Researching Railroad History

While Hagley collects printed materials across the whole spectrum of American and even world industry, its manuscript and pictorial collections reflect the industrial mix found in the Mid-Atlantic states: chemicals, coal, steel, petroleum, and later, electronics, telecommunications, marketing, industrial design, and packaging. In addition to DuPont, Hagley’s archival holdings include such giants as RCA, Seagram, Bethlehem Steel, Sperry, Sunoco, and MCI, as well as major trade associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A., the National Industrial Conference Board, the American Iron & Steel Institute, and the National Foreign Trade Council. Railroads were, thus, one of several sectors that Hagley sought to document. Railroad records did not become widely available until the bankruptcies of the 1960s and 1970s and the formation of Conrail. Hugh Gibb was a retired Pennsylvania Railroad employee and an early member of the NRHS. Several industry contacts enabled him to collect discards from the AAR and corporate libraries and gain entrance to corporate archives. Thanks to his groundwork, Hagley has evolved into a significant source for railroad history research.  

The Hagley Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society awards travel grants for visiting scholars. Some housing is available on the property. The Center also organizes conferences, research seminars, and academic programs. For more information, email


Hagley has major portions of the archives of the two large railroad systems based in Philadelphia: The Reading Company and the PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad). Due to accidents of preservation, the former is stronger in the 19th century and the latter in the 20th. For more information on how the PRR collection came to Hagley, see Christopher Baer's article, "Salvaging History."

Chartered in 1871, Reading Company was the holding company for the system of railroads, canals, and coal mines assembled by the predecessor Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company between 1833 and 1896. In addition to the corporate records of the Reading Company (1871-1976), the Reading Company records hold materials on the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company (1833-1896), the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company (1896-1923), and 159 predecessors and subsidiaries.  

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company was the largest railroad in the United States in terms of corporate assets and traffic from the last quarter of the nineteenth century until the decline of the Northeast's and Midwest's dominance of manufacturing. In addition to minutes and account books going back to the 1830s, the PRR archive (about 2,000 linear feet) includes records of the Financial, Operating, Engineering, Motive Power, Test, and Personnel Departments, plus the files of Samuel Rea as Vice President when he was supervising the New York Penn Station project. These records provide comprehensive coverage of corporate matters between 1813 and 1968 and moderate coverage of the functional departments from 1920 to 1950, focusing primarily on technological and labor issues. Essential subjects include rolling stock (ca. 1905-55, including late steam and electric locomotives), electrification, early TOFC/COFC (trailer-on-flatcar/container-on-flatcar), Raymond Loewy and the Fleet of Modernism, and major terminals and stations, especially in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Documentation on the PRR in the Chicago metropolitan area is particularly abundant.  


Hagley also has smaller collections of material on other important regional systems.  

The Lehigh Valley Railroad Company was one of the major anthracite railroads and formed a secondary trunk line between Jersey City, New Jersey, and Buffalo, New York. Their records consist of minute books, corporate histories, voluntary reorganization plans, and an illustrated brochure on Claremont Terminal. 

The DL&W (Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad) was another large and prosperous anthracite mining and transporting company in Pennsylvania. Their records consist of minutes of the DL&W and its two direct predecessors. Additionally, our collections include microfilm of selected records of the DL&W’s Coal Department between 1856 and 1899 and the records of former DL&W official John G. Enderlin, spanning from 1835 through 1956.  

The CNJ (Central Railroad Company of New Jersey) operated a main line between New York and Scranton, with many branches in New Jersey. In addition to anthracite-carrying railroads, CNJ had important commuter and terminal facilities in the New York area. The CNJ collection consists of the surviving records of the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey that came into the possession of Conrail. The surviving minutes from subsidiary companies and first-edition valuation maps of the Jersey Central complement other CNJ materials, including later minutes and bankruptcy papers, in the Reading archive. 

The oil and gas company Penn Virginia Corporation records include materials from the Interstate Railroad, the collector line at its coal mines in southwestern Virginia. 


Personal papers related to railroading include those of career officer and president William Wallace Atterbury (1866-1935) of the Pennsylvania Railroad and railroad executive Jervis Langdon (1905-2004).  

Hagley holds the microfilm diaries of railroad financier Henry S. McComb (1825-1881) and Lehigh Valley Railroad’s chief engineer, Robert H. Sayre (1824-1907).  

The papers of former finance chairman of the Penn Central Transportation Company, David Bevan (1939-1995), document his legal defense against criminal charges arising from the company’s bankruptcy in the 1970s.  

The John F. Tucker (1950-2008) collection on transit history consists of official documents produced or used by Mr. Tucker during his career as a public transit official, records of the pre-SEPTA Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (1907-1939) and the Philadelphia Transportation Company (1940-1968) that he preserved from loss or destruction, and materials collected out of his interest in the history of transit systems, particularly electric traction lines. The collection traces the evolution of the Philadelphia transit system, its extent, routes, and services, and of North American rail rapid transit. 

Additionally, Hagley retains the professional papers, PRR company documents, and collection of high-speed train photographs of retired mechanical engineer Robert B. Watson (1931-2023).   


Hagley has the best collection of paper documents relating to public transit in the Philadelphia Region, including records given by the SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) and the Red Arrow Lines transit company.  The collections include corporate documents, reports, transit maps, and company publications. The archives of the PPL (Pennsylvania Power & Light) contain records of several small-city trolley lines in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hagley also currently has unprocessed records of the Wilmington transit system. 

The Ron DeGraw (1942-2006) collection contains official documents produced or used during his career as a public transit official and transit consultant. The collection includes materials from pre-SEPTA operators of the Philadelphia transit system that he preserved from loss or destruction, research materials that he amassed for writing his published and projected books, and photographs and ephemera of the history of transit systems, particularly electric traction lines or what came to be called light rail transit. 

William McKinley Keller (1901-1974) was a railroad engineer and executive who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Association of American Railroads. His papers document his engineering career working for the two companies as a consultant to the railroad industry and personal correspondence throughout his career. 


The papers and notebooks of executive William L. Austin (1852-1932) represent some of the scattered Baldwin Locomotive Works records.  

Records of the Vulcan Iron Works of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., include microfilm of order books and spec cards and builder’s photos but no drawings.  

A small collection from the manufacturer, Budd Company, includes an unpublished biography of Edward G. Budd (1870-1946) and some railroad publicity photos but is more focused on the automotive side of the business.  

Records of the Phoenix Bridge Company, builder of many railroad bridges, have a register of jobs and mostly post-1930 photos.  

The extensive archive of renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy has examples of his railroad work.  

Hagley has some early 20th-century passenger car order files from manufacturer Jackson & Sharp Company, drawings, specifications, plans, and photos of railroad-related floating equipment built by the Harlan & Hollingsworth Corporation, Pusey & Jones Corporation, and Sun Shipbuilding, as well as a small unprocessed collection on the development of the lightweight, low-center-of-gravity passenger train, Train “X,” in the 1940s and 1950s. 


Finally, Hagley has research notes, data sheets, and compilation maps for our own Christopher Baer’s Canals & Railroads of the Mid-Atlantic States, 1800-1860 (Regional Economic History Research Center, Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, 1981), with extensive materials on paper companies, rejected surveys, unbuilt lines, and the segment-by-segment data used to construct the annual mileage tables. The research notes for historian Jill Jonnes’s Conquering Gotham (Viking Press, 2008), augment the ample materials on Penn Station. 


The PRR photograph collection primarily depicts the company itself. Still, numerous views of similar facilities and equipment on other railroads, nearby buildings, properties, or standardized equipment and accessories collected for reference are included. Almost all the photographs are from commercial photographers hired on short-term contracts, but some are prints from the company's negatives. The Pennsylvania Railroad negatives collection contains more than 5200 negatives from the official Pennsylvania Railroad files.

In the Pennsylvania Railroad women workers' oral histories collection, five former employees describe how they acquired their positions and their experiences working for the company. 

The Reading Company photograph collection consists of photographs [negatives, blueprints, and other graphic materials relating to the Reading Company and its predecessor, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company. Frank A. Weer (1932-2019) was an employee of the Reading Company and an enthusiastic photographer of all things related to railroads, specifically in Pennsylvania. The Weer collection includes negatives (glass plate and film), photographic prints, and color slide transparencies. 

The Red Arrow Lines collection contains photographs of transit vehicles and stations used in the book R. DeGraw, Red Arrow Lines. 

David Harrison Cope (1913-2001) was interested in railroads and steam locomotives and began collecting photographs early in life. The Cope collection primarily consists of black and white photographs and negatives of steam locomotives from various railroads. Still, it includes other rolling stock, station photos, and related railroad items such as coaling stations and street railroads, interurbans, and trolley images. 

Harry P. Albrecht was employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1922 to 1968 as a claims investigator for lost and damaged freight. Albrecht was an avid rail fan and amassed an extensive collection of photographs and ephemera related to trains, trolleys (especially those in the Philadelphia area), and other equipment owned by railroad companies.  

The Chamber of Commerce's magazine Nation's Business contains railroad publicity photos among various industrial subjects.  

The American Iron and Steel Institute collection consists of photographs, research notes, audio, film, and video documenting the history of the steel industry.  

The Dallin Aerial Photo Collection, from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, primarily within 100 miles of Philadelphia, shows railroads in the landscape with occasional close-ups in urban areas.

The Herbert Harwood Jr. Railroad and Transportation collection of photographic negatives comprises nearly 150,000 images covering the twentieth century. The collection includes Harwood's work as a railroad photographer as well as the work of others.

The Pennsylvania Railroad women workers' oral histories collection consists of two 1998 interviews in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with five women who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. They describe how they acquired their positions and their experiences working for the company. Topics discussed include wages, uniforms, sexism in the workplace, and the working environment during World War II.


Hagley retains an extensive collection of railroad company annual reports and corporate manuals, many printed for official use only, pamphlets, prospectuses, engineers' surveys, reports, controversial writings, and compilations of court testimony and government investigations, such as the monumental Wheeler hearings of the 1930s.   

Hagley has incomplete runs of the employee magazines of the PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad)ReadingB&OSanta FeBaldwin, and the Budd Company. Additionally, Hagley holds nearly complete runs of Poor's and Moody's industrial manuals and trade journals such as the American Railroad Journal (1832-1953), Railroad Gazette/Railway Age (1908-1917), Railway World (1856-1915), Railway Register (1884-1892), Street Railway Journal (1884-1908), and the Commercial & Financial Chronicle (1865-1928). Our collections hold 19th-century railroad reports from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as engineering and railroad professional society transactions. Hagley is known for its ample collection of manufacturers' trade catalogs covering rolling stock and its components, signal systems, tools, and equipment. 

County, city, and ward atlases show the track and building layouts in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, and some other localities and Hagley has a collection of general railroad maps and atlases and a set of early 20th century 15-minute topographic United States Geological Survey map quadrangles covering our region. Finally, we have an excellent collection of standard company histories, thematic studies, textbooks, biographies of industry figures and civil or mechanical engineers, general historical publications, and state and local histories. 


Albert J. Churella's two-volume history of The Pennsylvania Railroad represents an unparalleled look at the company's history, personalities, and technologies in a period that marked the shift from building an empire to exploring the limits of its power. 

"The Wreck of the Penn Central" by Joseph R. Daughen and Peter Binzen provides a close-up view of the events that brought the company to the bankruptcy court.

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 products. The first was this detailed four-volume history of the PRR System, as it existed in 1946 for management only. The data collected was used to produce the second product, Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which was mass-distributed. See the comprehensive index for more information.


Christopher Baer created a general chronology of PRR company predecessors and successors and its historical context. 

Part of the PRR collection was received by the Pennsylvania State Archives as gifts from Consolidated Rail Corporation in 1990, part as deposits with Penn Central Corporation and Conrail in 1986, part through the distribution of 8,000 to 10,000 linear feet of an original 400,000 linear feet of records as part of the Penn Central Records Project, 1984-1986.

Additional resources for researching railway history are available at the Pullman Library & Railway Equipment Archives at the Illinois Railway Museum.