The Railroad Bubble

I was doing a bit of research yesterday about railroads, because the hero of my current WIP is investing in one.  The year is 1837, so he's getting in on the game early. I gave Adam his interest in railroads because I wanted to let readers know how wonderfully clever he is.  Railroads seem like a sure bet, don't they?  Every captain of industry from the mid-to-late nineteenth century seemed to have a finger in the railroad pie - or, hey, a whole hand, an arm buried up to the shoulder - and I expect every sentence that begins with "invested in railroads" to end with "and became obscenely wealthy."

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the real railroad line serving as the model for my hero's imaginary railroad line didn't last very long.  The company that built it went broke and dissolved not long after the rails were laid.  How does that happen?  Railroads are a sure bet!

So I did a little more digging and found out that England had a railroad bubble in the 1840s - peaking in the late 40s - and that a huge number of shareholders who invested in railroad companies lost everything in it.  Not such a sure bet after all...though it must have looked like it.

Well, I'm going to keep my imaginary hero's imaginary railroad, which in my imaginary world will make him obscenely wealthy - even though, in reality, he'd probably have lost a pretty penny.

But this set me to thinking about a romance set before the fall.  There's something inherently tragic about scenes of hope and joy when you know, as a reader, that misery waits around the corner.  I wonder if that's why Belle Epoque romances aren't more popular.  You'd think they would be, because the period is so glittering and romantic.  My theory is that when you finish a romance with a handsome young hero set in 1910, it's hard to believe in the happily-ever-after when, in the back of your mind, you know the story will really end five or ten years later with the hero dead on a battlefield.