railroad, B&O, Baltimore, coal, bituminous, Appalachia, labor, environment, 19th century


During the nineteenth century, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad reshaped the social, political, and physical environment of the mid-Atlantic around the needs of the industrial economy. The creation of industrial space, and the proliferation of communities to populate it, is seen retrospectively as an inevitable consequence of technological innovation, but engaging with contemporary corporate records reveals that this space, like the railroad, was engineered. In order to design a supply chain that would make industrialization economical, the railroad and coal industries engaged in political and social engineering to design the new locales of industrialism, exemplified in the Allegheny Mountains by the coal company town. As this new type of space was populated by the workers necessary to its function, the spatial practices of those workers and their families informed its evolution, defining its boundaries and informing the ways in which it transcended them. Using an environment as methodology, this paper explores the early history of American industrialism, the spatial inflection of corporate power, and the role of working class contestations in the construction of the built environment.