NOVEMBER 20, 1850 – I fear I must leave my bed long before the sun arises tomorrow to catch up with my work for I have wasted this day in idleness. I do not regret my lack of industry because I have witnessed the most remarkable event I have seen since forsaking school-teaching two years ago in Vermont – the initial operation of Wisconsin's first Rail Road train.
I left the farm at 5 A.M. today to walk to Milwaukee for provisions, unaware that this was to be any different from other days. I found the city teeming with excitement. The new Milwaukee & Mississippi Rail Road Company was getting ready to test its first tracks and train.
In the general air of festivity I joined the crowd gathered at the tracks the better to view the locomotive and two open freight cars. The locomotive was a most impressive sight. It is about 43 feet long and the driving wheels looked all of 5 feet in diameter. It is called No.1, indicating it is the first such equipment owned by the fledgling company. I was told it was built by the Norris Works of Philadelphia.
The locomotive boiled and hissed like a giant tea kettle before the signal was given by the engineer (the name applied to the operator of the locomotive) that all was in readiness to begin the trip.
Then several of our leading citizens climbed into the two open cars, wearing silk hats and other finery that we see only infrequently in Wisconsin. I knew most of the men who made the trip. The first to get into the cars was Mr. Solomon Juneau. Mr. Juneau is a French Canadian who has lived in this area since 1818 thereby attaining recognition as Milwaukee's first citizen. He is quite swarthy, tall and has exceedingly large shoulders. He is one of the most important figures in Wisconsin.
Another of those who boarded the train was Mr. Byron Kilbourn, the former Mayor of Milwaukee and President of the new Rail Road Company. The former Mayor is noted for his boundless energy and his business acumen.
The rails upon which the train rested seemed quite fragile to sustain such a load, as many of us noted, but we were proven wrong. After a shrill sounding of the whistle, the engineer applied the power. The giant wheels which drive the train slipped somewhat at first but soon caught hold. As the train started slowly down the track a sudden shouting arose. I at first was startled by the commotion until discovering that I was cheering as loudly as the next. Most of us remained at the tracks until word was received that the train had reached the end of the line at Wauwatosa, five miles away, without incident, in a matter of 12 minutes.
There are many men in Milwaukee, wise in the ways of business and commerce, who say that the Milwaukee & Mississippi will make the city the metropolis of the West. True, the line has been chartered only to run to Waukesha, a distance of 20 miles, but I believe that will only be the beginning. Farmers in all parts of the state have complained for some time that they had no way to dispose of more of their produce than they can sell or barter at home. I have been informed also that there are no satisfactory outlets from the lead mines in the southwestern part of Wisconsin.
It is entirely possible that the Milwaukee & Mississippi will be the answer to these problems.
DECEMBER 29, 1850 – As the year draws to a close I must take time to note that it has been one of progress in our new State. The recent census indicates some 305,000 people now reside in Wisconsin, about a third of them foreign born.
In Milwaukee alone the population has grown to 21,000 and the city has indeed become a metropolis. There now are six flouring mills in operation, five being propelled by water and one by steam, consuming 7,000 bushels of grain every day. And it is doubtful whether even Chicago could boast finer hostelries than the six in Milwaukee.