The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum and a National Historic Landmark. The museum showcases a variety of artifacts related to early American railroading.
The B&O line, the Western Maryland line, and the Chesapeake and Ohio line are represented, among others. The museum sits on a 40-acre campus that includes the location of the first commercial long-distance rail line as well as the first passenger train station in America’s history. The permanent collection includes over 200 pieces of locomotives as well as artifacts related to railroading such as tools, timepieces, and uniforms as well as furniture, fine art, and silver. A collection of toy trains and train models illuminates America’s fascination with railroading.
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The collection of locomotives and rolling stock dates back to the very start of American railroading and aims to represent the first, last, or best of railroad history. Steam engines date back to the 1820s and include both restored originals and replicas. There are electric and diesel engines as well as a range of passenger and freight trains, and even a hand pump car from 1915. The Alex Brown & Sons Exhibition Gallery displays small objects and artifacts from the permanent collection on a rotating basis. Current exhibits include the Smithsonian’s collection of railroad models. These scale displays represent innovations in American railroading and are considered to be the finest examples of model locomotives. The About Time exhibit displays wall clocks, pocket watches, and other time keeping pieces used by the B&O Railroad and its employees and illuminates the importance of accurate time keeping in the railroad industry as well as the railway’s role in standardizing time keeping.
The site of the museum itself is an important part of the collection. Recognized as a National Landmark, the buildings and structures on the 40-acre campus are an integral part of the history of the B&O Railroad. The ruins of the “tender kitchen,” built in 1919, can be seen. In this area, the railroad locomotive tenders were repaired and was considered a state-of-the-art industrial structure when it was built. The Mt Clare depot, built in 1851, is the oldest building on the campus and was built to provide passenger services, offering indoor waiting rooms and a ticket office. The Baltimore & Ohio Passenger Car Works, built around 1870, originally housed the facilities to build and repair passenger cars. Today, the northern one of these two buildings houses the museum’s locomotives. The Roundhouse, built in 1884, was originally a passenger car shop. The Annex building, also constructed in 1884, served as a storage facility for many years and today is the main entrance to the museum and houses the permanent collection galleries as well as a gift shop.
History: The B&O Railroad was America’s first commercial long-distance railroad and was known since its inception to be keenly aware of its place in history. Books about the railroad were written as early as 1853, and in 1876 the railroad celebrated its history with an exhibit at the US Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. In the 1880s, with competition growing, the railroad began to promote itself as America’s First Railroad and hired a publicity agent. The museum can be said to have begun at this time, when PR agent Joseph G. Pangborn mounted a gold-medal winning exhibit to promote the Baltimore Railroad. This exhibit of older out-of-service locomotives as well as wooden replicas was showcased at fairs throughout the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Ultimately, when the roundhouse at Mt Clare was abandoned, the collection was stored there and made available to the public all year round. The roundhouse was the largest commercial building in the world when it first opened, and was used for years as passenger car shop, opening to the public as the B&O Transportation Museum at Mt Clare in 1953. In 1987, after a series of mergers, the B&O Railroad was no more, and in 1990 the museum became its own nonprofit entity. In 1999, the museum signed an agreement with the Smithsonian, becoming the first of just seven US museums to be honored with such an affiliation. Today, the museum has earned the nickname “America’s Railroad Museum” for its innovation and leadership in the field, and hosts over 200,000 visitors annually.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The B&O Railroad museum provides lesson plans for field trips, guided tours, and downloadable materials to accompany the exhibits. Lego programs for children ages 15 and under provide hands-on rail car and railway building activities. Steam Days is an annual October weekend event that fires up the museum’s steam engines and offers a variety of associated activities.
901 West Pratt St., Baltimore, MD 21223, website, Phone: 410-752-2490
Back to: Baltimore, Maryland