The Birth of Big Brother: Urban Train Stations & State Agents

Railroad stations were the transportation hubs of the nineteenth century, nodes in a network connecting people and places across the country. But while they represented mobility, they were also places where travelers could be stopped in their tracks.

In this episode, Zachary Nowak explains how large urban train stations reshaped city life as powerfully as the railroads transformed rural America. Centralized depots called “union stations” became the malls of their era: private buildings that served as public spaces, but where police and railroad officials could apprehend criminals, restrict the movement of suspicious persons, and exert their power.

Related collections:

Railroad station postcards collection
Pennsylvania Railroad Company records


Banner image: Southern Pacific Depot postcard, Hagley Digital Archives.

Zachary Nowak is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Harvard University and Associate Director of the Food & Sustainability Studies Program at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy.