The Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Company, Americas first common carrier, was chartered on February 28th 1827 by a group of Baltimore businessmen to ensure traffic would not be lost to the proposed Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Construction began on July 4th 1828 with the laying of the first stone in a grand ceremony attended by the honorable Charles Carroll, the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. The early horse drawn rail lines were made of wood rails with iron straps laid upon stones. The first stone, now located in the B&O museum in Baltimore, contained a copy of the original charter. President John Quincy Adams, believing that canals where the way of the future, broke ground the same day at a ceremony for the C&O Canal.
The first "official" passengers rode in horse-drawn carts from Mount Clair in Baltimore to the Carrollton Viaduct being constructed on January 7th 1830. On May 24th the line was complete all the way to Ellicott's Mills, Md. Progress to the Potomac was restricted by the C&O Canal, which had the blessing of the federal government and had already acquired the best route. The first trial run of Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb in August of 1830 brought steam to the railroad along with many other improvements. Cast iron rails replaced wood, trains of carts divided the weight upon the rails, flanged iron wheels held to the rail better than wood, and a breaking system was developed.
Produce was flowing from Point of Rocks, Md. on the Potomac by 1832 and the B&O expanded steadily with a branch reaching Washington in 1835. US Mail began flowing on the line on January 1st 1838. The B&O reached Cumberland, Md. by June 1851, but to reach Wheeling, Va. (West Virginia did not yet exist) 11 tunnels and 113 bridges had to be constructed. On June 22nd 1852 the line reached the Monongahela River at Fairmont, Va. (now WV) and on Christmas Eve the last spike was laid east of Wheeling. On January 1st 1853 the first train arrived in Wheeling from Baltimore in 16 hours, a trip that had once taken several days. The "West" was now open.
As the Western Frontier continued to move, new cities began to grow in importance. Cinncinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago were the new targets for the B&O. During the Civil War the railroad moved Union troops and supplies and was the target of many attacks. Bridges were burned and rebuilt, tracks were torn up and replaced, telegraph lines pulled down and restored. Steel rails began use and prefabricated iron bridges sped repairs. The first bridge across the Ohio was begun in 1868 and took 37 months to complete, a second bridge was begun on the Parkersburg line in 1869 and completed in January of 1871. The B&O finally reached Chicago in November of 1874 after completing 811 miles of track. At the same time the B&O increased its control of the Marietta & Cincinatti Railroad, the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, and others to reach St. Louis. These lines became part of the B&O in 1893.
By the end of the 19th century the B&O had achieved almost 5,800 miles of track and connected Chicago and St. Louis to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City. Depressions and hard times brought receivership of the B&O to the Pennsylvania Railroad on February 29th 1896. Improvements continued with a tunnel under the streets of Baltimore and new lines purchased. The US government took control of America's rail lines in 1917 during the First World War and left them severely weakened by 1920. The B&O however continued to grow and in 1927 acquired a 40 percent share in the Western Maryland Railway. The railroad celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1927 with two events, a private dinner in February and The Centenary Exhibition and Pageant of the Baltimore & Ohio in September. Some of the B&O's original locomotives and equipment were on hand as where replicas of the first steam engines, along side the latest in steam technology found on the B&O, Pennsylvania, and NYC. Total attendance for the three week event was over 1.3 million people.
The first diesel locomotive on the B&O was a 60 ton, 300 horse power switcher, used for yard work in 1925. The first road diesel, purchased for the Washington-New York Royal Blue in 1935, was a two unit EMD EA "shovel nose" set. During World War II, 5400 hp four unit EMD freight sets came to the B&O. Great steam mallets continued to be purchased until 1945. With the scarcity of gasoline and tires, huge amounts of oil and coal and 97 percent of all troups were carried by America's Railroads. After the war, as revenue declined and truck traffic increased, the B&O was faced with more financial difficulties. Many of the eastern railroads were declaring bankruptcy and proposing mergers. The NYC proposed a merger with the B&O and C&O, but the C&O had already acquired 61 percent of the B&O by 1961 and on New Year's Eve, 1962 the merger was approved. The combined system controlled 11,000 miles of track.
In 1972 the Chessie System was born with engines and equipment repainted in yellow, blue and orange, and wearing the Chessie-C logo and their orignal markings on the cab. In 1974 the B&O acquired total control of the Western Maryland. The Chessie System and the Seaboard System, under the control of the C&O, merged on November 1st, 1980 under the holding company name CSX Corporation. CSX standing for Chessie, Seaboard, and many times more. The combined road at that time had over 27,000 miles of track. In 1986 CSX merged all the railroads into CSX Transportation thus ending the history of the great Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Nearly all locomotives and most freight cars are now in the latest CSX paint and markings. Many miles of B&O track, including most of the St. Louis main line, have been abandoned, and the traditional B&O color position signals are being replaced with C&O style stop lights. The name may be gone, but the road will always be remembered.