1829, George Stephenson's "Rocket" won first prize in a contest that took place at Rainhill because Stephenson was the most experienced engineer at the time and his trains were far more advanced than the competitors.


Left: Photo of George Stephenson who had a great impact on the development of the steam powered train.

These advances in developing the railroad helped to increase safety and efficiency in coal mines. Before railroads were developed, coal mining was extremely dangerous. For example, the job of a Fireman was to hold a long stick with a candle at the end. The candle was supposed to explode any flammable gases that might be ahead. Also all the transportation of coal was done by hand. Coal was moved along horizontal tunnels by the basketful and hauled up a vertical shaft to the surface. Later, the underground movement of coal was speeded up by the utilization of ponies and carts on railroad. The production of coal increased steadily, from 2 1/2 million to more than 15 million tons by 1829.


Right: A drawing of how railroads were used for coal mining during the 1500's. As you can see (not very clear) that the prices for coal went down drastically during this time period.


Not only did people need better transportation, but manufacturered goods, raw materials and food also needed a quick, inexpensive mode of transportation. The availability of manufactured goods and food increased because the railroad provided quick transportation. Costs of products also decreased because of railroads. Population increased because food was available in a large variety at a low cost.

The entire Industrial Revolution was altered because of these accomplishments. Factories flourished because the demand for railroad parts and railroad tracks was very high. Thousands of people were employed in these factories and the lives of those people improved drastically.

Railroad became the dominant mode of land transportation in the last half of the 19th century. Railroads flourished in England, from 1,000 miles in 1836 to more than 7,000 miles built by 1852. Railroads provided a fast, inexpensive, convenient, and efficient mode of transportation for many passengers. By the 1850s, railways connected the Atlantic seaboard and the Midwest in the United States. In 1869, the first transcontinental route was completed to the Pacific coast. This provided the first transportation for passengers across North America.

Above: A modern day train which can be seen today. It was built in the 1960's

Railroads not only provides transportation, they also started the Transportation Revolution. Other forms of transportation were developed such as cars, airplanes, and subways. Railroad increased population and improved the lives of many people by transporting food and other goods. Just imagine if railroads were never invented:


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Locomotives of the 19th century.


(January 1, 2000)

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Vanderbilt, Cornelius. Auto Biography. 1959.

Cornelius Vanderbilt had a large influence in the building of railroads during the Industrial Revolution. A great number of railroads were built under his supervision and he writes about those experiences in his auto biography. This is a primary source because he was present during the building of the railroads and he writes about what it was like.


Wilinson, Philip, and Michael Pollard.

The Industrial Revolution. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994.

Created by,

Brian Yee

Garrick Wong