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This Week in Illinois History: First train in Illinois (November 8, 1838)

The Rogers
This replica of the Rogers, the first locomotive to operate in Illinois, was built by the Wabash Railroad Company for the 1948-49 Chicago Railroad Fair.

On November 8, 1838, the first train ever to run in Illinois, the Rogers, steamed out of the little village of Meredosia. It rattled east for about eight miles, where the incomplete track suddenly ended, and then the train returned.

In the 1830s, Illinoisans had great access to navigable rivers, but terrible roads. The few good roads were rendered impassable by rain and snow. In 1837, state legislators passed an Internal Improvements Act to stimulate commerce by building thirteen hundred miles of railroad tracks across Illinois to connect all major towns to rivers.

Illinois’ state-funded railroad laid its first tracks in Meredosia, on the Illinois River near the western side of the state. The tracks would eventually connect the bustling town of Springfield to the river port.

The train was shipped to Meredosia by steamboat. It came in pieces and had to be assembled by an engineer sent from the manufacturer.

In 1842, four years after the Rogers’ historic but largely symbolic first run, the state did complete the Meredosia line to Springfield. However, a national recession hampered Illinois’ ability to continue funding internal improvements. Railroad projects came to a halt. The Meredosia railroad became a financial burden and eventually sold for a fraction of construction cost.

When the economy improved in the mid-1800s, private railroads swooped in and covered the state with thousands of miles of iron rails, turning Illinois into the industrial center of the nation.

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