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Railroads spurred manufacturing

By Kurt Allemeier, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Click here for larger view.
The Silvis rail yards of the Rock Island Lines as they appeared in 1949. At one time they were considered the largest in the country.
The railroad and Quad-Cities manufacturers came of age together.

The railroad that first crossed the northern Mississippi River at Rock Island in 1854 opened a more direct route to the western United States and provided manufacturers better options and rates for shipping.

Many of the companies of the Tri-Cities -- Davenport, Rock Island, Moline -- grew, spurred by the new transport: Deere & Co., Dimock & Gould, Moline Iron Works and Moline Wagon Company.

By 1860, the Tri-Cities had 30 manufacturers and other smaller shops operating. The area's communities grew from river towns to manufacturing centers. Davenport and Rock Island were originally platted on 100 acres each. Davenport grew to 2,000 acres, while Rock Island grew to 1,500 acres by 1856, according to Roald Tweet's Quad Cities: An American Mosaic.

The popularity of steamboats dipped following the Civil War, but rail traffic continued to grow as the Tri-Cities enjoyed an increased demand for mechanized farm equipment.

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad inaugurated its Chicago-Kansas City Limited in 1887, when 72 passenger trains were arriving and departing the Tri-Cities each week. During the same year, an average of 300 freight cars were loaded at Rock Island each day, while steamboat traffic was virtually non-existent.

In the early 1900s, rail shipping improved thanks to an innovation first created in the Quad-Cities, while the Rock Island Lines helped found a town.

William Bettendorf, who owned the Bettendorf Axle Company, invented a single piece truck frame for railroad cars. The frames were previously bolted together and often broke loose. His company boomed from 300 employees to 3,000 by 1920.

Silvis was born out of 800 acres intended for use as the world's largest locomotive repair shop for the Rock Island Lines. The city was platted in 1905, named after the land's original owners.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.