The Baltimore & Ohio long claimed to be the nation’s “first and oldest continuously running common carrier railroad,” and it celebrated its centennial with a grandiose exhibition in 1927. Yet here is the New York Central preemptively claiming its own centennial in 1926.
So which was really the oldest? New York Central predecessor Mohawk & Hudson Rail Road was chartered in 1826, but did not open for business until 1831. The Baltimore & Ohio was chartered in 1827, began construction in 1828, and first opened for business in 1830. Since both railroads were counting back to their charter date for their centennial, the New York Central technically won, but the B&O was the first to actually operate by a year. By 22 years, the B&O was also the longest to operate under one name, as the New York Central did not adopt that name until 1853.
Despite being slightly younger, the New York Central was bigger and more profitable than the B&O. As this booklet points out, at the time it was written the NYC carried 10 percent of all rail freight and 12 percent of all rail passengers in the nation. Only the Pennsylvania, I believe, earned more revenue and profits than the New York Central.