Feb. 6, 1815: First railroad company in the U.S. gets approved


A replica of the steam carriage that John Stevens ran in Hoboken in 1826. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The history of the railroad in the U.S. often points back to this day, Feb. 6, in 1815. On that day, New Jersey issued the first railroad company charter in the country to John Stevens for the "New Jersey Railroad Company" to build between New Brunswick and Trenton.

Stevens had actually applied for a state railroad charter in 1811 but was denied because the idea was deemed too fantastical. Stevens, who had previously operated steamboats, then began a publicity campaign using pamphlets to advertise the benefits of “steam carriages.” This was particularly remarkable since, at the time, there were no steam-powered trains or locomotives in the U.S. Railroads were primarily carriages pulled on metal planks by horses.

Stevens eventually succeeded in getting his charter, but he continued to face skepticism and couldn’t get financing for his plans. In 1826, he showed off a steam train that ran around a small circular track he had built in Hoboken in order to generate interest in railroads. The public became excited about the future of steam locomotives, which initially had to be imported from Britain.

Trains eventually became the prominent mode of travel in the country in the late-1800s, though steam locomotives eventually fell out of use in the 1930s. They were then later replaced by the rise of cars and, later, planes.

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