A Mobile and Ohio Refrigerator Car built at Mount Vernon Car Works, ca. 1892.

(Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)


Mobile and Ohio herald, white lettering, red background.


The Mobile and Ohio Railroad was a railroad in the Southern U.S. The M&O was chartered in January and February 1848 by the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It was planned to span the distance between the seaport of Mobile, Alabama and the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. On September 13, 1940, it was merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad to form the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

At the end of 1925 M&O operated 1,161 miles (1,868 km) of road and 1,536 miles (2,472 km) of track; that year it reported 1785 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 49 million passenger-miles.


1848 map showing the planned route of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

(New York: Jones and Newman, (1848), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



The Mobile and Ohio Railroad was conceived after hard times in Mobile following the Panic of 1837. The port was not generating the business that it had before the panic and businessmen and citizens in the city were inspired with a plan for a railroad to restore commerce to the city. The first section of track opened for service in 1852 between Mobile and Citronelle, Alabama and was constructed in 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge. The line made it to Columbus, Kentucky on April 22, 1861, steamboats were then used to connect with the Illinois Central Railroad at Cairo.

The start of the Civil War shortly after the completion of the line saw it converted to military use and it quickly became a military target for both sides during the war. Following the conflict the M&O had to be almost entirely rebuilt and was facing near total financial ruin due in part to an unpaid debt of $5,228,562 that had been owed by the Confederate government. It was placed in receivership in 1875 and did not emerge until eight years later.

By 1870 the operators had seen the need to complete the line all the way to Cairo and make it the northern terminus instead of Columbus, but financial problems stood in the way. Finally on May 1, 1882, the extension to Cairo was opened. The company then acquired the St. Louis and Cairo Railroad, which was narrow gauge. They converted it to 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge and had a line from Mobile to St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1896 the company decided to build a line from its Columbus, Mississippi, terminal toward Florida. On June 30, 1898, the Tuscaloosa to Montgomery line opened in Alabama, along with two short branch lines. That same year they decided to build a 39-mile (63 km) line from Mobile to Alabama Port and Bayou La Batre, naming it the Mobile and Bay Shore Railway. It was completed in 1899.


Commercial poster for dining on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, Christmas 1902.

(Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., St. Louis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Southern Railway

The M&O's stockholders and bondholders accepted a stock exchange plan in 1901 from Southern Railway. A merger of the two was attempted in 1902 but vetoed by Mississippi governor James K. Vardaman. Thereafter the M&O continued operations under Southern's control. From 1908 the M&O was considered to be a highly prosperous railroad, but net income declined sharply after 1926 and by 1930 the M&O had a net deficit of almost $1,000,000. On June 3, 1932, the M&O went into receivership again. Southern was accused of having violated the Clayton Antitrust Act by using the M&O for its own profit at the expense of the M&O, though the case was dropped in 1933. Southern sold its M&O bonds in 1940 to the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad. The GM&N was then combined with the M&O to form the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.


Share of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad Company, issued 29 November 1886.

(Unbekannte Autoren und Grafiker; Scan vom EDHAC e.V., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Headquarters: Mobile, Alabama
Locale: Southern United States
Dates of operation: 1848–1940
Successor: Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge: 5 ft (1,524 mm) and converted to 4 ft 9 in (1,448 mm) in 1886.


System map of the Mobile & Ohio in 1903.

(Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)