The Iron Road in the Prairie State

9780253019066: Hardback
Release Date: 20th January 2016

Dimensions: 229 x 279

Number of Pages: 240

Series Railroads Past and Present

Indiana University Press

The Iron Road in the Prairie State

The Story of Illinois Railroading

Hardback / £52.00

In 1836, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas agreed on one thing: Illinois needed railroads. Over the next fifty years, the state became the nation’s railroad hub, with Chicago at its center. Speculators, greed, growth, and regulation followed as the railroad industry consumed unprecedented amounts of capital and labor. A nationwide market resulted, and the Windy City became the site of opportunities and challenges that remain to this day. In this first-of-its-kind history, full of entertaining anecdotes and colorful characters, Simon Cordery describes the explosive growth of Illinois railroads and its impact on America. Cordery shows how railroading in Illinois influenced railroad financing, the creation of a national economy, and government regulation of business. Cordery's masterful chronicle of rail development in Illinois from 1837 to 2010 reveals how the state’s expanding railroads became the foundation of the nation’s rail network.

List of Abbreviations
1. Preliminaries
2. Development Delayed
3. Optimism Revived
4. Cultivating the Prairie
5. Financing Railroads
6. Civil War, Fire, and Expansion
7. Illinois Railroad Labor
8. A Kaleidoscope of Regulations
9. Panic and Innovation
10. Bridge Building and "Over-Building"
11. Excursions and Interurbans
12. Coal and Competition
13. Progressive Regulation
14. World War I and the 1920s
15. Depression, Dieselization, and War
16. Post-War Challenges
17. National Solutions?
18. Salvation

Simon Cordery researches, writes, and rides on railroads on both sides of the Atlantic. He is Chair of the History Department at Iowa StateUniversity andheads the Inductions Committee of the National Railroad Hall of Fame. Amember of the Lexington Group in Transportation History,he has published twootherbooks and numerous articles.

The Iron Road in the Prairie State is an informative and beautifully written overview of railroading in Illinois, the hub of the national transportation network. Through the birth, growth, decline, and resurgence of the railroads, Simon Cordery has admirably set local developments in the broader context of national changes in business, labor, and regulatory patterns.

Albert J. Churella
author of The Pennsylvania Railroad: Building an Empire

This remarkable and insightful book offers for the first time a rich narrative about Illinois history through the lens of emerging railroads from their muddy beginnings to the present day. Simon Cordery has succeeded in capturing a unique national understanding of the industry's history by focusing on how railroads and the state of Illinois evolved simultaneously in separate yet interdependent ways.

William E. Greenwood
COO Burlington Northern Railroad, retired

One of the book’s remarkable strengths, in fact, is its contextuality: labor, social, political and economic issues driving Illinois railroad history are all deftly interwoven in its fabric. . . . Cordery is a pleasure to read and the book is peppered with informative allusions and anecdotes.

The Lexington Quarterly

In this first-of-its-kind history, full of entertaining anecdotes and colorful characters, Simon Cordery describes the explosive growth of Illinois railroads and its impact on America.

S. Gaugian

"This is a richly detailed, well-documented, and nicely illustrated volume, fully in keeping with the high standards set by series editors George M. Smerk and H. Roger Grant."

Ohio Valley History

Author Simon Cordery possesses a detailed command of the extensive literature on the subject . . . and has a particular talent for concise and effective descriptions of the complex financial and organizational histories of the many railroads that served Illinois.

The Annuals of Iowa

Cordery details the history and construction of Illinois railroads and the colorful cast of characters who played a part in its creation.

The Chicago Tribune

[An] effective overview of the state that gave us railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln, Pullman, rail labor strife, Electro-Motive, Civil War heroism, Samuel Insull, and a host of other milestones.

Classic Trains

What makes this work a true rarity is the author’s inclusion of larger scholarly themes, such as corporate consolidation and US cultural trends. As a result, the story of one state’s railroads becomes a narrative on the larger history of railroads in the US from the 19th to 20th centuries.  A significant contribution to the study of rail transportation in Illinois and the US. . . . Highly recommended.


Though readers might reasonably expect a volume twice, even thrice the size of this one, it's Cordery's welcome accomplishment to have told this complex story so concisely and accessibly -- all the while skillfully situating Illinois railroad development in a national context.

The Lexington Quarterly

"The author skillfully weaves the story into the larger context of national events and developments which had a significant impact on railroads in the Prairie State. This excellent volume gives the fascinating subject matter here the treatment it truly deserves."

The Michigan Railfan