Why is it Called a Railroad Frog?

If you’re at all interested in trains and railroad systems, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of railroad frogs. These pieces are essential for trains to be able to move from one set of tracks to another at switches. Still, that doesn’t explain how exactly they got their colorful name. So why is it called a railroad frog anyway? 

Railroad frogs got their name by allowing trains to move across a separate set of tracks without any hiccups by utilizing a type of rail that resembles the bottom of horses hooves. If you know anything about horses you will know that there is a sort of V shape on the bottom known as the frog. 

If you’re a fellow train enthusiast and you’d like to hear more about the history of railroad frogs and how they’re used, you’ve come to the right place. In the sections below, we will break down everything from what a railroad frog is and how they got their name to what some of the most common types are. So come along and let’s just dive right in!

railroad frog
Jonathan Lee

What is a Railroad Frog Anyway? 

Before we dive deeper into how railroad frogs got their name, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review what exactly railroad frogs are in the first place. So how exactly are railroad frogs used and what makes them special? 

A railroad frog is a piece that allows trains to cross tracks without disrupting traffic from other trains. Essentially, they allow trains to transition smoothly to their own track without ending up in the set they are crossing. 

This is really important because it allows multiple sets of private tracks to exist at the same time in the same area without inconveniencing one another. 

Do Railroad Frogs Have Anything to Do With the Animal? 

When people hear the term frog, they immediately assume that the name must have come from the animal. In our intro, we stated that the name, in fact, comes from the V shape on a horse’s hooves. Still is there any relation to Kermit’s relatives? 

Railroad frogs have nothing to do with the animal of a frog. You could probably find a way to make a connection–particularly with jump frogs–however, the term remains rooted in horses’ hooves and horses’ hooves alone. Poor Kermit will be so disappointed. 

Who Invented the Railroad Frog?

So who was it that originally had the idea to build railroad frogs and was there anyone else significant in their development? 

Below we’ve listed the two people most cited for both inventing and developing railroad frogs:

  • George Westinghouse: In the 1800s a fellow by the name of George Westinghouse invented the first railroad frogs and reversible frogs. He is known for a whole litany of inventions that not only made using the railway system easier but far safer as well. He is credited for coming up with everything from the air brake to the railway frog. 
  • John Cornelius: Hailing from Chicago, John Cornelius is credited with further developing methods of constructing railway frogs that were more practical than their previous incarnation.

Along with George Westinghouse and John Cornelius, countless others have also contributed to the various types of railroad frogs used today. Perhaps, that is why it is hard to really give the title of the inventor to one single person. It really depends on what kind of frog you’re talking about and from what era. Also whether or not you’re interested in their construction. 

railroad yard
Jonathan Lee

What Kinds of Railroad Frogs are There?

The careful reader will have noticed that we have been discussing frogs plural, and not frog singular. This, of course, implies there are multiple types of railroad frogs out there. So what kinds of railroad frogs are there and how do they work on a really basic level? 

Below we present you with three of the most common types of frogs and what distinguishes them from the others: 

  • Jump frog: Jump frogs are some of the most common you will find. The flange of the wheel shifts or, in a sense, jumps across the rail to allow for a smooth transition from one set of tracks to another. A lot of people mistakenly think that the “jump” aspect here is what led to the name frog. However, jump frogs were developed after the name frog. 
  • Spring frog: With a spring frog the flange of the wheel travels through the siding, then pushes the rail against buffers, which open up the frog and ultimately usher things over onto the main. Spring frogs are commonly found all over the country. 
  • Original Type Frog: This is the type of frog that started it all. Original type frogs work by using crisscrossing flange guards that sort of resemble the V shape on the bottom of a horse’s hooves–also known as a frog. 

It’s important to note that we have simplified the functionality of railroad frogs here to make it accessible to everyone. If you want to learn more about how frogs work, there is a whole lot more to them that could fill another fifty pages. Take this as your starting point!

So Really, Why is it Called a Railroad Frog?

At the end of the day, railroad frogs got their name because the original type resembles the V shape on a horse’s hooves. Of course, that V shape has always been called a frog. It’s not because they are “jumping rails” as some might imagine. Of course, it’s easy to see why people would get that idea when there are so many types of frogs that no longer resemble hooves. 

For everything from jump frogs and spring frogs to the original type to exist a lot of work had to be put in by a lot of people. Generally, George Westinghouse is credited with inventing them while John Cornelius is credited with making their development more practical. So yeah, that’s pretty much the basics when it comes to railroad frogs and their origin! 


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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