While Ogden was negotiating between McCormick and Gray, The Alert, an old locomotive purchased from Brooks’ Michigan Central had been refitted and shipped overwater to Chicago.  The locomotive arrived at the Chicago River on October 10, was carefully unloaded, and placed on temporary tracks that had been laid from Halsted and Kinzie to the riverbank.  In the meanwhile, Ogden and Turner had funded a local mechanic and foundry operator, Hiram H. Scoville, to start a new company to manufacture the freight and passenger cars for the nascent railroad.  Ogden had sold him a lot on the corner of Canal and Adams, upon which Scoville moved a frame building from the corner of Randolph and Clinton, in which H.H. Scoville & Sons would become the city’s first company to manufacture railroad cars.  Turner had shipped a prototype of a car on a schooner from Michigan and Scoville was in business, and by October 25, 1848, he had made two cars that were hitched to the locomotive, renamed The Pioneer, and Chicago’s first locomotive made a successful five-mile experimental run.  (As the railroad business grew, the owners of the Galena funded the expansion of Scoville into the manufacture of locomotives as well, with the incorporation of the Chicago Locomotive Company in 1854.  William H. Brown, a G&CU Director, was elected the company’s president, while Ogden and Thomas Dyer were major investors.)

“The Pioneer,” the first locomotive of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad. (Online)

Little did Ogden know at that time how valuable his unilateral decision to begin construction of the railroad was to be, as gold had been discovered in California on January 24, 1848, but the first news of the discovery didn’t make it back to the East Coast until August 19, some two months after he had started laying track.  The Gold Rush to California was on and Ogden’s little train had a serendipitous head start. Meanwhile, construction of the G&CU’s tracks had continued west throughout the fall until the Des Plaines River was reached in mid-November.  With an eye out for some desperately needed public relations, Ogden invited about 100 stockholders and newspaper reporters to take the first passenger ride to the end of the line on November 20.  They reported to the railroad’s hastily constructed shed at Canal and Kinzie.  A couple of baggage cars fitted with benches waited behind The Pioneer as the guests made their way to the tracks.  At around 4:00 p.m., history was made as Chicago’s first passenger train began the eight-mile trek over the prairie to the end of the line.  On the return trip home, the party came across three wagons loaded with hides and wheat that were stuck up to their wheel hubs in mud.  The owners were easily induced to be relieved on the spot of their commodities, that were loaded on the train for the ride into the city.  After this inaugural run, The Pioneer made the run each day carrying workers and supplies to the end of the line.  Word quickly spread throughout the surrounding farming community and within a week, there were over thirty wagons of wheat waiting at the Des Plaines depot.

Map of G&CU as of December 1848. Note the location of the G&CU terminal on the west bank of the North Branch of the river. (Online)

Ogden’s vision of a grain cycle was becoming a reality.  By December the route’s length had been extended to ten miles and with such an auspicious response by the farmers, Ogden began making plans for the upcoming spring’s construction.  Within a year, Ogden had replaced the shed at the start of the line with a permanent depot, the first of a new kind building in Chicago. 

The First Galena & Chicago Union Railroad Station, Canal and Kinzie, 1848. Looking northwest. The second story and cupola were added in 1849. Ogden and Scammon used the cupola to watch their trains’ arrivals and departures with a telescope. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.

Heise, Kenan and Michael Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982.

Mayer, Harold  M., and Richard C. Wade. Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis. Chicago: University   of Chicago Press, 1969.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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