Reading Company employee recordsCreation: 1872-1910 Creation: Majority of material found within 1872-1887
The Reading Company, chartered in 1871 as the Excelsior Enterprise Company, became the holding company for the system of railroads, canals, and coal mines assembled by its predecessor, Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, between 1833 and 1896. The records are a fragmentary group from the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company; its successor, the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company; and its subsidiary, the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company. They are primarily registers of employees and wage rates for employees in the Reading, Pennsylvania, repair shops of all three companies.
- Creation: 1872-1910
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1872-1887
- Reading Company (Organization)
1.25 Linear Feet
The Reading Company, chartered in 1871 as the Excelsior Enterprise Company, became the holding company for the system of railroads, canals, and coal mines assembled by its predecessor, Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, between 1833 and 1896.
The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, incorporated April 4, 1833, was partly formed in response to complaints from both coal miners and operators concerning delays in shipments imposed by natural causes, such as the freezing of canals, as well as high tariffs and ferriage costs sanctioned by its rival, the Schuylkill Navigation Company. Initial construction of the Philadelphia & Reading’s main line began in 1835, but due to difficulties in securing labor and materials, work progressed slowly. The initial charter, granted in December 1833, authorized the company to construct a line a distance of fifty-eight miles along the Schuylkill River between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania; however, permission was sought from the state legislature to extend the line to Port Clinton in 1837, and from Port Clinton to Pottsville in 1838, principally to compete with the Schuylkill Navigation Company. On January 13, 1842, the entire ninety-five-mile line was opened from Pottsville to Philadelphia, devoted almost exclusively to the transportation of anthracite coal.
Although the 1840s and 1850s proved disastrous for the rival Schuylkill Navigation Company, the Philadelphia & Reading enjoyed prosperity through much of the period. To secure traffic from the west, and to maintain a competitive edge with J. Edgar Thomson’s Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia & Reading in 1858 consolidated the Lebanon Valley Railroad, which began operations from Reading to Harrisburg earlier that year. The company increased the length of the line from fifty-four miles to 152 miles. The opening of the Catawissa, Williamsport & Erie Railroad in 1854 gave the P&R access to the Susquehanna Valley and a through line to Elmira, New York, thus opening the Great Lakes grain and iron ore trade to prominent Eastern markets. Other acquisitions opened access to the Delaware River, where the company purchased extensive wharfage and constructed its main freight yard at Port Richmond in Philadelphia. The port, which was once the largest railroad tidewater freight facility in the world, handled the vast majority of anthracite coal, iron ore, and grain destined for ocean-going ships.
After 1860, the P&R began to expand its operations further through the purchase, merger, lease, or stock control of additional properties, including coal laterals in the anthracite region; access to the Delaware River waterfront between Marcus Hook and Philadelphia; and a rail network through southern New Jersey via the acquisition of the Atlantic City Railroad. Most importantly, the P&R gained access to New York Harbor in 1879 when it leased the North Pennsylvania Railroad and the Delaware & Bound Brook Railroad. In 1876, both railroads had entered into a tripartite agreement with the Central Railroad of New Jersey for joint traffic operations over the New York and Philadelphia line.
By the 1880s, however, the P&R’s expansion program proved overly ambitious, resulting in the company accumulating massive amounts of debt and a continuing burden of unpaid interest. The consequence was a series of three separate receiverships between 1880 and 1896. After a sequence of extended negotiations, the company reorganized as the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company in 1896. Additionally, a holding company was formed to hold the stocks of the railway, coal, and iron interests of the Philadelphia & Reading. This company, known as the National Company and originally chartered in 1871 as the Excelsior Enterprise Co., acquired the P&R’s railway and coal and iron properties in 1896, and subsequently changed its name to the Reading Company. Thus, the company emerged from a tumultuous financial period stronger and more secure than at any point in its history.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad had since joined a growing number of railroads contributing to relief funds and establishing pension systems for their employees. On October 30th, 1888, representatives and employees of various P&R divisions and departments organized the Philadelphia and Reading Relief Association. Those employed by the company voluntarily contributed to the relief fund, with the company matching 10 percent per year up to $1 million, with 5 percent thereafter. On December 17, 1902, the Philadelphia & Reading became one of sixteen railroad companies in the nation to adopt a voluntary pension program for its employees, having an initial enrollment of eighty-nine. The pension system provided for “faithful” employees over the age of seventy, those who have been in continuous service with the company for thirty years, those between the ages of sixty-five and sixty-nine with thirty years of service and who had been injured, as well as those who were severely incapacitated while on the job.
As the Reading Company emerged from the twentieth century a stronger and more compact organization, political pressures mounted to take action against rail carriers to force them to give up their coal properties. As a result of anti-trust proceedings, the Reading Company divested itself of its mining subsidiary in 1923 and became an operating company for its rail properties. Thus, the Reading’s managers responded to the drop in anthracite trade by facilitating efforts to diversify railroad traffic in the 1930s through the 1950s. Despite this, the railroad’s return on capital investment averaged only 3.6 percent during that period. Strikes in the steel, anthracite, and cement industries cut deeply into the Reading’s earnings. By the 1960s, the Reading, along with other Northeast rail carriers, faced collapse; many fell into bankruptcy in the succeeding decade. The Reading formally filed for bankruptcy on November 23, 1971. Viable portions of the rail network were conveyed to Conrail on April 1, 1976. The reorganized Reading Company retains real estate and other non-rail assets.
Scope and Contents
The records are a fragmentary group from the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company; its successor, the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company; and its subsidiary, the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company. They are primarily registers of employees and wage rates for employees in the Reading, Pennsylvania, repair shops of all three companies. One register appears to cover Mechanical Deptartment employees at most points along the Reading System. Registers typically give name, occupation, wage rates, and occasionally dates of employment. The do not give tallies of actual wage payments, although these might be estimated from the data in the registers.
This collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Reading Company employee records
- Chris Baer and Clayton J. Ruminski
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- 2020: Laurie Sather