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Embossed postcard with train image - Limited Express

3¢ BALTIMORE & OHIO RAILROAD - February 28, 1952

Sc. 1006 - 3 Ultramarine - issued 2/28/52

This stamp celebrated the 125th anniversary of rail transportation in the US, as exemplified by the B&O Railroad, the first railroad to be chartered in the US as a common carrier of passengers and freight, and the one that survived longest under its original name. Initially its trains were powered by horses, but in 1830 Peter Cooper asked that its owners let him demonstrate his new steam-powered rail engine, and the famous "Tom Thumb", the first successful U.S-built steam locomotive, ran its first public trials on B&O tracks.

The trains pictured on the stamp are the horse-drawn "Pioneer Car" (May, 1830); the 0-2-2 locomotive "Tom Thumb" (August, 1830); and a pair of B&O type F3 diesel locomotives with passenger cars (1948). Replicas of the "Pioneer" and "Tom Thumb" are in the collection of the B&O Railroad Museum at Mt. Clare, MD, recently reopened after recovery from catastrophic damage in the heavy snow storms of February, 2003. The F3's shown were two of seven (numbered 82 through 88) built by EMD for the B&O in 1947, beginning service in 1948, presumably dismantled since.

For more about the equipment on this stamp GO HERE.

There were 13 US commemorative stamps issued in 1952 - the others honored Betsy Ross, 4-H Clubs, the American Automobile Association, NATO, the Grand Coulee Dam, LaFayette, Mt Rushmore, Civil Engineers, Women in the Armed Forces, the Gutenberg Bible, Newspaper Boys, and the International Red Cross. The B&O stamp was designed by C R Chickering, and engraved by C A Brooks, and J S Edmondson. Over 112 million copies were printed, making it still plentiful in mint condition, and worth basically its face value. There are no significant plate varieties or errors.

The table below, edited to highlight what are for my purposes here the key events in B&O history,
was extracted from Scott Dunlap's excellent "B&O Timeline" site

B&O Timeline

February 27, 1827 - B&O chartered by Maryland Legislature.
July 4, 1828 - First Stone of B&O laid at ceremony in Baltimore, with massive public parade which nearly very resident of Baltimore either participated in or witnessed.
May 22, 1830 - B&O Directors ride the horse drawn car "Pioneer" from Mt. Clare to Ellicott's Mills on the newly finished double tracked line.
August 24, 1830 -  Inventor Peter Cooper runs "Tom Thumb" (the first railroad locomotive built in the US)  for the first time from Mt. Clare Depot to Relay (about seven miles distant) on the B&O tracks. The little engine achieved speeds of 12 to 14 miles per hour.
January 1, 1838 -  The B&O becomes the first Federal Government Contract Carrier of United States Mail
1904 -  B&O roster: 1,769 steam locomotives; miles of track: 4,400
1945 - B&O roster: 137 diesels, 1,968 steam locomotives, 9 electric locomotives, 2,114 total.
1948 -  B&O's last steam locomotive #5594, Class T-3C rolls out of Mt. Clare's shop.
1951 - B&O roster: 423 diesels, 1,275 steam locomotives, 9 electric locomotives, 1,707 total.
1960 - B&O roster: 1,129 diesels, 0 steam locomotives.
1963 - C&O officially takes control of the B&O.
1967 - Post Office removes most first class mail from the railroads.
1970 - Congress creates National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
1971 - Amtrak takes over most of the nation's inter-city passenger business, including all of the B&O's.
1987 - B&O merges into C&O and ceases to exist.


Photos of essays for Scott 1006

Above are photos of essays (other proposed designs) for the stamp. The three on the right are simply variations on the accepted design, while the two on the left must be earlier ideas, both with the same basic elements, but with the trains less prominent. I like the one on the far left, but can see why it was rejected - too busy. (My thanks to Henry Gitner for permission to reproduce those images from his stock.)

The big question in my mind, of course, is How did the B&O get all that free publicity? There were still a fair number of railroad companies in this country in 1952, and favoring one so blatantly must have annoyed the others. Unfortunately, there was no philatelic reporting such as that provided by George Amick today, so the behind-the-scenes story of this stamp may never be known, but B&O was the first, and while never the largest (that honor belongs to the PRR), it was the longest-lived of the major US railroads, and deserved the honor, in my opinion.

Railroads were, however, very much on the decline in 1952 - it had been 24 years since American railroads had made a profit on their passenger business, and even railroad freight was increasingly unable to compete effectively against its concrete and air competitors. So perhaps this stamp was intended as a sop to the rail industry, a gesture to suggest compensation for the blatant favoritism being shown to rail competitors in those years, through open government subsidization of highways, airports, and airlines.

Sc. 1006-knapp

Above is Dorothy Knapp's fabulous First Day Cover for this stamp. Oddly, she chose to paint the locomotive in gold and black, a color scheme that was never to my knowledge used on this engine.

One of my favorite FDCs for this issue is the one above, not so much for its cachet, which is fine, but for the letter it contains, signed by the B&O's Vice President of Traffic, H. E. Simpson. It reads as follows:

Today we are 125 years of age -- a century and a quarter, but frankly, we "don't feel a day older!" No indeed - we feel quite young and vigorous, though we are the oldest, and one of the largest railroads in the Nation.

Yes, this is our 125th Anniversary, for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad charter was granted on February 28th, 1827. This date marked the beginning of commercial railroads in the United States.

We feel honored that Uncle Sam says, "Birthday Greetings." To do this our government issued a special postage stamp to commemorate the event. Believing you would like to have one, we send you this letter on a "first day cover," a collector's item.

Our 125th birthday, however, is not just an occasion for recalling past achievements. It is rather, we think, an opportunity to dramatize the B&O's established position in its many communities and in the Nation.

Confidently we head toward our next milestone, dedicated to the same tradition of service founded in our charter. Our program of progress can be achieved by our willingness to serve to the best of our ability. Only as we fulfill such a role are we worthy of the continued patronage of our passengers and shippers.

I wonder how many copies of that letter were sent out - my copy appears to be a hand- typed, hand-signed original, but even in 1952 it must have been possible to mass-produce an item like this. Certainly the B&O Marketing Department would have been fools to pass up the opportunity to cash in on the free advertising the stamp represented.

Sadly, today there is no longer a B&O Railroad - In 1963 the B&O was acquired by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company, which in 1980 became part of CSX Corporation. Next year I presume Bill Gates will buy that.

Finally, I like the cover above, which provides some interesting additional data and images.

Sources - there are thousands of excellent books and web sites about railroad history.
Here are a few of the ones I found most useful in preparing this article:

- http://www.geocities.com/scott_w_dunlap/BORRTIME.htm
- http://www.railroadcity.com/
Poor's Manual of Railroads, 1904
Linn's World Stamp Almanac, 2000
Railroads in America, by Oliver Jensen, 1975

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All text Copyright © 2000, William M. Senkus

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Revised -- 11/18/2004