Image of Illinois Central Railroad

Illinois Central Railroad

During the years 1850-1851, a generous land grant from the federal government provided the resources to establish the Illinois Central Railroad. The land grant legislation of 1850 marked the first time that public lands from the national government were used directly to help the private construction of a major railroad line. This act established a precedent that greatly influenced nearly all railroad construction in the West for the next generation. The very size of the Illinois Central was unusual. When the 700-mile charter line was finished in 1856, the Illinois Central was the longest railroad in the world.
John Stover, History of the Illinois Central Railroad (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1975), 15. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.