Overland passenger service prior to the 19th century consisted of a wagon pulled by a beast of burden on a dirt path. This mode originated back when the wheel was invented and attached to a wagon or chariot and had not changed much from the ancient Babylonians until the turn of the early 1800s. Although pulling a wagon on wooden track with a horse was already 200 years old, the founders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built a track from Baltimore to the Ohio River in the late 1820s to haul coal and passengers using, literally, horsepower on iron tracks. In 1829 the B & O commissioned Peter Cooper to build a test steam locomotive and raced it against a team of horses. A belt slipped causing the locomotive to loose the race but it was obvious steam power was going to replace horse-power.

As the railway system developed railroads could not neglect passenger service as it accounted for 20% of its revenue. Passenger cars were attached to the end of the freight service. The cars themselves were open modified wooden boxcars with bench seating. Traveling by rail was anything but comfortable for even short distances.

The Tom Thumb in 1829 on its inaugural run was the first steam powered passenger train to run in the US.

Early Pullman car

Long distance overnight travel was incredibly Spartan as there was no real place to sleep.  George Pullman rode one of these trains and the miserable ride gave him an inspiration to design passenger car system that could be comparable to 5 star hotels.  In 1859 Pullman “rented” his cars to the railroad however did not become popular until 1865.

In 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed (Central Pacific and Union Pacific).  A trip across the country now could be done in days instead of a half year.  The second transcontinental railway, the Northern Pacific, was completed August 22 1883.  Seventeen days later the “golden spike” was pounded (albeit not a gold spike but the first spike used to inaugurate the NP construction 13 years earlier).  Five years later the NP completed its line across the Cascades, eliminating leasing from Oregon Railway and Navigation tracks to get to Seattle.  Now passengers had another way to travel to the west coast.