The earliest freight cars were adaptations of other cargo carriers of the era. Flatcars were wooden plank wagons with railway wheels instead of wooden spoke wheels. Hopper cars were larger versions of the ore carriers used in mines. Boxcars were like covered wagons, flatcars with simple structures to protect the cargo.
As the demand for rail freight service increased, the freight car began to change. The sizes of the cars grew and steel replaced wood. Eight wheels, instead of four, enabled greater loads and more stability. The boxcar, gondola and flatcar are still the standard, but they look nothing like the cars of yesterday.
The low cost of rail became attractive to many industries, some of which could not ship their products in the basic freight car. As a result, specialty designs emerged. For example, tank cars were needed to carry liquids and gasses. Auto carriers expanded the capacity of flatcars, and refrigeration enabled the shipment of perishables over long distances.
The Museum has several of the basic and specialty freight cars on display.