The First Railroad in Germany

The First Railroad in Germany

By Roger Heid

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When I say ‘Railroad’, I mean one or more cars being pulled by a steam or otherwise powered locomotive running on iron or steel tracks, all stock utilizing iron or steel wheels. This eliminates all situations of rolling stock being pulled by horses on wooden rails.

However, it is possible that horses pull a train that otherwise fits the above specifications. These situations existed when there were not enough steam engines available to pull trains over short distances or when continuous use of steam power was economically not feasible.

This blog is not intended to reflect the whole gamut of railroad history. This could fill a whole library.  Historians claim that a very rudimentary rail system already existed in ancient Greece in 600 BC. It is actually nothing but a rut or shallow ditch in the ground which guided some sort of basic wheels. For a fee, one could easily transport cargo to and from a seaport.

Isaac Newton gets the credit for making things a lot more interesting, as far as modern railroads are concerned. As soon as he got over dwelling on the side effects of apples falling from trees, he had another one of his bright ideas, namely harnessing the power of steam.

The ancient Greeks had already beaten him to that, but they had no clue as to what to do with it. They did build some exotic contraptions whose only useful purpose was to entertain the masses in county fairs and amusement parks, something the ancient Greeks had plenty of.

Isaac did succeed with his steam engine project. He probably had a railroad in mind with which he could easily transport the accumulated apples to town. However, it seems he got sidetracked by developing a better telescope to make moon gazing more efficient. Yup, he was quite a guy.

Later on, it took people like Fulton and Stephenson to put Newton’s invention a step further. They placed the steam engine on vehicles, thus creating steam ships and steam locomotives, for example.

The mining industry in several countries gets the credit for creating the first useful railroad track systems, particularly in England.  But this is a long story all by itself.

The first steam powered commercial railroad in Germany opened on December 7, 1835. It was only about 3.8 miles long. It connected the City of Nuremberg to Fuerth, another town near Nuremberg; t’was just in time for Christmas shopping.


1935 Reproduction

At the time, King Ludwig managed the State of Bavaria, hence, this railroad was called the Bavarian Ludwig Railroad (Bayerische Ludwigbahn). The steam engine was called Adler (Eagle). It was delivered from England (Stephenson), and it included the driver, or engineer, in modern terms.

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The cars were built by local coach builders. It shuttled passengers and freight on a daily basis. However, at first, due to a coal shortage, only the 1 pm and 2 pm trains used the steam locomotive. All other trains were pulled by a double team of horses. There was no hay and oats shortage we know of. Wood was also a bit expensive. It was needed for other purposes rather than being wasted on a ‘silly’ experiment, in some people’s opinion.


During those days, Bavaria was an autonomous nation. There was no noteworthy coal mining within its boundaries. This was a privilege of states like Prussia and Westphalia. It was quite expensive to buy and haul coal from these out-of-state mining locations.

This makes one wonder just why this location in Bavaria was chosen to build a railroad like the ones they had in England. There are some confusing theories about this. But, here it is, in a nutshell.

The success of railroads in England caught the attention of Bavarian merchants and other concerned folks. Both, Nuremberg and Fuerth, were very commercial by nature. In fact, the road between the two was known to be the busiest in all of the land. Can you imagine the quagmire on a rainy day or heavy snow? It seemed plausible that a railroad would be a very welcome alternative to facilitate the rapid transit of merchandise and people. A lot of ginger bread and sausages could be hauled quickly in massive quantities, no matter what the weather forecast had in store.

By Golly, it worked! The success of this humble railroad led to the subsequent rapid development of railway systems throughout Germany. It needs to be mentioned that Germany was absolutely not the first country to have a useable commercial steam powered railroad. Countries like the US, England, France, Belgium and even Australia, the one down under, not Austria, had them before that date. Historians give England the credit of being the first one.

Occasionally, a model railroad manufacturer offers a model of this train. I know, Maerklin had one, not too long ago. Right now, I don’t have any clue if anyone else has one to offer. I will keep my eyes peeled.

Even today, Nuremberg is known for various commercial products, especially food delicacies. It is known for the ‘Nuernberger Christkindles Markt’. During the Christmas Season, it is a well attended outdoor market place offering a myriad of goodies.





Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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