Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828-1965

Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828-1965

by Mark Aldrich

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Death Rode the Rails: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828-1965 by Mark Aldrich

For most of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, railroads dominated American transportation. They transformed life and captured the imagination. Yet by 1907 railroads had also become the largest cause of violent death in the country, that year claiming the lives of nearly twelve thousand passengers, workers, and others. In Death Rode the Rails Mark Aldrich explores the evolution of railroad safety in the United States by examining a variety of incidents: spectacular train wrecks, smaller accidents in shops and yards that devastated the lives of workers and their families, and the deaths of thousands of women and children killed while walking on or crossing the street-grade tracks.

The evolution of railroad safety, Aldrich argues, involved the interplay of market forces, science and technology, and legal and public pressures. He considers the railroad as a system in its entirety: operational realities, technical constraints, economic history, internal politics, and labor management. Aldrich shows that economics initially encouraged American carriers to build and operate cheap and dangerous lines. Only over time did the trade-off between safety and output—shaped by labor markets and public policy—motivate carriers to develop technological improvements that enhanced both productivity and safety.

A fascinating account of one of America's most important industries and its dangers, Death Rode the Rails will appeal to scholars of economics and the history of transportation, technology, labor, regulation, safety, and business, as well as to railroad enthusiasts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801894022
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 1,179,560
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mark Aldrich is the Marilyn Carlson Nelson Professor of Economics Emeritus at Smith College and the author of Safety First: Technology, Labor, and Business in the Building of American Work Safety, 1870–1939, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

List of Tables xi

Preface xiii

Introduction 1

1 In the Beginning: American Railroad Dangers and Safety, 1828-1873 10

2 Off the Tracks: The Changing Pattern of Derailments, 1873-1900 42

3 Collisions and the Rise of Regulation, 1873-1900 70

4 The Major Risks from Minor Accidents, 1873-1900 97

5 Engineering Success and Disaster: Bridge Design and Failure, 1840-1900 130

6 Coping with the Casualties: Companies, Workers, and Injuries, 1850-1900 155

7 Safety Crisis and Safety First, 1900-1920 181

8 Lobbying for Regulation: Transporting Hazardous Substances, 1903-1930 216

9 Private Enterprise and Public Regulation: Safety between the Wars, 1922-1939 237

10 Safety in War and Decline, 1940-1965 271

Conclusion: The Political Economy of Railroad Safety, 1830-1965 303

Appendix 1 Nineteenth-Century Railroad Accident and Casualty Statistics 309

Appendix 2 Casualties and Accidents from Interstate Commerce Commission Statistics, 1888-1965 321

List of Abbreviations 341

Notes 343

Essay on Sources 421

Index 439

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