Few events shaped nineteenth-century America more than the railroads. They arrived early in the development of most of our modern cities. For urban communities, railroads meant that new cities were no longer predicated solely on their proximity to a major navigable waterway.
Nationally, the railroads were central to a city's increasing prosperity through expansion and control of outlying areas as well as their positions as regional transportation hubs. Railroads were even more important in the west, where navigable rivers are few and the great deserts and mountains separated the southwest from the east. Los Angeles was one of the most isolated and geographically unlikely settings for a future metropolis.
Yet Los Angeles overcame all of its obstacles and became - within decades of its opening to the outside world via the railroads - one of the most populated cities in the United States.
The Pueblo of Los Angeles was founded under the protection of the Spanish Government on September 4, 1781. The population at that time was reported as 44. From that date to the time of incorporation in 1850, very little progress occurred. However during the late 1800s the population increased considerably thanks to the influx of prospectors into California searching for gold.
During what is called the "boom period" between 1880 and 1890, LA sprang from 11,000- plus to over 50,000 in just ten years!
This was due in no small part to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’s opening of its railroad from the east in 1885. The following year during the rate war between the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe, the fare from the Missouri River to Los Angeles, using colonization cars, reached as low as one dollar!
Visit the galleries below to view the development of LA's "big three" freight and passenger railroads -along with landmark streetcar lines such as the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway - and their role in propelling Los Angeles to become one of the world's greatest cities.
Gateways to Los Angeles – Index:
Early Los Angeles Depots (Please click to view)
Southern Pacific (Please click to view)
Santa Fe (Please click to view)
Union Pacific (Please click to view)
Pacific Electric (Please click to view)
Angels Flight (Please click to view)
Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) (Please click to view)
Present - Passenger Service in Los Angeles (Please click to view)
Future - Passenger Service in Los Angeles (Please click to view)
For those wishing to use LARHF imagery in publications or other electronic, printed or other reproduction formats, please contact us for licensing information.
Visiting LARHF: members of the Foundation and community alike are welcome at LARHF's offices and archive center in Los Angeles. Please contact LARHF at 626-458-4449 or leave a message with your visitation request. LARHF will contact you.