Skip to Main Content
Although early efforts to propel railway vehicles by primitive batteries date back as far as 1835, the first successful application of electric traction probably occurred in 1879, when a locomotive designed by Dr. Werner von Siemens was operated at an exhibition in Berlin. This priority may be in some dispute, however, since Thomas Edison experimented with an electric locomotive at about the same date, and Steven D. Field was also testing such a device at this point in time. George Westinghouse, the genius of American railways, was another pioneer in this developmental effort. The story of railway electrification is one of epic proportions both in the United States and elsewhere. The first installment of this three-part series is concerned with the historical development of electric railway systems in the United States up to the present time. The second chapter will discuss the advent of the diesel locomotives and their impact upon electrification, automatic signal and safety features, and the present and future prospects for the electrification of proposed rapid transit systems. The final installment will deal with the development of the European systems.