Destination Pennsylvania: Horseshoe Curve

Destination PA

You can feel the train rumble as it rounds the corner on the world-famous Horseshoe Curve. The national historic landmark and engineering marvel of the 1850s is considered revolutionary for the time it was built.

“They basically made it so you could travel from Philly to Pittsburgh in a day,” said Andrew Brumbaugh, Curator, Railroaders Memorial Museum and World Famous Horseshoe Curve.

Engineers were able to figure out a way to build a railroad on the side of the mountain to make traveling quicker.

“If you were living in Philadelphia, New York and you want to travel across the country, you are pretty much traveling on the Horseshoe Curve early on,” said Brumbaugh. “Nowe later other routes developed, but that’s probably one of the most direct routes and one of the fastest.”

The curve opened on February 15, 1854, and took 450 Irish immigrants using only hand tools to complete the daunting task.

“Twelve hours a day of either digging or laying rail,” said Brumbaugh.

They worked long hours for just about 25 cents a day — “and yeah you can just see how labor-some it would be to lay a bunch of rail and keep in mind this is solid iron and steel — that’s not light.”

The attraction became known as one of the eight engineering marvels of the world. 

“It was very early on that they started calling it the Horseshoe Curve because it is the shape,” said Brumbaugh and helped put Altoona on the map.”I mean you can’t really talk about the history of Altoona without talking about the history of the curve because the curve kind of contributed to the birth of the city.”

During WWII, the curve was at its peak. “They could get upwards of 250 trains a day.” At one point a train would pass through about every 10 minutes, even becoming the target of Nazi spies.

To learn the rest of the rich history behind the world-famous Horseshoe Curve, click in the player above.

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