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Rail History Almanac & Timeline

This file attached to this page (see the bottom) in PDF is an almanac of primarily U.S. Railroad History from 1720 - 1999, as compiled by Thomas Manz and provided to the NRHS for sharing on the Internet. 

We welcome feedback on the Almanac. Send your updates, corrections, and suggestions to us using our contact form.

Proposed changes and additions to the list: When submitting any proposed changes or additions, please provide a source for the information, including the author, title, publication date, and page number. This will be helpful if conflicting information is submitted later. If we are have two versions of the same event, we will simply present both (with sources), and let the reader decide. Therefore, in order to avoid conflicts about which version of events is correct, we cannot accept submittals that do not include a source.

About sources: In compiling historical information, primary sources are always best. They are more highly regarded because they were recorded closest in time to the actual event, and are less likely to contain errors. Not all primary sources agree with one another, but they are considered the most reliable. A primary source may include the following:

  • A contemporary newspaper or magazine article.
  • A contemporary letter or journal entry.
  • A contemporary business or government document.

Because of the difficulty in consulting primary sources, a great deal of the information contained in this list has been obtained from secondary sources. In a good secondary source, the author consults a primary source, and uses the information correctly. The best secondary sources provide direct quotes from primary sources. Unfortunately, some authors also use information obtained from secondary sources, which introduces a greater possibility of error. A secondary source is really anything that is not a primary source, like a book, article or web site about railroad history, or related events.

Conflicting dates: Where there is conflicting information about an event, it is most often the date. Consider the many possible dates connected with the opening of a new railroad line. Should we publish the date that the rails were physically connected, or the ceremonial “golden spike” date? What about the start of through freight service? Or the first day of regular passenger service? Rarely, if ever, would all these events occur on the same day, so we want to be precise about which date is connected with which event. Confusion about dates also frequently occurs when something of importance happens late at night. Sources may record the date as if the event occurred before midnight (one date), or as if it was after midnight (another date).

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James Lilly,
Jan 18, 2013, 9:31 AM
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