All Aboard: A Guide to Cartographic Railroad Resources at the Library of Congress
The Geography and Map Division holds thousands of maps and atlases relating to railroads, subways, and other train lines. This guide is meant to assist researchers with locating relevant material held in the Library's collection.
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Sonia Kahn, Reference Librarian, Geography and Map Division
Created: December 2022
Last Updated: December 2022
While we may now be a nation of freeways and interstates, there can be no denying that railroads changed the transportation landscape of the United States starting in the 1800s. With the advent of the steam-powered railroad in in the first third of the century, cities and towns all over the nation could be connected, revolutionizing the way in which people and goods traversed the country. Railroad mapping followed as steam locomotives gained immense traction. The need for maps which showed how railways linked various centers of commerce was necessary as railroads proved themselves to be a swift and affordable method to transport agricultural products and other goods great distances. In the mid-1860s the Civil War catalyzed railroad mapping. Understanding transportation routes became crucial to military strategy and thus so did railroad maps. The 19th century also saw the development of novel printing techniques which allowed for the swift and cheap reproduction of maps – an essential prerequisite for railroad maps to flourish as they were constantly updated to reflect new construction.
The Geography and Map Division's map collection contains thousands of railroad maps and atlases with the oldest dating from the late 1820s. Our extensive collection includes mapping of both international and domestic railways, along with maps at the state, and occasionally county or city level. This guide is meant to assist in pinpointing and locating the most relevant cartographic resources for those interested in railroads and subways across the United States and beyond.