I’m reading a book about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860′s. It turns out they were practicing lean all the way back then!
The book states that one reason US railroads took off so fast was because railroad builders were willing to build rough roads to prove out the profitability of a route, then after the route was making money invest the profits into regrading the road to a higher quality*:
Something else distinguished the American railway from its English parent. In America it was common practice to get the road open for traffic in the cheapest manner possible, and in the least time possible. The attitude was, It can be fixed up and improved later, and paid for with the earnings.
The old maxim is true: everything changes and everything stays the same.
* – Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, Stephen E. Ambrose, pp. 25-26