IN THE COURSE of one generation, the diesel engine rose from obscurity to universality. The American railway was born in the 1820s and 1830s, and for the next nine decades the railway locomotive was synonymous with the steam engine. The development of the diesel would completely change this, and a little more than 30 years after the introduction of the first successful diesel locomotives, steam power had been completely purged from American rails. Once the diesel had been proved, it was quickly adopted by most railroads. Although initially a few lines held out, remaining loyal to steam, by 1960, steam had vanished, and diesels were operating across America. This motive power revolution changed the whole nature of the locomotive business from design and construction to sales, application, and maintenance. The traditional steam locomotive manufacturers reluctantly converted from steam production to diesel, but were ill-suited to compete in the new market; a new firm quickly rose to the locomotive forefront. So only a few years after the last steam runs, the last of the traditional builders ended locomotive production.
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