Wednesday, December 21, 2011

B&O - Did You Know?

Every once in a while this museum director gets to do a little history and in my travels around the Museum and in the collections I pop a note into a file, or copy an article or memoir of interest. In this blog article I thought I’d share some random fun facts about the B&O I’ve garnered over time. So, in the interest of entertainment, growing your knowledge another smidgeon, treating myself to a venue in which to share a story or two, and giving you something to file in your “did you know?” folder, here we go;

  • The first mile of track laid by the B&O from Mt. Clare (now part of the Museum’s right of way) follows the same path as a 17th century Indian trail, later a Colonial highway. Charles Carroll, Barrister, the builder of Mount Clare mansion oriented his new home in 1756 facing this Colonial highway (now facing the Museum’s railroad tracks) with a carriage path to his front door. Across this venerable road traveled George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Rochambeau’s great army on their way to defeat Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.
  • During the Spanish-America War the U.S. Army took extreme measures to ensure the protection of the major east coast ports against Spanish fleets in the Atlantic. In May 1898, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commandeered the B&O Railroad’s tugboat Transfer, fitted it with a temporary derrick and used the railroad’s tug to lower over 100 explosive submarine mines into Baltimore’s harbor.
  • In the first quarter of the 20th century the B&O Public Relations Department constructed a number of model train layouts in “O” scale, “S” scale and “HO” scale designed as traveling exhibits promoting the railroad. These layouts were built by the employees of the B&O’s Mt. Clare shops. The “O” gauge traveling model was constructed in 1936. Beginning in 1946, this layout made annual holiday appearances in Cincinnati, Ohio at the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company’s headquarters. In 1969, the railroad and the utility company worked out a long term loan relationship and, although upgraded and improved, the B&O Railroad’s 1936 vintage model railroad can still be seen in downtown Cincinnati on 4th Street at the Cinergy (former Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co.) headquarters each December.
  • It is widely known that Johns Hopkins was a principal shareholder in the B&O Railroad and that the bequest of his B&O stock brought both the University and Hospital into existence. As a result of Hopkins’ close relationship with the railroad B&O Presidents maintained a seat on the Johns Hopkins board of trustees. That tradition continues today with the current Chairman and CEO of CSX-the successor to the B&O.
  • The B&O was the first railroad to test the use of an electrically operated locomotive on April 29, 1851. Invented by Dr. Charles Grafton Page, electrical current was generated by a hand cranked electro-magnetic device.
  • The infant B&O Railroad established its headquarters in 1829 at the corner of Pratt and Poppleton Streets in Baltimore. Poppleton Street was named for Thomas H. Poppleton a noted cartographer who was hired by the City Board of Commissioners in 1812 “to survey new boundaries, lay out streets, select lots for public uses and harmonize street names…” Pratt Street was named for Charles Pratt (1719-1794) an English lawyer, judge and advocate of civil liberties. Charles Pratt was the first English noble to hold the title Earl of Camden…hmmm now where does that lead us?

And there you have it! A short list of somewhat useless but entertaining facts that will, most assuredly, elicit a gaze of wonderment at some upcoming holiday party! Oh…one more thing: did you know that the B&O Railroad Museum is the largest private non-profit railroad museum in the world?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a bright New Year.

Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director

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