Atlantic City, NJ was largely founded by the vision of Dr. Jonathan Pitney and the family money and influence of 30-year-old Samuel Richards. The two men worked together to get a railroad to run from Camden, NJ to Absecon Island, NJ (later named Atlantic City). The two men recruited investors and financiers for the railroad and used their money to speculate on land all over the island, buying large portions of it from the children of the island’s largest landholders who had no interest in farming the harsh lands of their fathers.
Pitney and Richards bought so much land in Atlantic City and around the path of the railroad that the state of NJ passed a law forbidding their railroad from purchasing any more land. To work around that, the pair formed a new company that existed to buy land for the railroad. Problem solved.
Prior to the 1854 opening of the railroad line, Pitney had been pumping out letters to the editor in all the Philadelphia papers, raving about the restorative and curative powers of the sea and this Absecon Island in particular. In the 19th century, Medicine was not the path to respect and riches that it is today. Hell in the 20th century, plenty of doctors were capricious enough to lend their 4 out of 5 support to whichever tobacco company was paying the most. Pitney wasn’t much different.
The trip to Atlantic City took two and a half hours by train, there were nine passenger cars with no windows. The coal-fired locomotive sullied many a passenger with its soot and thick clouds of black smoke. The cost of a round trip ticket was $3, with one-way being $2. Several of the officers on the Railroad’s board including Samuel Richards felt that they could attract more passengers by lowering the cost and making it more affordable for the blue-collar workers of Philadelphia to take day-trips to Atlantic City.
The early adopters of Atlantic City weren’t crazy about the idea of sharing their ‘getaway’ with lower-class city workers, nor were most of the railroad’s board. Richards and co. grew so frustrated that they left the railroad and formed another. Richards once again used his family name, wealth and influence to secure a second charter from the state government in Trenton, and began on a smaller gauge railroad.
The slowly growing, not as great as Cape May, community of Atlantic City now had two railroads going to it. The new Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railroad undercut its competition by 50% and brought an influx of Philadelphians who couldn’t afford to stay over in the hotels or rooming houses. These lower-fare riders didn’t care that the benches were hard, the seats were torn, or that the cars were some of the worst on the rails of the day.
The beaches swelled with vacationing city-dwellers and mosquitoes. In 1873 the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased Richards second railroad for $1 million dollars. The first thing the new owners did was expand it to the uniform 4 foot 8-1/2″ gauge. It’s a good thing Atlantic City was never invaded by the Nazis.
The 2006 film, “Let’s Go To Prison” opens with a narration of an astonishing number of prison facts, facts like every year enough children are born behind bars to field 250 little league teams. When the narrator is questioned later in the film about his often off-the-cuff recital of these facts, like 20% of people in American prisons aren’t even citizens, he replies, “I’m on a lot of weird mailing lists.”
That’s what this page is. The Quick Hits of Ishtory. Here you’ll find tons of tidbits to drop in every day conversations. Not quite trivia but not in-depth enough to be considered actually academic.
Here’s your first one:
One half of one percent of the world’s male population is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan; over 16 million men. Such tracking is done through the Y chromosome so there’s no data available on how many women are directly descended from the great Khan of Khans. Another fun one, his real name was Temujin.
During Operation Barbossa, the codename for Nazi Germany’s invasion of The Soviet Union, one of the main hindrances to the invading force was the larger gauge of train track used by the Ruskies. Like Great Britain and America, the majority of Russia’s interior railways were 5ft apart. In the very first Russian railway the gauge was 6 feet, and back in 1841, an American railroad consultant and a Soviet Minister both pitched differing gauges to the Tsar. By Imperial Decree, the Russian gauge was set at 1524mm. The majority of Europe proper was using a 4ft 8-1/2 gauge.
Deciding between 4ft 8-1/2″, 5ft a.k.a 1524mm later shortened to 1520mm, or 6ft sounds very intimidating, and since it involves large pieces of machinery travelling at high rates of speed probably more academic than it is. In reality, the differing of gauges boiled down to personal preference and economic feasibility. As railroads grew, many countries found uniformity within their own borders to be cost effective, but they didn’t necessarily worry about uniformity with their neighbors. No use spending extra money to get to 5′ gauge when you already had 4ft 8-1/2″ in half your country.
And just like that a decision made 100 years prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union, helped decide the outcome of the war. The Nazi invaders were forced to send their engineering teams out ahead of their supply lines to lay down the gauge required, which exposed their men to enemy fire. The bridges and infrastructure of the Soviet Union also weren’t build quite sturdy enough to support the heavier German trains loaded down with supplies and would often creak and crash on their own.
The Germans typical blitzkrieg invasion was slowed to a crawl by multiple circumstances, and their inability to travel farther than they could supply their lines. The Nazis quickly found themselves in a deadly war of attrition, and as they were forced to withdraw in 1944, they did their best to trash the place on the way out. Using a “Schwellenpflug” to destroy the converted rail lines behind them as they went.