Virtual Exhibitions 2011, no. 1

Promotion and Transformation of Landscapes along the CB&Q Railroad

Eric D. Olmanson

This virtual exhibition shows some of the many ways railroads reshaped landscapes of the American West between 1847 and 1965. You may choose to read chronologically starting with the overview, or go directly to a theme that interests you by clicking on the navigation slider below. To see an image's full view and caption, click the image thumbnail. All rights reserved for all exhibition images. For permission to use an image, contact the Newberry Library.

Exhibition overview

During the nineteenth century, railroads became a major force of environmental change and an important shaper of ideas about nature. The very act of laying tracks had wide-ranging environmental impacts by consuming iron, wood, and other resources often transported great distances. Established lines extended and increased the flow of resources, and opened up vast, thinly populated areas to rapid development and settlement. To sell their vast land holdings and to entice people and businesses to locate along their lines, railroad advertising departments were major promoters of settlement, agriculture, mining, and other industries. Railroads also encouraged tourism and the preservation of wild lands. Railroad publications promoted a variety of uses for the land, from advocating irrigation and the cultivation of specific crops, to instructing hikers on technique, what to bring, and what to see. Some publications sought to instruct railway passengers how to interpret the landscape that passed by their windows.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was one of the most important and enduring railroads, and its historical records are amazingly complete and well preserved. The CB&Q collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago consists of some 5,000 cubic feet (142 cubic meters) of documents representing an important part of the history of the Midwestern, Great Plains, and Mountain States history from 1847 to 1965. This virtual exhibition focuses on visually interesting documents from this collection that suggest narratives about the human-environment relationship. It aims to provide a glimpse of the types of documents that await discovery by environmental historians, historical geographers, and others interested in the promotion and transformation of landscapes.


Creative Commons License 2011 Eric D. Olmanson
This refers only to the text and does not include any image rights. Please click on an image to view its individual rights status.