Authors: Evgenia Shnayder, Erik Steiner, and Richard White
Although there is an extensive literature on railroad accidents, virtually all of it looks at the frequency of accidents according to occupation. Attention to spatial distribution is rarer and coarse grained: by state or by region. Statistics compiled in the First Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioner of Colorado, however, allow a more detailed study of accidents. We can examine not only occupational distribution, but also accident severity, spatial, and seasonal distribution.
While trainmen, and brakemen in particular, were the most prone to injury and death, the 275 distinct employee accidents that occurred in Colorado between July 1884 and June 1885 prove that working on the railroad was dangerous regardless of the job. The railroad became the “most profound technological innovation” of the nineteenth-century and the “single largest American industry” by 1900, but at a great cost. By 1907, statistics stated that almost 12,000 men had died per year in the United States since the founding of the railroad industry.
More information about accidents in Colorado can be found in the “When the Loss of a Finger is Considered a ‘Minor’ Injury” publication.
Station Construction Data, 1850-1900
How to Run a Transcontinental Railroad