On Christmas Day, December 25, 1830, the Best Friend of Charleston became the first regularly scheduled steam locomotive passenger train in the United States. The locomotive made its initial run on the first six miles of track of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. Chartered in 1827, the same year that the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was incorporated, the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company steamed out of Charleston. The new line was designed to make Charleston competitive with Savannah, Georgia, for the cotton trade.
According to the previous day’s Charleston Mercury, regular times for leaving the station would be “8 o’clock, at 10 A.M., at 1, and at half past 3.” The article stated, “It [Best Friend] is said to have moved on some occasions at the rate of 30 miles per hour…When drawing two Cars with 41 Passengers, it went at the average rate of nearly 16 and where the Road was straight, at the rate of 20…per hour.” This breakneck speed was achieved by a six-horsepower engine weighing three tons “exclusive of the wood and water for keeping it in continued action.”
Over the next three years the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company became, for a time, the world’s longest railway line—136 miles. The company was a predecessor of J. P. Morgan’s Southern Railway Company, which grew out of the realignment of southern railways following the Civil War.
- Search on the term South Carolina, or any other state, in Railroad Maps, 1828-1900 to see maps related to the development of transport in that state. The Railroad Maps collection illustrates the growth of travel and settlement as well as the development of industry and agriculture throughout the U.S.
- Search the photographic collections on the term Charleston, South Carolina, for images of the city.
- Search on railroad in Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historical American Engineering Record, 1933-Present to view photographs and data sheets of railroads across the U.S.
- Search on railroad and train in the collection Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip to listen Southern songs and “hollers” featuring railroad themes such as “I Ain’t Goin’ Work on the Railroad“.
- Search on railroad in California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell to read a transcript of the lyrics of the ballad of legendary railroad man Casey Jones and to listen to several performances of this folksong.
- Search on railroad and train in the following American sheet music collections:
- Search on railroad in The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 External collection to find images of Chinese laborers building the Pacific Railroad.
- Search Today in History on the term railroad to learn more about the importance of railroads in the shaping of the nation. Features include the charter of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the opening of the Oahu Railway and Land Company, the completion of the Florida East Coast Railway, and the first train robbery.