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Posts Tagged ‘railroads

“These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does”*…

 

Late 19th-century Americans loved railroads, which seemed to eradicate time and space, moving goods and people more cheaply and more conveniently than ever before. And they feared railroads because in most of the country it was impossible to do business without them.

Businesses, and the republic itself, seemed to be at the mercy of the monopoly power of railroad corporations. American farmers, businessmen and consumers thought of competition as a way to ensure fairness in the marketplace. But with no real competitors over many routes, railroads could charge different rates to different customers. This power to decide economic winners and losers threatened not only individual businesses but also the conditions that sustained the republic.

That may sound familiar. As a historian of that first Gilded Age, I see parallels between the power of the railroads and today’s internet giants like Verizon and Comcast. The current regulators – the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority – and many of its critics both embrace a solution that 19th-century Americans tried and dismissed: market competition…

The current controversy about the monopolistic power of internet service providers echoes those concerns from the first Gilded Age. As anti-monopolists did in the 19th century, advocates of an open internet argue that regulation will advance competition by creating a level playing field for all comers, big and small, resulting in more innovation and better products. (There was even a radical, if short-lived, proposal to nationalize high-speed wireless service.)

However, no proposed regulations for an open internet address the existing power of either the service providers or the “Big Five” internet giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like Standard Oil, they have the power to wring enormous advantages from the internet service providers, to the detriment of smaller competitors.

The most important element of the debate – both then and now – is not the particular regulations that are or are not enacted. What’s crucial is the wider concerns about the effects on society. The Gilded Age’s anti-monopolists had political and moral concerns, not economic ones. They believed, as many in the U.S. still do, that a democracy’s economy should be judged not only – nor even primarily – by its financial output. Rather, success is how well it sustains the ideals, values and engaged citizenship on which free societies depend.

When monopoly threatens something as fundamental as the free circulation of information and the equal access of citizens to technologies central to their daily life, the issues are no longer economic.

Stanford historian Richard White unpacks an important historical analogue; read it in full at “For tech giants, a cautionary tale from 19th century railroads on the limits of competition.”

[Image above: source]

* Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things

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As we wonder if The Invisible Hand is giving us the finger, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that Henry Wells and William G. Fargo joined with several other investors to launch their eponymously-named cross-country freight business.  The California gold rush had created an explosive new need, which Wells, Fargo and other “pony express” and stage lines leapt to meet.  It was after the Civil War, in 1866, when Wells, Fargo acquired many of their competitors, that it became the dominant supplier.  (Ever flexible, they adapted again three years later, when the transcontinental railroad was finished.)

From it’s earliest days, it also functioned as a bank, factoring the shipments of gold that it carried.  Indeed, when Wells, Fargo exited the freight business as a result of government nationalization of freight during World War I, the bank (which merged with Nevada National in the first of a series of “transformative transactions”) continued to operate as “Wells, Fargo,” as indeed it does (albeit under unrecognizably evolved ownership) today.

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Written by LW

March 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When you’re dead, they really fix you up”*…

 

For 87 years, nearly every day, a single train ran out of London and back. It left from a dedicated station near Waterloo built specifically for the line and its passengers. The 23-mile journey, which had no stops after leaving London, took 40 minutes. Along the way to their destination, riders glimpsed the lovely landscapes of Westminster, Richmond Park and Hampton Court — no mistake, as the route was chosen partly for its “comforting scenery”, as one of the railway’s masterminds noted.

How much comfort a route gives passengers isn’t a usual consideration for a train line. But this was no normal train line.

Many of the passengers on the train would be distraught. The others — those passengers’ loved ones — be dead. Their destination: the cemetery.

In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway was the spookiest, strangest train line in British history. It transported London’s dead south-west to Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, in Surrey, a cemetery that was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2,000 bodies a year.

It also transported their families and friends. Guests could leave with their dearly departed at 11:40am, attend the burial, have a funeral party at one of the cemetery’s two train stations (complete with home-cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes), and then take the same train back, returning to London by 3:30pm.

The pairing of grief and efficiency may seem a little jarring. It did then, too…

For the full story, hop aboard at “The passenger train created to carry the dead.”

* J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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As we struggle with our sugar hangovers, we might recall that today is Graveyard Day– or more politely, All Hallows or All Saints Day– a Christian celebration of all saints, “known and unknown.”

“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs,” Fra Angelico (c. 1423-4)

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Written by LW

November 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

Get *on* your ass…

The good folks at View from Fez have put together a guide to Buying a Donkey in Fez

The advice is quite complete, ranging from the strategic…

Determine why you need a donkey. Donkeys are used as pets, companions for other animals, guard animal, breeding, work, riding and showing. Know what you need a donkey for before looking at one to purchase. The use of donkeys as guard animals is increasingly popular and, fitted with reflective stripes and a fetching red flashing light, they can be quite scary.

…through the tactical…

Visit the donkeys you think are suitable for your needs. Remember a donkey may have mood swings during the day. It is very upsetting to find the animal that was so happy in the morning has a fit of the grumps every afternoon and throws hissy fits at night. Don’t bring a carossa with you the first time, as you may be tempted to bring home the animal even if it isn’t exactly what you want or need.

…to the practical…

Do check you budget, because the initial purchasing price does not include, vaccinations, stabling, outfitting with GPS and, of course, the fitting of special non-slip Medina shoes.

The full tutorial is here.

As we saddle up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the official world speed record for steam locomotives was set on the slight downward grade of Stoke Bank south of Grantham  on the East Coast Main Line in England by the express locomotive Mallard when it reached a speed of 125.88 mph.  The Mallard, which was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and was completed in March of that year, was in service until 1963.

The Mallard at the National Railway Museum at York

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