1851: A Milestone for a Fledgling Railroad in Wisconsin

February 25, 1851

In Wisconsin, the first passenger train of the Milwaukee & Mississippi (M&M) Railroad made its inaugural trip between Milwaukee and the town (now city) of Waukesha. This railroad had actually begun operations just a little over three months earlier. The debut of passenger service on that line, however, proved to be an exuberant celebration. 

A first-hand account of that 20-mile (32.2-kilometer) trailblazing trip from Milwaukee to Waukesha appeared in the next day’s edition of the Milwaukee-based Daily Free Democrat. “At Waukesha, we were greeted with three hearty rounds of cheers, and after an appropriate pause, and the interchange of the necessary civilities, the brethren and sisters from Milwaukee were invited to dine with their brethren and sisters of Waukesha,” reported this article.

The dinner took place inside a large car house near the train depot there in Waukesha, and it was followed by remarks from several dignitaries in attendance. Those speakers included Don A.J. Upham, the mayor of Milwaukee. The day’s festivities were also marked by music and fireworks.

This new service turned out to be a huge success; within a couple of months, the M&M was operating two daily passenger runs each way.  Over the next several decades, that railroad continued to grow and expand its reach throughout the midwestern United States. It eventually made its way into Iowa and South Dakota, as far west as Kansas City, and north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

The railroad’s pioneering contributions to that mode of travel included long-distance electrification, construction of all-welded freight and passenger cars, and the operation of high-speed intercity trains. The M&M also went through various owners and name changes over the years, and it was reorganized as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific in 1928. The railroad was ultimately acquired by the Soo Line Corporation in 1985 and operated as the Milwaukee Road until merging into the Soo Line the following year.

(The far right section of the above 1857 map of the M&M includes the part of that line between Milwaukee and Waukesha.)

Image Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad (M&M) is available at http://www.psmre.org/hist-milw.htm

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