Most people don’t have first-hand experience of the world before technology. However, learning to empathize with the people of the past can teach us a lot. Understanding the hardships they went through gives us perspective on the past that can help us shape the future. The railyards of the 19th century are the perfect place to begin this journey.

Picture this

Imagine that you’re a man in the 19th century (women didn’t have many opportunities in manual labor back then). You’ve just arrived at your grueling day job on the local railway.


It is the beginning of a very long shift. You spend most of your time hinging and unhinging carts while dodging train cars. This was the reality for railway workers of the time, and it wasn’t very safe.

Hardships galore

Because of all the dangers, railways actually had their own surgeons. These specialty doctors were always ready to rush out to a work site and address some pretty serious injuries. Unfortunately, this translated to garnished wages for the already underpaid workers.

Dr. Jeremy Burgess

The surgeons did save many lives. Recent report gathering efforts have revealed that there were 4,000 cases of railway worker injuries from 1911–1915. Not only that, but researches believe that this number was probably only a small sliver of the pie.

History lives on

While we don’t see many railway worker injuries today, their experience is still relevant. The reason it is so hard to find documented cases of worker injuries is that no one cared. While passengers hurt in accidents made the front page, the workers were rarely mentioned.


That’s because bad press coverage was a liability for the railway companies. The mistakes the companies made were often shoved under the rug by arbitration agreements that employees were forced into signing. Railway conditions have improved significantly