The Hagley Library Makes a Significant Source on Railroad History Available Online

Monday, August 12, 2013 - 15:05

The Hagley Library has digitized a rare reference work, the four volume The Pennsylvania Railroad Company: Corporate, Financial and Construction History Of Lines Owned, Operated and Controlled To December 31, 1945, and has made it freely available online via Hagley’s Digital Archives.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (1846-1968) began as a trunk line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in the 1850s and within twenty years grew into a major system stretching from New York on the east to Chicago and St. Louis on the west and from Lake Ontario on the north to Norfolk and Louisville on the south. It was thereafter, by most measurements other than route mileage, the largest railroad system in the United States, accounting for about ten percent of the industry nationwide. Many of its former properties, including the original Harrisburg-Pittsburgh line, the busy Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington, and major stations in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago, are still essential parts of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Like many companies of its size, it was a complex amalgamation of hundreds of smaller companies, whose intricacies could only be explained in a comparable number of pages.

In preparation for its 1946 centennial, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company commissioned the engineering firm of Coverdale & Colpitts to prepare a comprehensive history of the company. The commission involved the creation of two publications. The first was The Pennsylvania Railroad Company: Corporate, Financial and Construction History Of Lines Owned, Operated and Controlled To December 31, 1945. This text was intended for the use of management only. Just 100 copies of this four volume set were printed in 1947 and issued to specific corporate officers. In contrast, the second publication, Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, was widely distributed in 1949 with copies sent to public libraries all along the system.

The comprehensive nature and type of information in the first publication make it an essential resource for Pennsylvania Railroad history, but its limited number of copies and restricted allocation made it quite rare. Additionally, the passing of time has only increased its rarity. As the company’s fortunes declined in the second half of the twentieth century and the information in the first publication became outdated, the custody of its 100 copies grew less and less controlled. It is likely that over time some copies have been lost entirely while the rest have been scattered, mainly in the hands of private collectors.

The Hagley Library’s digital version of the the four-volume The Pennsylvania Railroad Company: Corporate, Financial and Construction History Of Lines Owned, Operated and Controlled To December 31, 1945, is the first time that this rare and important source for railroad history is widely available to the public. A linked index for the railroad companies in all four volumes as well as links to each of the individual volumes can be found on the collection’s home page at the Hagley Digital Archives.  Click here to visit the site