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Railroads Triumphant: The Growth, Rejection, and Rebirth of a Vital American Force / Edition 1

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Overview

In 1789, when the First Congress met in New York City, the members traveled to the capital just as Roman senators two thousand years earlier had journeyed to Rome, by horse, at a pace of some five miles an hour. Indeed, if sea travel had improved dramatically since Caesar's time, overland travel was still so slow, painful, and expensive that most Americans lived all but rooted to the spot, with few people settling more than a hundred miles from the ocean (a mere two percent lived west of the Appalachians). America in effect was just a thin ribbon of land by the sea, and it wasn't until the coming of the steam railroad that our nation would unfurl across the vast inland territory.
In Railroads Triumphant, Albro Martin provides a fascinating history of rail transportation in America, moving well beyond the "Romance of the Rails" sort of narrative to give readers a real sense of the railroad's importance to our country. The railroad, Martin argues, was "the most fundamental innovation in American material life." It could go wherever rails could be laid—and so, for the first time, farms, industries, and towns could leave natural waterways behind and locate anywhere. (As Martin points out, the railroads created small-town America just as surely as the automobile created the suburbs.) The railroad was our first major industry, and it made possible or promoted the growth of all other industries, among them coal, steel, flour milling, and commercial farming. It established such major cities as Chicago, and had a lasting impact on urban design. And it worked hand in hand with the telegraph industry to transform communication. Indeed, the railroads were the NASA of the 19th century, attracting the finest minds in finance, engineering, and law.
But Martin doesn't merely catalogue the past greatness of the railroad. In closing with the episodes that led first to destructive government regulation, and then to deregulation of the railroads and the ensuing triumphant rebirth of the nation's basic means of moving goods from one place to another, Railroads Triumphant offers an impassioned defense of their enduring importance to American economic life. And it is a book informed by a lifelong love of railroads, brimming with vivid descriptions of classic depots, lavish hotels in Chicago, the great railroad founders, and the famous lines. Thoughtful and colorful by turn, this insightful history illuminates the impact of the railroad on our lives.

America was in effect a thin ribbon of land along the Eastern coast until the steam railroad allowed our nation to unfurl across the vast inland territory. Here Albro Martin provides a fascinating history of rail transportation in America, giving readers a real sense of the railroad's importance to our country. 30 halftones.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Railroads were America's first big business, setting patterns of organization, management, finance, and technology that have been followed by most other businesses for 150 years. Martin's business history covers the railroads' rise to power in the 19th century, their decline for most of the 20th, and what he sees as their return to glory in the last decade; he regards government regulation as the chief villain and deregulation as the railroads' salvation. A synthesis the bibliography lists mostly secondary sources, the work is mildly but not controversially revisionist. Its topical rather than chronological organization is effective but does lead to some repetition. It belongs in most business history collections. History Book Club main selection.-- Paul B. Cors, Univ. of Wyoming Lib., Laramie
Booknews
Martin (history, formerly Harvard & Bradley) details the expansion of the US from a coast-hugging nation to its current population distribution along the rails. He is confident that environmental pressures and the efficiency of trains will return railroads to their deserved place at the top of land transport. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195038538
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/2/1992
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Albro Martin is Oglesby Professor of American Heritage, Emeritus, at Bradley University, and was previously Professor of Business History at Harvard University. He is also the author of Enterprise Denied: Origins of the Decline of American Railroads and James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest.

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