Early RRs Duck Responsibility for Lost Baggage

Published: 2017-03-31 - By: Jenna
Last updated on: 2022-02-07
visibility: Public
Early railroads were reluctant to take responsibility for passengers' baggage.

In the early days of passenger rail service, the steam railroads levied few restrictions on baggage service. They wanted to lure passengers on to the rails and away from the highways. (The earliest stagecoach lines allowed for 14 pounds per passenger and charged for each bag that exceeded that weight.)

Although they could accommodate the transport of baggage (initially on top of coaches and eventually in baggage cars), the railroads also wanted to keep the cost of providing this service at bay. As a result, most lines did agree to haul clothing only at no cost, and by 1870 instituted a 150 pound baggage limit per passenger. Originally the limit was set to 100 pounds at the behest of the General Ticket Agents Association in 1855.

Although they introduced a separate car to transport baggage (please see our blog, The First Baggage Cars), the railroads did not assume any responsibility for loss of or damage to these items and posted "All Baggage at the Owners' Risk" in railroad stations.

A few lawsuits based on lost / damaged baggage changed the railroad's stance. By 1838, the railroads created various systems to ensure items arrived at their proper destinations. Chalk markings were used to indicate an item's destination but given the nature of chalk, those markings were easily erased or blurred. At one point, duplicate brass checks (one affixed to the baggage and another given to the passenger as a receipt) were also used to identify baggage. This method met with mixed results; sometimes it worked and other times passengers handed in their brass receipts only to be handed a matching check attached to parts of their luggage, with the remaining baggage scattered on the floor of the baggage car.

Some railroad employees in charge of baggage were referred to as so-called baggage smashers because they were notorious for dumping baggage contents out all over the baggage car floor and rummaging through passengers' belongings.

The duplicate check system is still in use today but paper has replaced brass.

The TroveStar n-scale model trains database features hundreds of baggage cars.