The first railroads were so rudimentary that they did not really require engineers to run them. They consisted simply of cars full of coal that moved through mines on wooden rails. In 1803, Richard Trevithick, a British mining engineer, built a steam locomotive that was able to pull a short train of cars uphill at a coal mine railway in Wales. Steam locomotives were first tested in the United States beginning in 1825. Three years later, construction was started on the first common carrier railroad in the States—the Baltimore and Ohio. In December 1830, an American-built locomotive hauled a train of cars on the tracks of the South Carolina Railroad. The railroad had truly come to America, and the job of the locomotive engineer was established.
The importance of railroads to the growth and rapid expansion of America is impossible to measure, and the romance of railroading is firmly entrenched in American history. Folk songs such as "Casey Jones" have immortalized the locomotive engineer. The real work of the engineer, however, is not as romantic as it may appear. Today's locomotive engineer is often part of a two- or three-person crew; the longtime tradition of five-person crews is dying as instruments become computerized and automated. Where assistant engineers once helped to monitor instruments and signals, the engineer and conductor now share these responsibilities.