Cog Railway

About The Cog RW

New Hampshire Historical Society Features Cog Railway Historic Photos

A representative sampling of pictorial legacy was featured in the Spring edition of "Historical New Hampshire" a publication of the NH Historical Society in recognition of the 140th anniversary of The Mount Washington Cog Railway.

An excerpt from the article featured in
"Historical New Hampshire"....

tip topThe construction of this then-unique railroad between 1866 and 1869 fortuitously coincided with the establishment in 1865 of the Kilburn Brothers stereography business in nearby Littleton, New Hampshire. By 1869, the year the railroad was completed, the Kilburn's Littleton factory was producing twelve hundred of these three-dimensional photographic cards daily and had become one of the largest such operations in the nation. In the initial years of their enterprise, the Kilburns were able to record on film the successive steps in the construction and development of the railroad soon to be considered "one of the greatest wonders of the time." The symbiotic relationship that inadvertently developed between the stereographers and the railway helped later in promoting both businesses.

As soon as the rail line opened to the top of the highest mountain in the eastern United States, passengers were able to buy "Kilburn Brothers' admirable stereoscopic pictures" as souvenirs of their adventure. As early as August 21, 1869, Kilburn photographs had been transformed into engravings for publication in Harper's Weekly, bringing national attention to New Hampshire's special technological achievement. The stereoviews and the engravings derived from them familiarized people with the engineering feats, the specially designed locomotives, and the landmarks a tourist would encounter on a typical trip up Mount Washington via the cog railway. In 1870 alone, five thousand people, or the majority of those who ascended the mountain that season, did so by this exciting new method of reaching the top.

riding the devils shingleThe Kilburns were long considered the leading photographers of the cog railway, but others soon followed their lead. Through the years, cog railway imagery, produced in a wide variety of media including stereography, engraving, postcard photography, and printed advertising, tended to be tourist oriented and practical in nature. While the new means of transportation enabled many more people than ever before to experience the mountain landscape that had inspired generations of artists, the cog railway itself seldom appears on artists' canvases. In the years that followed the railroad's opening, even those few academically trained artists and engravers who focused on views of tourists as opposed to strict landscape scenes tended to picture relatively romantic views of small groups of horseback riders on Mount Washington's bridle path rather than the innovative railroad with its innumerable passengers. By contrast, sign, vehicle, and general ornamental painters who produced artwork for advertising and other commercial purposes, did not hesitate to incorporate images of the popular New Hampshire landmark into their products.

The following selection of images representing The Mount Washington Cog Railway's 140-year history has been taken largely, though not entirely, from the New Hampshire Historical Society's extensive library and museum collections picturing this unique New Hampshire phenomenon. The views range from patent drawings and construction photographs to magazine and newspaper illustrations, special event programs, advertising materials, posters, and maps.

Much has been written about the Mount Washington Cog Railway - its conception, its promotion, its technology, and its operation. The railroad has been featured in national and sometimes international periodicals. These include Scientific American in 1864, Harper's Weekly in 1869, Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly in 1878, Life magazine in 1958, and the New Yorker in 1959. The present compilation brings sample images from these periodicals together and features examples from the full range of imagery associated with this special American icon.


click on images to enlarge

View of Mount Washington trestle-work, stereograph by Kilburn brothers, Littleton, N.H. View of Mount Washington trestle-work, stereograph by Kilburn Brothers, Littleton, N.H., probably 1870-72. The high open structure of the railroad's trestles made them ideal subjects for stereography, in which two images viewed through a specially designed stereoscope merge into a single three-dimensional view. Benjamin Kilburn trained both his camera and his artistic vision on the tracks and trestles from all angles, often obtaining striking visual effects.
New Hampshire Historical Society
Jacob's Ladder, Mount Washington R.R. "Jacob's Ladder, Mount Washington R.R.", under construction, from a stereograph by Kilburn Brothers, 1868. It took three years to build the required three miles of track. Low places needed to be spanned with trestle-work consructed of heavy timbers. The first task of the original locomotive (officially named "Hero" but nicknamed "Peppersass") was to transport the timbers to extend the track. The posts for the trestle were lowered from the end of a flatcar. The Kilburns here captured this process for posterity.
New Hampshire Historical Society
Mt. Washington Railway Engine, 'Tip-Top', fron stereograph by Kilburn Brothers, 1874-74 "Mt. Washington Railway Engine, 'Tip-Top'," from stereograph by Kilburn Brothers, 1874-74. Among the other popular subjects for the stereographer's camera were the engines that pushed the passenger cars up the mountain. "Tip-Top" (also known as "Number 6") was the last engine to be built with a vertical boiler and the first to have a roof overhanging the driver's cab. It was manufactured by the Manchester Locomotive Works of Manchester, NH, as indicated on the builder's plate visible just below the engine's name.
New Hampshire Historical Society
The Engine, Mt. Washington R.R., White Mts., N.H. "The Engine, Mt. Washington R.R., White Mts., N.H.," from a stereograph by J.S. Moulton, Amherst, N.H., probably 1868. The rail line's second engine did not operate successfully and had to be rebuilt. It was in service such a short time that it never received a name. The photograph provides evidence, however, that it was used to push a platform car and carry passengers on trial runs in the summer of 1868 as far as the rails were completed.
New Hampshire Historical Society
Summit Mt. Washington, from the Clouds "Summit Mt. Washington, from the Clouds," from a stereograph by B.W. Kilburn, c. 1890. After the arrival of a train on a summer day, the platform next to the Summit House was often crowded with tourists. During the 1880s and the 1890s a part-Newfoundland dog named Medford, sometimes accompanied by a canine friend, welcomed visitors to the summit and was often included in photographs taken.
New Hampshire Historical Society
Early 20th century Cog Railway Postcard Early 20th century Cog Railway Postcard
Early 20th century Cog Railway Postcard Early 20th century Cog Railway Postcard

Top of page

Cog Railway on Facebook Trip Advisor Brochure