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One man aware of the interest in railroads was Byron Kilbourn, who was one of the three men who virtually owned Milwaukee in the mid-1830ís. Kilbourn had settled there in 1835 after having worked the preceding year in surveying the territory. Earlier he had been an engineer on some canal building projects. Kilbourn, an important and well-educated man for that time, was the son of an Ohio congressman and the son-in-law of John Fitch, an early inventor of the steamboat.

As Kilbourn and his associates looked over the need for better transportation to serve a rapidly developing region, they first thought in terms of building a canal between Milwaukee and the Rock River. Some surveying was done and about two miles of canal were dug before the whole idea was abandoned.

The earliest proposals to build railroads in the territory came in 1836, the year the territory was organized. In its 12 years of existence, the territorial government chartered several railroads, only one of which was ever built. A committee of Milwaukee citizens, including Kilbourn and some others who also were involved in the canal proposal, had been formed in 1836 to propose a railroad, this being the one that eventually was built.

Kilbourn and his associates, after dropping the idea of the canal, then obtained a charter in 1847 that granted them rights to build a railroad over the 20 miles between Milwaukee and Waukesha. Later the charter was amended so that the railroad could be extended to the Mississippi River. On May 19, 1849, Kilbourn was elected president of the railroad company, which had authorized capital of $100,000. It first was named the Milwaukee & Waukesha Railroad Company, then in 1850 the name was changed to the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad Company.

   

 

 

Byron Kilbourn

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Last Updated: March 03, 2009