The 1854 Grand Excursion     

Building the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad
Geochronology of the 1854 Grand Excursion
People on the Grand Excursion
Steamboats on the Grand Excursion
About Us and
This Site
Did You Know?
A New Book

Davenport, with the City of Rock Island, Illinois in the foreground.

Lithograph drawn and published by Rufus Wright, 1858.  In the collection of Putnam Museum of
History and Natural Science, Davenport Iowa.



The June 1854 Grand Excursion was a festive affair that carried hundreds of dignitaries on a combination rail and steamboat ride from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois then on to St. Paul in Minnesota Territory. Just five months earlier, the railroad had been completed that connected Chicago and the East to the Mississippi River at Rock Island. The Grand Excursion celebrated the newly created link between the rail system and steamboats, which were a thriving mode of transportation on the Mississippi in the 1850's. For this occasion, over six hundred people rode two long trains from Chicago to Rock Island, thence traveled on five steamboats to St. Paul and back to Rock Island.  

Among those invited to participate in this celebration were several hundred prominent people, most from the Eastern United States and Illinois, including former President Millard Fillmore and many other politicians, journalists, clergy, business leaders, academics, writers, and artists. The excursion exposed the celebrants to a distinctively beautiful and bountiful section of the West. Press coverage in numerous large city newspapers contributed substantially to Easterners’ images of the exotic but developing West.