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The first recorded railroad accident in U.S. history occurs when four people are thrown off a vacant car on the Granite Railway near Quincy, Massachusetts. The victims had been invited to view the process of transporting large and weighty loads of stone when a cable on a vacant car snapped on the return trip, throwing them off the train and over a 34-foot cliff. One man was killed and the others were seriously injured.
The acceptance of railroads came quickly in the 1830s, and by 1840 the nation had almost 3,000 miles of railway, greater than the combined European total of only 1,800 miles. The railroad network expanded quickly in the years before the Civil War, and by 1860 the American railroad system had become a national network of some 30,000 miles. Nine years later, transcontinental railroad service became possible for the first time.
A raging fire on an Egyptian train claimed the lives of 383 victims on the fateful day of February 20, 2002. The passenger train, with its eleven carriages, was travelling from Cairo to Luxor when a fire erupted in the fifth carriage of the train. Soon, the devastating fire spread had throughout the train, and seven of the carriages were burnt completely. Besides the deaths induced by fire and smoke, a number of passengers were killed as they jumped off of the speeding train to escape the fire. Since the train was overpacked on that day, and there was an absence of a full passenger list, many people claim that the actual figure of fatalities was much higher than the official number of 383.
One of the worst rail accidents in African history occurred on January 14, 1985, when a train of the Addis Ababa Djibouti Railway derailed in Awash, Ethiopia, killing at least 428 passengers, and critically injuring several others. The train, a five-carriage passenger one carrying around 1,000 passengers, possibly derailed due to the excessive speeds it was travelling at, triggering a derailment as the train sped across a curve on a bridge above a ravine. Four of the five carriages fell into the ravine, claiming the lives of most of the passengers on board.
William Huskisson the First Train accident (1830):
Steam engines were powering locomotive and were used to transport passengers in railway tracks in Victorian-era Britain.
William Huskisson is an MP (member of parliament) in Britain and was attending the new Liverpool — Manchester railway line opening ceremony against his doctor’s advice. Rocket, a new type of steam engine, was introduced for pulling the railway car.
On their journey, the train stopped midway at Parkside railway station to fill up water. All the passengers are requested to stay inside the train.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Wellington’s special train stopped at the nearby platform. Some MPs, including William, disembarked the train to have a chat with the Duke. Meanwhile, another rocket engine was coming in the track adjacent to the Duke of Wellington’s train.
The driver of the rocket engine alerted the passengers on the track to leave the railway track. William was clumsy thinking he could stand in between the trains and save himself, which was possible.
At the last minute, William decided to hold on to the Duke’s train carriage door, thinking the gap was not sufficient. Unfortunately, the door did not latch to the carriage, so it opened up with William hanging on it, bringing him straight in front of the speeding Rocket.
The driver of the Rocket applied reverse gear, but it was too late. William was hit by the Rocket, and thrown out of the track. Passengers rushed him to medical assistance, but he succumbed to the injuries.
William Huskisson was the first fatality of locomotive technology.
The first railroad accident - HISTORY
The Union Station of Weldon, North Carolina, holds a unique position in Southeastern railroading history. Aside from being one of the first railroad "hubs" in the US, it was one of just a few facilities jointly owned and operated by both the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line Railroads. This article, the first in a two part series, will review history and geography of the Weldon area as it pertains to railroad activity. In addition, we will chart the development and changes to the SAL dominated part of the station, from its construction in 1912 to the present day. In part two, to be published in the next issue of Lines South, we will examine the ACL portion of the facility, including the elevated platforms and viaduct.
Lying on a plateau above the fall line, the Roanoke River and at the edge of the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont, Weldon's Apple Orchard was a strategic location for transportation in the early and mid-1800's for North Carolina as well as the South. With its name changed! in the mid-1800's, Weldon was home to five railroads. These included the Petersburg & Roanoke (later ACL), Seaboard & Roanoke (SAL, successor of the Portsmouth & Roanoke), Raleigh & Gaston (SAL), Wilmington & Weldon (ACL), and the Weldon Mill Railroad. The Weldon Mill Railroad was a narrow gauge logging line which ran from South Weldon extensively into the southwestern areas of Halifax County.
The first railroad tracks into Weldon were from the South, the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, which at the time of its completion in 1841 was the longest railroad in the world. The Seaboard & Roanoke am! the Petersburg & Roanoke arrived next. In 1853, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad followed these two into Weldon. The Petersburg & Roanoke originally stopped on the north bank of the Roanoke at Blakely, just south of Weldon downstream about 1/2 mile, then ferried! its cargo across the river to Weldon. In the 1840's, the Petersburg & Roanoke built a bridge across this area and came into Weldon on what is now Mush Island Road and Second Street to connect with the Wilmington & Weldon. The Seaboard & Roanoke built their bridge just above the first falls of the Roanoke River, cutting through an embankment on the north side.
In 1853, the Raleigh & Gaston was looking for a better connection than the one they had at Old Gaston (across the River from Thelma, N.C.) with the ports of Virginia and the East Coast. They cut a two mile right-of-way through granite rocks and ledges along the southern shore of the Roanoke River, then another ten miles to reach Roanoke Junction. This line continued four more miles to Weldon, terminating just west of the Wilmington & Weldon and the Seaboard & Roanoke.
The Seaboard & Roanoke and the Wilmington & Weldon Railroads joined at the site of the Weldon Terminal. a large structure built over several acres, in the area that now runs from near Third Street to First Street. This structure covered eight tracks and was connected to the Wilmington & Weldon hotel. which later became the Atlantic Coast Line Hotel. The Seaboard & Roanoke had their office between the hotel and First Street. After the Petersburg & Roanoke built their bridge from Blakely across the River to Mush Island Road and on into town, it connected to the Wilmington & Weldon, just south of the Terminal Building. Later the Raleigh & Gaston ran track into a curve to the north to connect with the Seaboard & Roanoke (this layout can still be seen today, although no tracks are here).
After the War Between the States, the only bridge rebuilt was that of the Seaboard & Roanoke. The Petersburg & Roanoke opted to connect with the Seaboard & Roanoke at Garysburg, just east of the present location of the Garysburg Methodist Church, which during the war was the site of a Confederate hospital. The Petersburg & Roanoke's right-ofway is still being used in transportation today, as highway U.S. 301 travels from the point of the new line built in 1911-12, to connect with the new bridge across the Roanoke River, to the intersection of highway N.C.46. The Petersburg & Roanoke used the Seaboard & Roanoke's bridge from 1867 until the new bridge was built in 1910-12. There are several piers which we have seen with dates cut into them one that stands out is that of 3/18/12, the first pier we found with a date.
By now, affiliations were formed and eventually the Petersburg & Roanoke and the Wilmington & Weldon were joined, as the Seaboard & Roanoke aligned with the Raleigh & Gaston. Weldon was now a regional railroad hub during the 1870's and until the early 1900's. Only the citizens of Weldon and the surrounding area prevented it from becoming one of the biggest railroad junctions in the southeast. The railroads were constantly chastised for blocking crossings, making animals bolt, and just making too much noise for the people. The land owners outside Weldon did not help either, as the railroads could find no land at a price they could afford to build larger yards and support facilities.
These impediments, along with the continuing complaints from people of Weldon, and the desire to have their own access to crossing the river and the town. helped the newly formed (1900) Atlantic Coast Line decide to build their own bridge.
Several years after the railroads were consolidated into the Seaboard Air Line and the Atlantic Coast Line in 1900. the ACL decided to demolish their hotel and the buildings around it and started grading and building piers for their new bridge. With this decision also came the need for a ticket office and station facility for their customers.
With the SAL also in need of improved facilities. an agreement was reached to construct a joint ACL and SAL facility. This joint station would become the Weldon Union Station. finished in 1912. The lower section of the Union Station was designed and constructed by the SAL. The building was constructed of yellow brick with brown painted trim work and a terra cotta tile roof. It housed the ticket offices for both railroads in the middle of the building. with a large waiting room on either side. Since the building was built during the years of segregation. one room on the north side of the building was the white waiting room and the other side was the "colored" waiting room.
Each of the waiting rooms had two large restrooms for male and female patrons. The south side of the building had a large baggage and mail handling area and would hold 15 large mail wagons (four wheel). five wide and three deep. There was a large door at each end for access to the elevator to go upstairs for the ACL. and out the other side to the Seaboard sheds. This baggage room was constructed on a concrete slab. which was also the ceiling for the boiler room and coal storage room. The area above the baggage handling area was used for access to the ceiling of the main building and for record storage.
Built as a joint facility, the two railroads each maintained the structure on a two year rotating basis in which the all expenses were paid by that railroad during its turn. Ticket revenue of each railroad was forwarded to their respective banks by way of the Railway Express Agency. The Atlantic Coast Line built an extensive elevated structure- two waiting rooms, as well as platforms to support the handling of passengers, mail and express. There was also a freight elevator for transferring primarily mail. express traffic and baggage, but also some of the tall four wheel carts known around the railroad as "Hearse" (*see Rail Mail) carts. Weldon was for years a transfer location for bodies from the U. S. Navy in Norfolk, traveling by rail to Charleston, S. C. The original elevator was built right at the end of the building on the north end of the upper waiting rooms. This was found to be inadequate and a larger one was built, some time before 1932, between the southern end of the upper waiting rooms and First Street. The upper shed and waiting rooms, along with the main building and the lower sheds made quite an impressive sight.
In the late 1950's, the Seaboard decided to close their freight office and move the work into the ticket office, with a single agent. This was done easily since the ticket office had telegraphy and phone works in place for both the SAL and the ACL, and Weldon no longer required a permanent yard switcher on site. This work was done by the upper yard switcher at Roanoke Junction, in Roanoke Rapids. To compensate the ACL for this service, the night ticket clerk did the ACL freight reports. As passenger business declined and the mail contracts were canceled, the sheds and building became expendable and fell into disrepair.
In February 1968, Seaboard Coast Line (formed by merger of the ACL and SAL in 1967) discontinued the TIdewater, #17 & 18 to Norfolk and with the advent of Amtrak in 1971. all passenger trains ended their regular scheduled stops at Weldon. Also in 1968, SCL removed several spans of the Seaboard bridge over the main channel of the Roanoke River. At the same time, they made a connection on the north bank of the river from the Seaboard main line to the main line of the Coast Line. On the Weldon side of the River, a small radius "dog-bone" loop was constructed. This was supposed to allow trains arriving from Roanoke Rapids to gain access to the connection. This loop proved to be an operational headache, because after trying several times. the SCL found it could not push cars into the loop, but had to pull all cars through it. This necessitated having the yard switcher in Roanoke Rapids stop its work and come to Weldon to pull mainline trains (mostly Amtrak), which were normally detoured when either the SAL or ACL main was blocked.
In 1976, the then Mayor of Weldon, Sam Oakley, who was the Seaboard Coast Line's Signal Maintainer, made arrangements for the main terminal building of Union Station to be given to the Town of Weldon. In exchange, the town agreed to remove all the upper structure platforms, stairs, wailing rooms and sheds, along with their supports. While the Union Station building today is standing, it is being used as a library. A group, the Weldon Railroad Museum, Inc., would like to take the site back and restore the building to its original appearance.
In 1983, The Seaboard System (successor to SCL) severed the Norlina to Roanoke Rapids section of the Portsmouth Sub-division, and the detour movements stopped. The Roanoke Rapids switcher still comes to Weldon, through the loop, and picks up cars destined for the paper mill. The viaduct remains in use by CSX, serving a modest amount of daily freight traffic. This includes piggyback trains, general freight and an auto rack train from Norfolk to Atlanta, usually two times per week. The Tropicana juice train passes daily. as do unit sulfur and coal trains.
Passenger traffic includes the daily Amtrak Silver Meteor. Silver Star. Silver Palm, Auto Train and Carolinian, both north and southbound unfortunately, none of them stop at this once grand facility
Railroad Disasters in Wisconsin
Wisconsin's first train wreck proved to be its worst. On the morning of November 1, 1859, a Chicago and North Western train jammed with residents of Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and other points on the northern end of the line hit a large ox which had jumped onto the tracks near Johnson Creek. The animal was caught up on the cow-catcher and carried about a dozen rods, when it fell under the locomotive just as it was crossing a small bridge. The engine was thrown into a ditch, the baggage car fell over into a pool of water and five passenger cars were driven together, "shattered, smashed up and demolished." 14 persons were killed, at least 30 injured. A cornnor's jury found the accident "unavoidable," but a cry was raised to make farmers responsible for the conduct of their livestock.
Another train disaster that made the headlines occurred near East Rio in the early hours of October 28, 1886. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul's limited train, rushing along at the rate of 40 miles an hour, hit an open switch. The train telescoped and the day coach burst into flames. Those in the sleeper escaped. The death toll has been variously estimated at from 11 to 17. The coroner's jury found that "said switch was left open by the negligence of C. H. Wells, an employee of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company."
The worst 20th-century wreck involved a head-on crash between two interurban Milwaukee Rapid Transit and Steelrail Company trains near Milwaukee on September 2, 1950. 10 persons were killed, more than forty injured. The company's president, J. E. Maeder, was at the controls of one of the trains.
Other serious railroad disasters were those at Kenosha (June, 1864 3 dead) near De Pere (June 24, 1900 6 killed, over 60 injured) at Alma (May 30, 1902) near Janesville (February 11, 1906 4 killed) near Waupaca (September 10, 1906 2 killed). On November 15, 1907, a fast train at South Milwaukee struck a large crowd of workmen on the tracks, killing 6 and injuring others, of whom some died later.
The first railroad accident - HISTORY
"INTO THE PIT"
Rail Disaster in East Aurora 1893
The excursionists are from the Sunday-school of Bethany Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Lansing Van Schoonhaven, Pastor, and Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, the Reverend N.B. Chester, Pastor. About 500 people are on board, the majority being children of various ages accompanied by their teachers and chaperons. The excursion train had departed from the Central Station (Exchange Street) about 9 o'clock that morning. The Engineer, Fred C. Ransbury, in charge of engine #124, Fireman, John N. Norris, and Conductor, John B. Conley. The excursion embarked upon its return trip from Lime Lake at exactly 6:30 o'clock that same evening. About an hour was consumed in the run to East Aurora.
"The accident is one of the most remarkable in the history of railroad wrecks. The engines were crushed into masses of twisted steel, and lay at the bottom of a turntable, covered with the timbers, broken glass, and iron coming from the first two cars of the train. They were filled with excursionists and that they escaped with only broken limbs is cause for thankfulness.
The accident, was due to carelessness on somebody's part. Opinions varied among the railroad employees as to the one upon which the blame should rest. Somebody blundered and the life of one man, if not more, will probably pay the penalty of the oversight.
The evening local train from Buffalo to East Aurora #112 where it terminates departed from Buffalo at 6:35 o'clock and is due into East Aurora at 7:17 P.M. with Engineer Phil Howland in charge of engine #30. He had taken his machine to the turntable just south of the station preparatory to turning it around to face northward toward the city for the morning trip." 1
"The switch track is about 200 long and leads to the turntable, a wooden affair built when the road was known as the Buffalo & Washington Railroad (1867-1871) and ran only to that point." 2
"To run the engine to the turntable it's necessary to open a switch. It was left open while the engine was being turned about. The claim is made that the accommodation train# 112 had the right of the main track until 7:35 o'clock. It was now 7:30." 3
"Just beyond the turntable is a sharp curve, and beyond that the track rise to a heavy grade. At that unfortunate time the fated excursion train, heavily loaded was coming down the hill. When the curve was reached, Engineer Fred C. Ransbury on engine #124 saw the danger, but it was too late for the air brakes or anything else to stop the trains downhill momentum and it piled into the pit on top of the engine #30 already upon the turntable.
The pit is about six feet deep and the turning track stood at a right angle to the switch, so that the drop of the engine was a sheer leap into space. Engineer Ransbury and his Fireman, John N. Norris stood manfully at their posts trying until the last moment to do what they must, to lessen the effects of the unavoidable blow.
"But this additional horror was fortunately averted by the prompt action of the Village of East Aurora fire department. Then the scene became indescribable." The valves controlling the whistles on the engines becoming loosened, releasing their steam, the whistles shrieking in agony, sympathetic with the other shrieks coming from frightened women and children." 1
"Another injured individual Mr. Z.L. Parker an older gentleman living at 2317 Main Street in Buffalo was standing on the front platform of the baggage car when the crash came. He was thrown into the pit with the engines, amid the escaping steam. How he got out is a mystery to him, but he did, and has only a sprained ankle and sever bruises about the head to show as the result of the accident.
There was one act that came very near being heroic. Bob Hanson, flagman on the excursion train was thrown from the baggage car and received a broken arm and a crushed side. This affected him not at all. He seized his flag and came up the back to warn a freight train coming down the grade. He accomplished his purpose, but after that he fell, and was found an hour afterward having fainted by the track." 1
Meanwhile the excursionists began to recover from their fright. It was found that nobody had been killed. They walked up to the depot and sat down to wait for another train. A great many went up to the hotel and stood around outside. Inside of an hour and a half the excitement had in a great measure subsided and the excursionists compared experiences and told stories until the wrecking train arrived.
Word was quickly sent to Buffalo for assistance and Western New York & Pennsylvania Superintendent C.T. Dabney with Drs. Daniels and Doooley headed for the scene ahead of the wrecking train. A start was made of the relief train from Babcock Street at 9:05 pm and promptly at 9:25 pm it rolled into the East Aurora station. Never before had there been such a lively trip made over this section of the road as Engineer Frank Griesen made the #28 go over the rails at a speed of a mile a minute.
The wrecking train drawn by engine #166 followed the relief train and the crew was soon at work. The baggage car had been driven over to the main track throwing it about five feet out of line, but not enough to block the main siding, which will be used as a main track until the wreck is cleared.
The relief train was greeted with cheers when it rolled into the East Aurora station. Excursionists who had begun to think that they would have to spend the night in the country grew lighter spirited. Some of them even laughed and joked with the East Aurora folks, who were at the station in scores, and the older young men were not averse to conversing with the pretty Aurora girls who were there in large numbers.
The doctors went at once to the Hotel Eulalia where the wounded were and made a critical examination of all those who were there. They found but little to do as Drs. Gale Hoyt, and Mitchell had skillfully performed their work. Dr. Daniels took the names of all the injured, who were at the hotel and gave orders to have a car cleared of excursionists so that a place might be made ready for the wounded. Carriages were procured and the injured were taken to the station and placed in comfortable positions in the cars.
The trains started for Buffalo at 10:30 o'clock and reached the Central Station (Exchange Street) at 11:50 o'clock. The train shed was thronged with friends and relatives of the excursionists and the gateway was blocked.
At midnight the train was fully unloaded and nearly everybody was gone. Carriages had been provided by wholesale, and but for the late arrivals, who were still engaged in saying "Terrible!" scarcely any inkling would have been had of anything unusual. One party of half a dozen young people was still on the spot. One young man had wrenched his foot so badly as to be unable to walk and had to be carried by the others. Another male member of the party who carried a couple of tennis racquets, had his head tied up with a bandage, but was able to take care of himself. The young women with them were uninjured. "We were going from 15 to 20 miles per hour" said one man who was waiting for a carriage. "It wasn't over 20 miles an hour at the most. What a slaughter there would have been had we been running at full speed.'"
"When the train struck" said a youth who was looking after some of his friends, "I went head first over two or three seats. I don't know exactly where I did land." He was not hurt, apparently.
By 12:30 o'clock the last person from the wrecked train, uninjured or otherwise, had left the station." The crew of the excursion and other eyewitnesses to the derailment were interviewed that evening in East Aurora by reporters of the Buffalo Morning Express relating their own personal accounts of what had happened.
"Fred C. Ransbury, the Engineer of the excursion train, said that in coming around the curve near where the switch leading to the turntable is located, he saw the engine on the table and believed the track clear. "'That train (Aurora Accommodation) is given the right to use the main track until 7:35 o'clock, but as he saw the engine on the table, I believed it was all right in going ahead. It was just between daylight and dusk, the worst time in the world to catch the target on a switch, and I did not see that the switch was against me until I was within five car lengths of it. I put on the air, slowing the train down to about 15 miles an hour, and got my reverse lever half over when I had to jump over the side of the pit."
"I was in the back coaches when the crash occurred," said Conductor John B. Conley of the excursion train. "We had been running at the rate of about 25 miles an hour and had slowed down coming into East Aurora. I bumped against a seat and bruised , I guess I am lucky in getting out as lightly as I have."
"I prefer not to say anything which will cast any blame on anyone in connection with the accident," said Mr. C.T. Dabney, Superintendent of the Buffalo Division, when asked where the blame lay. "We will begin an investigation into the causes of the wreck at my office tomorrow and after that is over I can tell you more about it. Our rules read that Train #112 can use main track to a point until half a mile south of East Aurora until 7:35 P.M. to switch the train. All trains will be governed accordingly and must approach point named prepared to stop. This will give some information."
"I was sitting on my steps," said S.C. Smith, one of the men living in a house near the turntable and was watching the men turning the engine. I heard the excursion train whistle as it came around the curve and I watched it. The train seemed to me to be going about 12 miles an hour when it went through the switch. Suddenly I noticed it leave the main track and almost before I knew it the engine went into the pit. The women screamed and nearly everybody came out through the windows. In fact it was about the only way they could get out." "Is it unusual for these men to leave the switch track open when turning the engine?" asked one reporter. "Yes, always. They run in, turn the engine and run right out. As a rule they are not usually in there over three or four minutes."
Ezra Smith, a railroad employee was another eyewitness to the wreck. "I was near the turntable," said he, "when Engineer Howland of the "Aurora Accommodation" called to me to turn the switch. I ran but was unable to reach it in time. I yelled to a co-worker who was standing near it, but he did not understand and failed to turn it. If he had understood what I had been saying, the wreck would not have happened."
Conductor Matt O'Brien of the "Aurora Accommodation" was unwilling to say much about the wreck. "I was at the station when it occurred," said he, "and for that reason can say nothing of the circumstances."
"But had you a right to leave the switch open?" asked the Buffalo Morning Express reporter. Conductor O'Brien replied, "This train has the right to use the main track until 7:35 o'clock. The wreck occurred at 7:30 o'clock." 2
1. "Piled Into a Heap," Buffalo Daily Courier, 7/19/1893, p. 1.
2. "Open Switch," Buffalo Morning Express, 7/19/1893, p. 1.
3. "Awful Peril," Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 7/19/1892, p. 8.
If you take Oakwood Avenue in the Village of East Aurora to the corner of Elm Street. To get there, you drive past the Fire Department Building to your left then go under the present day Norfolk Southern Railroad overpass. When you emerge you find to your left the "Red Caboose," an ice cream stand in a "real" railroad caboose. Immediately to your right is Wallenwein's Hotel & Horse Shoe. Travel the one short block to the end of Elm Street. If the brown brick building on your right looks familiar, it's the one in the wreck photo without the towering smokestacks. This is the spot where this spectacular train derailment occurred 110 years ago. The structure built in 1890 and opened in 1891 served as the electric power generating plant for that end of the Village up until 1898. Abandoned for many years the interior was gutted, and exterior restored. In January, 2001 the "The Source" was opened by Chiropractor and Physical therapist Dr. Seth Kaiser who I wish to thank for his assistance in documenting this structure.
The Hotel Eulalia which served as a make-shift hospital in treating the wounded is now the home of the Aurora Theatre at 673 Main Street.
When and Where Was the First Car Accident?
That depends on how you define a “car.” In 1869, Irish scientist Mary Ward was riding in a steam-powered automobile built by her cousins. As they rounded a bend in the road, Ward was thrown from her seat and fell in the vehicle’s path. One of the wheels rolled over her and broke her neck, killing her instantly.
Ohio City, Ohio claims the first accident involving a gasoline-powered auto, a little closer to what most of us think of as a car today. In 1891, engineer James Lambert was driving one of his inventions, an early gasoline-powered buggy, when he ran into a little trouble. The buggy, also carrying passenger James Swoveland, hit a tree root sticking out of the ground. Lambert lost control and the vehicle swerved and crashed into a hitching post. Both men suffered minor injuries.
The first recorded pedestrian fatalities by car came a few years later. In 1896, Bridget Driscoll stepped off of a London curb and was struck and killed by a gas-powered Anglo-French model car driven by Arthur Edsall. While the car had a top speed of four miles per hour, neither Edsall nor Driscoll—who witnesses described as “bewildered” by the sight of the vehicle and frozen in place—were able to avoid the collision. Edsall was arrested, but the death was ruled an accident and he was not prosecuted. The coroner who examined Driscoll’s body is famously quoted as saying that he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.” (That same year, a bicyclist was killed by an automobile in New York City.)
The first pedestrian death in the U.S. occurred on September 13, 1899 (not a Friday). Henry Bliss, according to contemporary accounts, was either disembarking from a New York City streetcar or helping a woman step out when he was struck by an electrically-powered taxi cab. He died from injuries to his head and chest the next morning.
The first driver fatality from a collision (not counting Ward’s unfortunate ejection) happened in 1898, when Englishman Henry Lindfield and his son were driving from Brighton to London. Near the end of their trip, Lindfield lost control of the car while going down a hill. They crashed through a fence and Lindfield was thrown from the driver’s seat before the car ran into a tree and caught his leg between them. His son was not hurt and ran for help. At the hospital, surgeons found the leg was crushed below the knee and decided to amputate it. After the operation, Lindfield remained unconscious and died the following day.
The one famous first in this field I can’t seem to track down is the first collision between two cars, gas-powered or otherwise. If anyone knows anything about that or has any leads on that, speak up.
Effie Afton Hits the Bridge
On May 6, 1856 a steamboat named Effie Afton crashed into the bridge, destroying the steamboat as well as part of the bridge. The owners of the Effie Afton decided to take the railroad companies that had built the bridge to court. They wanted the railroad companies to pay for damages to the Effie Afton and its cargo. They also wanted the court to declare the bridge a danger to river travel and order its removal. The case went to court in Chicago in September of 1857.
The First Fatal Car Accident In The World Was Earlier Than You Think
You might think that the first fatal car crash would be after Karl Benz built his famous Patent Motorwagen in 1886, but the first fatal car accident is generally recognized as the death of the scientist Mary Ward in 1869. Amazingly, there might be a fatal accident decades before that.
Mary Ward's death is, as I said, generally recognized as the first victim of a fatal car accident. I mean, Jalopnik even wrote about it . The King's County Chronicle documented her death the day after it happened. Basically, she was thrown out of the vehicle as it turned a sharp corner.
The First Person Killed By A Car Was This Very Impressive Woman
For most people, being the first to do something is all the achievement they'll ever need. My…
On yesterday the people of Parsonstown were much excited and grieved at a sad accident which occurred in the town. In the afternoon of yesterday the Hon. Captain Ward, his wife, the Hon. Mrs. Ward, The Hons. Clare and Charles Parsons, and Mr. Biggs the tutor to the young gentlemen, were on a steam carriage which has been built by Lord Rosse. The vehicle had steam up, and was going at an easy pace, when on turning the sharp corner at the church, unfortunately the Hon. Mrs. Ward was thrown from the seat and fearfully injured, causing her almost immediate death.
Why is this a car accident, since most people would say that the first car ever built was the Benz Patent Motorwagen , not constructed until 17 years after Mrs. Ward's untimely demise? Well, like it or not, the Benz wasn't really the first car, because steam carriages like the one Mrs. Ward was riding on had been around for decades prior. I can't find any images of the Ross steam carriage Ward was in, but here's a Rickett's steam carriage from 1860 to give you a sense that yes, there were cars back then, even if they looked weird and their engines ran on steam.
Meet Bertha Benz, The Woman Who Took The First Real Drive
As Google's doodle reminded me, today is International Women's Day. It's kind of alarming how much…
It's the image at the top of this article that really intrigues me, however. It shows John Scott Russell's steam carriage exploding, killing four passengers. And it all happened in 1834. That's just four years after the opening of the first twin-track intercity steam railway , by the way. Here's the picture again, zoomed in for a better view of what must have been sheer, unbridled terror.
In short, the thing exploded. Four people died and Russell had to close his business.
I know this is a lot for you, the car enthusiast presumably reading this, to process. Surely a car couldn't exist in 1834! A steam carriage isn't a car! What's this about a business closing?
Let me break this all down. John Scott Russell was one of the pioneers in steam vehicles in the United Kingdom, which was, as a nation, a pioneer in steam propulsion. It's easy for you to think about the Industrial Revolution, and then to think about trains. Well, before the UK went crazy for trains, they went crazy for steam carriages. They were like trains that ran on the road instead of on rails, crossed with a bus, crossed with a car. At the very least, these were 'horseless carriages' just like all early automobiles.
These steam carriages worked a lot like trains, running inter-city routes. John Scott Russell (pictured) was actually one of the first people to set up a steam carriage line. The 'Steam Carriage Company of Scotland' ran between Glasgow and Paisley, about a ten mile trip. The carriages left every hour and ran at about 15 mph.
Russell had six of his 26-seater coaches built in Edinburgh in that fateful year of 1834, according to Grace's Guide . Each coach had a two-cylinder engine with a total displacement of around 44.5 liters (they had a square bore-to-stroke of 12 inches). The Glasgow Story has a slightly more detailed description of the carriage, and this accompanying illustration of what the thing looked like.
Here's where things get interesting.
Many of the smaller roads being used at this time were privately maintained. The 'road trustees' that maintained them complained viciously about steam carriages, all over the UK, and specifically about Russell's line. They claimed that the heavy carriages were wearing the roads down. Often these road trustees would sabotage their own roads in an effort to damage steam carriages, doing things like putting logs in their way or filling the roads with deep gravel.
What's also interesting is that many of these road trustees had deals with horse carriage companies that now faced new competition from steam carriages. It's not clear that wear and tear on the roads is the only reason road trustees had to hate steam carriages — they were new competition for their horse carriage monopolies.
In fact, these road trustees (along with early railway owners) went on to lobby against steam carriages and get a punitive speed limit of 10 mph imposed on them, as A.J. Smith explains in his book Privatized Infrastructure: the role of government .
Okay, I'm getting sidetracked. The Glasgow Story claims that the 𧫌ident' that hit Russell's steam carriage may have been sabotage.
The Glasgow-Paisley service departed hourly from its termini at George Square and Paisley's Tontine Hotel, but there were rumours that the road trustees became annoyed at damage done or imagined to be done by the machines to the road surface as they careered along. In July 1834 a carriage struck a heap of road metal that (it was rumoured) had been piled up intentionally in its path at Halfway House in Craigton.
So not only did the first ⟊r' accident happen over half a century before Karl Benz supposedly invented the car, it may have been caused by anti-car saboteurs!
So the next time someone tells you that Mercedes made the first car ever, feel free to correct them. And if ever you think your local government or Greenpeace chapter is giving cars a hard time, feel free to point to this article, too. And be thankful cars don't have giant, exploding steam boilers anymore.