The Advent of Railroads In Wisconsin and america by jmgallen []
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Steam and cinders : the advent of railroads in Wisconsin, 1831-1861

by Axel S Lorenzsonn

  Print book

The Advent of Railroads In Wisconsin and america   (2019-05-27)


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by jmgallen


The railroad brought the world to the American heartland.  “Steam & Cinders” is the story of the iron rails that transformed Wisconsin as they knitted its communities with each other and the rest of the nation. 




The scene is the southern part of Wisconsin.  The period covered is from 1831, when the lead railroads came to what was then the Western Michigan Territory, to 1861 when the roar of battle summoned the nation’s attention to other pursuits.  The topic is the businessmen who established the corporations, provided the political support, the communities that sought service and the people who bought the bonds, laid the track, road the trains and shipped their produce.




The actors are often men for whom railroading was merely one aspect of their careers.  Some were politicians such as Govs. Cole Bashford and Alexander Randall, Judge John Catlin, urban developers like Byron Kilbourn and businessmen like Hercules Dousman.




The lines often started out short, connecting two cities before expanding and intersecting other lines to create networks across the state.  Their arrival or bypassing made or broke towns.  Their creation required charters granted by the state and financing by investors. The explanation of the classes of “pecuniary compliments”, bribes if given before favors are granted or gifts if thereafter is interesting.  Despite public largess the lines often foundered on hard economic shoals.




The tales having been told, the Epilogue relates the later lives of the men, locomotives, buildings and rail beds that are the heart of this work.  Author Axel Lorenzsonn obviously researched his subject in great depth.  His narrative is supplemented by drawings, photos and maps that help orient the reader and ground the sagas in real people, places and things.  Look closely at the artwork of trains leaving cities.  They often are not front and center but woven into the communities they served.  The author might be a little heavy on lists of incorporators, investors and officers but someone with a familiarity with the people of Wisconsin might find them to be more interesting.   As I was reading, I wondered if and how my late friend, Bill Dousman, may have been related to Hercules Dousman?




So, who should read “Steam & Cinders” and why?  First, I would recommend it to anyone with an abiding interest in the history of Wisconsin.  Railroads remade the landscape and nowhere is immune from their effect.  The Wisconsin railroad experience is a microcosm of what was repeated in state after state from Atlantic to Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf.  We are indebted to Axel Lorenzsonn and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press for making this window into the Age of Railroading available to us all.




I received free copy of this book without a requirement to post a review.

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