Pennsylvania Power & Light Company records
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
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The development of electric distribution systems and workable traction motors led to widespread construction of trolley networks in the 1890s. Many systems began as electrifications of the horse car lines that had appeared in major cities starting in the 1850s and spread to county seats and other large rural towns over the next twenty years. Electric traction made possible the construction of light interurban rail lines linking cities and their outlying villages. Such transit systems were cheaper to build and operate than steam railroads.
As traction systems were large consumers of electricity and required electric distribution networks along their lines, they were amalgamated with electric power companies at an early date. Ultimately, the large electric holding companies that emerged in the first two decades of the 20th century acquired near-monopolies of electric traction as well as electric power and distribution and sales within their respective territories.
Trolley and interurban systems peaked in the years before Wold War I, after which they were rendered increasingly non-competitive by rising labor costs. Interurban and rural routes were beginning to fail in the 1920s, and the Depression merely finished them off. In more densely populated districts, electric traction systems were gradually replaced by bus routes during the 1930s and 40s. With the exception of a few very large cities with heavy commuter traffic, most systems had been dismantled by the early 1950s.
The electric utilities generally set up motor bus affiliates for their transit systems during the 1920s and gradually substituted buses for their street car routes. However, many companies divested themselves of their transit systems once they ceased to be large users of electricity. Pennsylvania Power & Light disposed of its last transit companies in 1939. Those systems that survived were eventually acquired by public transit authorities in the 1960s and 70s.
The records of some 65 local transit companies were preserved within the PP&L archive. Because of divestiture and continued operations, the records of some of the larger transit operations associated with PP&L passed to other successor companies. There are no records for the Lehigh Valley Transit Company, operating in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area, or for the Scranton Railway Company or Wilkes-Barre Railways.
The surviving records are primarily from small-city or rural lines. The major systems include Williamsport (1879-1933), the Lancaster area (1901-1932), Berwick-Danville (1901-1926), Harrisburg-Carlisle (1893-1941) and the Pottsville-Mauch Chunk area of the Southern Anthracite Field (1889-1939). In addition there are records of the Tumbling Run Park near Pottsville, which was typical of the amusement parks and picnic grounds built by trolley companies to increase ridership.
The records consist primarily of minute books and financial records which document the process of franchise acquisition and system building through merger. The decline of the systems after 1915 and the substitution of buses for electric traction is also well developed. Fare receipts and traffic statistics are available for the larger companies. Some payrolls are available for the Lancaster (Conestoga Traction), Harrisburg-Carlisle (Valley Railways) and Pottsville (East Penn Traction) systems.
Other records of East Penn Traction document local politics, advertising, labor relations and a prolonged strike in 1928. Circulars describe work rules, sales of uniforms to employees and organizational charts. Operating bulletins contain instructions to trainmen, while operating reports document general business and labor conditions. A substanial amount of correspondence relates to personnel matters: hiring, layoffs, injuries and wage rates. The personnel folders for office and clerical staff are particularly detailed. Testimony in a case of the United Mine Workers vs. Eastern Pennsylvania Railways (1919) documents working conditions and general railroad operations.
Records of Valley Railways document an ongoing dispute with the Harisburg City Council over downtown traffic congestion. Records of the Williamsport Railways Company also document its relationship with the American Electric Railways Association, the Pennsylvania Street Railway Association and the Electric Bond and Share Company.
Arranged alphabetically by company.