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William McKinley Keller papers

Creation: 1920-1974
Accession: 1580


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


  • Creation: 1920-1974



4 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

William McKinley Keller (1901-1974) was a railroad engineer and executive who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Association of American Railroads.

Keller was born August 29, 1901 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Charles Henry Keller (1857-1936) and Anna McCourtney Keller (1861-1942). He attended public schools in Pittsburgh and Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, studied engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and received a diploma in mechanical engineering from Pennsylvania State College (later Pennsylvania State University).

He entered the railroad industry in 1919 as an apprentice to the Altoona Works of the Pennsylvania Railroad. By 1940, he had advanced through several inspector posts in the test department and to the position of assistant engineer in that department. Keller moved to Philadelphia in 1941 and was made foreman of mechanical engineers; then general forman of car design in 1944; and assistant mechanical engineer in charge of the entire system in 1945.

In 1952, Keller joined the Association of American Railroads (a central coordinating and research agency), in Chicago, Illinois, as director of mechanical research. He became executive vice chairman and director of research of the mechanical division in 1955 and, in 1957, became assistant vice president of the operations and maintenance department. His final position with association was as vice president for research. In this capacity he directed the AAR Research Center on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago until his retirement in 1968. He also made many public appearances, and took part in four AAR government-sponsored trips to foreign countries: to Russia in 1960 and 1966, to France in 1960, and to Japan in 1964.

After retiring from AAR, Keller served as an independent consultant to the industry and as consulting editor for Progressive Railroading magazine from 1968 to 1974.

He held twelve patents and wrote sixty articles and papers. He was recognized internationally for his achievements in railroad engineering and research. In his early years he made numerous improvements in steam locomotive design, and following World War II, he was largely responsible for developing the design of the lightweight passenger car. He is credited with improved design for truck and freight equipment, automatic car identification, and rail-flaw detection techniques. He also made major contributions in the hot-box field. Technological data provided by Keller were used in modernizing work rules. In 1965, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers bestowed its highest honor (honorary member) on Keller.

Keller died in August 1974 in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

Scope and Contents

This collection William McKinley Keller of papers pertains principally to technical aspects of his career consisting of manuals, research reports, and articles from his work with the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and as an independent consultant to the railroad industry. It also contains personal correspondence relating to all stages of his career.

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) records include manuals, reference notebooks and compilations of data from the test and motive power departments. There are notes on lightweight passenger cars (1945), typescripts for pamphlets and lectures on the development of PRR motive power and a copy of a 1937 Altoona Test Plant report on the performance of the K4s locomotive at high speeds, the shortcomings of which led to the development of a new generation of duplex locomotives.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) records include correspondence dealing with research policy and with Keller's official appearances and trips. There are articles, notes and speeches, including a 24-page report on the AAR's research philosophy (1968) and another on technological progress in the railroad industry (1964). Among the technical studies are reports on train resistance, stresses in car bodies and studies to eliminate harmonic roll. The articles include two reports on Keller's trips to Russia.

Keller's post-retirement work as a consultant includes an illustrated report on a 1968 collision on the Delaware River Port Authority's automated Lindenwold High-Speed Line, a report on the push-pull commuter cars being developed by Pullman-Standard for the Erie Lackawanna, and a report by Keller on the Penn Central bankruptcy.

The last series includes five non-AAR research reports and personal correspondence, primarily related to promotions, retirement and testimonials.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Publications by William McKinley Keller can be found in Hagley's Published Collections. Contact the Published Collections Department for details or search the library catalog.

Language of Materials


Additional Description

Separated Materials

William McKinley Keller photographs (Accession 1977.241), Audiovisual Collections and Digitial Initiaves Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

William McKinley Keller papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Revision Statements

  • 2020: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA