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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF RAILWAYS
THE introduction of railways created a new world. So accustomed have we become to a civilization with railways that it requires conscious efforts to realize the economic, social, political, and moral influences which have emanated from them. Just as a single life spanned the gap between the Declaration of Independence and the laying of the first rail of the Baltimore and Ohio on July 4, 1828, so a single life still active upon the scene may have stored in its experiences all the manifold changes wrought by this modernized stage-coach; and the experiences of youth united with the work of manhood and the reflections of old age constitute the history and philosophy of railways as we know them to-day.
For every four hundred of the population of the United States there exists one mile of railway, or an aggregate of nearly 196,000 miles. These railways directly employ more than one out of every hundred of the population. They represent a capitalization equal to about one-eighth of the total wealth of the country, annual gross earnings amounting to $23 per capita, net earnings equal to $7.67 cents per capita, and $2 yearly in dividends for every enumerated member of this nation. For every fifty-five persons the railways operate one freight car, and they place at the disposal of every sixteen hundred persons a little less than one passenger coach.
Had all persons, young and old, travelled the same distance, each would have travelled 218 miles; and the tons of freight carried one mile approximates 1860 per capita. These are mere playthings, but they are likely to convey to one's mind more definite notions than these same facts expressed in accurate statistics.
The beginnings of railways in all countries were accompanied by opposition from interests that looked upon steam locomotion as a threatening power. The fear of economic derangements acted as a retarding force even in localities devoid of adequate means of transportation and communication. In territories enjoying improved facilities this opposition sometimes resulted in violence. Of the latter, the United States knows relatively nothing; the former can be illustrated in every state and territory. The early opposition to railways foreshadowed in a negative manner what actual development was to demonstrate in a positive
way with respect to their social and economic influences. The pack-horse, the stage-coach, and the country tavern, and all that goes with these
1 Based upon figures compiled from official sources for The Commercial Advertiser for November 29, 1902, Financial Supplement, and the Reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission.