258 Chapters
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1 A Boyhood in New England

William D. Middleton Indiana University Press ePub

Milford, Connecticut, is now a city of more than 50,000 residents, lying some 10 miles southwest of New Haven and stretching along the shores of Long Island Sound. Milford grew large only in the recent past with the growth that followed World War II, but it has been there a long time. What became Milford, named after the English city, was purchased by English settlers from the chief of the local Paugusset tribe in 1639, making it the sixth oldest community in Connecticut. Even today Milford retains much of the character that dates to the nineteenth century and before. The Wepawaug River winds down through the town and into the oyster-rich estuary of Long Island Sound. Just west of the river, Milford’s carefully maintained “town green”—the second longest in all New England, boast the residents—stretches a block wide and six blocks long. The green of the square is intermingled with trees and monuments from Milford’s—and America’s—past.

A century and a half ago Milford had scarcely 2,500 residents, and the working population was occupied with farming, oystering, shipbuilding, and a few industrial plants, while the Long Island Sound shore served as a beach resort for residents of New Haven and Bridgeport. The young David Cummings Sprague came to Milford about 1852 to become a plant superintendent for a hat manufacturing firm, one of many in the southwest Connecticut area centered on Danbury that made the state a major supplier of hats. Born in Wardsboro, Vermont, in 1833, D. C. Sprague was one of ten children born to Joshua Sprague, who was of the eighth American generation descended from Ralph Sprague. The latter had left England from the hamlet of Upwey in Devonshire in 1628.1

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Medium 9780253347572

20 Son of Penn Central

RushJr. Loving Indiana University Press ePub

Just as Penn Central’s woes had spawned Amtrak and the government-run passenger system, Conrail brought on rail deregulation. The new railroad could not turn a profit, and while there were a number of causes, the nation’s strangling regulatory system was at the heart of them, dooming any chance for success.

USRA had laid out a business plan for Conrail that foresaw losses during the railroad’s start-up years, but everyone had hoped the red ink would soon fade. Nevertheless, at the beginning of its third year of operation, Conrail continued to lose money at the same rate Penn Central had hemorrhaged—$1 million a day. At Conrail’s start, Ed Jordan had amazed many by integrating the marketing, operating, and financial departments of five railroads with no disruptions. Now he was waging a valiant effort to stem the losses, but he never seemed to make much progress. So hopeless was Conrail’s plight, Jordan and his chief financial officer were refusing to certify that the company’s financial performance was in line with the business plan that USRA and Congress had mandated.

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Medium 9780253011817

5 Crisis and Contraction

H. Roger Grant Indiana University Press ePub

5

PANIC OF 1837

Throughout the nineteenth century Americans lived through repeated financial panics. Serious economic dislocations began in 1819 and occurred again in 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith mused that the intervals between these major panics corresponded “roughly with the time it took people to forget the last disaster.” As the national economy matured, with expanding industrialization and urbanization, the potency of financial downswings increased. The final large-scale economic disruption of the century, triggered by the Wall Street panic of May 1893, spawned five troubled years and caused the worst depression in American history, exceeding the intensity of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recent Great Recession of 2008.1

Although the relatively short-lived Panic of 1819 shook the business community, the Panic of 1837 affected more people and was more widely felt. It became, sadly for Americans, the “First Great Depression.” Earlier some fatalists had called the Great New York Fire in December 1835, which consumed the New York Stock Exchange and most buildings around Wall Street, an omen of impending economic doom. In their minds it was a sign from Providence. When disaster struck two years later, some Americans feared that depression would never lift, believing religious millennialists who claimed that end-times were near. Even a secular Philip Hone, former mayor of New York City and inveterate diary keeper, held similar thoughts. “Where will it end?” he asked. The answer he thought: “In ruin, revolution, perhaps civil war.” On April 1, 1837, the New York Herald described the growing economic calamity this way: “Wall street [sic], and its business neighborhood, from river to river, has been for a week in a terrible convulsion. The banks – the merchants – the brokers – the speculators, have been rolling onward together in the undistinguishable mass, down the stream of bankruptcy and ruin.”2

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Medium 9780253220738

2 Under the Wire

Edited by Don L Hofsommer and H Roger Indiana University Press ePub

Iowans benefited from more than the highly developed grid work of steam railroads. Although the Hawkeye State never became the heartland of the electric interurban railway, a significant number of intercity electric or so-called juice roads emerged between the late 1890s and early 1900s. This new technology appeared in scattered sections of the state, excluding the southwest, with important concentrations in the Des Moines and Cedar River valleys and the coalfields of the south. In 1916 the nation’s interurban network reached more than 15,000 miles and Iowa claimed nearly 500 miles of this total, the greatest mileage of any state west of the Mississippi River except for California and Texas.

What was the electric interurban or electric traction railway? Unlike the street railway or trolley, which only provided local service within a community and possibly a short extension into the adjoining countryside to serve an amusement park, lake, or cemetery, the interurban was designed to connect two or more communities with services similar to those provided by a conventional steam railroad hauling passengers, express, and at times carload freight. These electric interurbans, according to an early advocate, “will perform a service for mankind as notable and perhaps ultimately as great as that rendered by its steam-operated precursor.” A revolution in technology made the interurban possible. In the 1880s engineers and others proved that electricity could be harnessed for urban transportation, and a decade later additional research demonstrated the feasibility of long distance intercity electric railways. In 1899 a system of three-phase alternating current (AC) transmission was perfected that significantly reduced voltage losses; refinements continued, most notably the efficient change by rotary converters of AC to direct current (DC) power.

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1 Slow, Difficult, and Dangerous Travel

H. Roger Grant Indiana University Press ePub

ROADS

Before the Railway Age Americans faced limited travel options. Nearly always they were slow, difficult, and potentially dangerous. There was little need to question the sardonic judgment made more than a century ago by Henry Adams. This historian and man of letters wrote that persons “struggling with the untamed continent in 1800 seemed hardly more competent to their task [of road improvements] than the beavers and buffalo which had for countless generations made bridges and roads of their own.”1

Although poor land transportation knew no geographical bounds, residents in interior sections of the Old South and the Old Northwest2 experienced severe challenges when they made overland treks by foot, on horseback, or in an animal-powered vehicle. No wonder, then, that from the earliest settlements through the antebellum decades the promotion of internal betterments, including roads, became a popular focus. Improvements to land transport seemed imperative for progress; people wanted to move more rapidly, reliably, and securely. “To persons who have reflected upon the subject of internal improvement, there is no maxim of political economy better understood than that agriculture and commerce will improve, and civilization and happiness spread in promotion as the facility of conveyance increases,” wrote a thoughtful Robert Mills, architect, civil engineer, and member of the South Carolina Board of Public Works, in 1821. “Where men are kept asunder by forests, morasses or inaccessible mountains, their knowledge must be circumscribed and their conveniences few. In proportion as the difficulty of communication is removed, the spirit of enterprise increases.” Yet in antebellum America the federal government did little to coordinate, design, fund, or construct domestic transportation improvements, although discussions and debates repeatedly occurred in Congress, state legislatures, courthouses, and elsewhere.3

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