The 1854 Grand Excursion
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.