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Delaware Coach Company records

1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966
 Collection
Accession: 1685

Abstract

The Delaware Coach Company was originally incorporated as the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company on June 25, 1910, and operated an electric street railway line from Wilmington, Delaware, to Chester, Pennsylvania, and to Philadelphia. Throughout the early twentieth century, the company purchased stock in and leased numerous electric railway, transportation, and utilities companies in the Wilmington and Chester areas. In 1941, it changed its name to the Delaware Coach Company as trackless trolleys and buses replaced electric streetcars. Included are official documents and correspondence; personnel and financial records; public relations files; land deeds; legislation; labor agreements and contracts; equipment, fare, and route policies; ordinances; minute books, and other miscellaneous material created by Delaware Coach and its predecessor electric streetcar companies.

Dates

  • 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966

Creator

Extent

109 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Delaware Coach Company was originally incorporated as the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company on June 25, 1910, and operated an electric street railway line from Wilmington, Delaware, to Chester, Pennsylvania, and to Philadelphia. Throughout the early twentieth century, the company purchased stock in and leased numerous electric railway and transportation companies in the Wilmington and Chester areas. On November 16, 1927, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. changed its name to the Delaware Electric Power Company, which acted as a holding company for numerous street railway lines, bus companies, and utilities companies in the greater Wilmington region. As electric street railway systems faced continuous competition from gas-powered buses and automobiles throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Delaware Electric Power Co. began to phase out its streetcar system in favor of bus lines and trackless trolleys. To reflect this change, Delaware Electric Power Co. dissolved the majority of its subsidiary and operating companies in the mid-to-late 1930s. On June 27, 1941, the company once again changed its name to the Delaware Coach Company.

Predecessor companies of the Delaware Coach Co. date back to the January 23, 1811 incorporation of the Wilmington & Great Valley Turnpike Company. By 1813, the company completed two and a half miles of the proposed turnpike road (present day Concord Pike) that would extend from Wilmington, Delaware, to West Chester, Pennsylvania, and there connect with other turnpikes in the “Great Valley” of Pennsylvania. The turnpike was a necessity owing to the poor state of old Concord Road, which had damaging effects on local agriculture and manufacturing by obstructing the shipment of goods. More private roads followed. The Wilmington and Philadelphia Turnpike Co. (present day Route 13) was chartered in 1813 and surveyed from the eastern side of the Brandywine Bridge at Wilmington to Philadelphia, while the Wilmington and Christiana Turnpike Road (present day Route 4) was incorporated on January 30, 1815 and partially completed by 1821. These private roads usually charged one cent per mile for a horse and rider and were eventually converted into free public highways by an Act of the Delaware General Assembly. Although Wilmington contained five turnpike roads by 1825, public transportation in the form of horse-drawn streetcars would not arrive within the city limits until the height of the Civil War.

Horse-drawn streetcars were essential in transporting the population from the dense inner city to newly annexed areas. As early as the 1830s, cities such as Philadelphia and New York used horse-drawn omnibuses and shortly after horse-drawn streetcars to serve local industries and manufactories, as well as to transport passengers who entered the city on its perimeter to homes and businesses located on the interior. Unlike omnibuses, horse drawn streetcars had flanged wheels and operated on rails laid in the street. This allowed for larger vehicles, higher speeds, and smoother operations. By 1860, Wilmington’s population was just over 21,000 compared to Philadelphia’s 560,000 residents. Nonetheless, Wilmington’s development of horse railways was likely influenced by its close location to one of the country’s largest urban areas. Financial uncertainties brought about by the start of the Civil War delayed construction of Wilmington’s first horse railway for several years.

On February 4, 1864, Delaware Legislature incorporated the Wilmington City Railway Company, which operated the city’s first horse railway. The company’s first president was Mill Creek Hundred native Joshua T. Heald (May 26, 1821-July 22, 1887) who, at a young age began working as a bookkeeper for Wilmington railcar manufacturers and later shipbuilders, Betts, Pusey & Harlan. In the 1850s, Heald amassed his fortune through real estate and banking, which partially influenced the route of his new Wilmington City Railway. The route began at the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad station at Front and Walnut Streets, continued north to Delaware Avenue and to what later became the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s crossing at present-day DuPont Street. Heald sought to develop the real estate along the railway’s route and purchased numerous lots that he later promoted to his working class clientele. The line soon extended to Rising Sun Lane, giving it access to those working at the DuPont powder yards. However, the company made little to no attempt at expanding its lines any further until 1881, when track was laid to the Brandywine Creek Bridge. The company constructed other extensions in the late 1880s and early 1890s, but travel was limited to Wilmington proper and did not extend to the city’s suburbs. Wilmington City Railway’s failure to extend its lines prompted the organization of the city’s second horse railway, the Front and Union Street Railway Company, incorporated on February 20, 1877. It carried passengers and freight from the intersection of Front and Market Streets to the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad. Like the Wilmington City Railway Co., the Front and Union Street Railway Co. served a limited area and had insufficient finances for large-scale expansion.

By 1880, the population of Wilmington was over 42,000. As more people flocked to the city and neighborhoods expanded, there was a dire need for a more sufficient public transportation system. Horse-drawn railways could not properly serve an increasing population, while animal power proved inadequate and the 166 horses used by Wilmington’s two street railway systems dumped a considerable amount of waste in city streets. In the late 1860s, street railway systems in Chicago tried replacing horses with steam engines, but the experiment was met with public dissatisfaction due to the smoke, noise, and sparks the engines produced. In 1883, an electrified streetcar was first exhibited in Chicago during the Exposition of Railway Appliances and soon thereafter numerous companies experimented in electrifying their streetcar systems.

Although the technology was still unproven, Wilmington City Railway Co. management decided to modernize and electrify their lines. The company built an experimental electric line one and a half miles in length from the intersection of Market and 10th Streets to the Riverview Cemetery. Some, however, objected to the new electric system, fearing the “ravages of electricity” and an uncertain technology that too often disrupted continuous service. Nonetheless, Wilmington’s first electric streetcar began operations on March 7, 1888. Once service became more reliable, weekday traffic on the line steadily increased. By May, the company deemed the experiment a success, prompting the Wilmington City Railway to accept the electric system and construct extensions of the line. The Front and Union Street Railway Co. followed suit and adopted electrification system in 1889. Because electric streetcars were much larger and faster than their horse-drawn counterparts, the cost per passenger mile was reduced by nearly 50% and the average price per fare decreased from ten cents to five cents. Travel times also decreased significantly. The Rising Sun line was reduced from sixty to thirty minutes and the Delaware Avenue line from ten to seven-and-a-half.

After years of reliable service, traffic in the city streets increased and the extension of lines in the 1890s promoted the expansion and growth of Wilmington. Accordingly, horse-car service was discontinued around 1892 and new electric streetcar companies emerged, increasing passenger transport for a growing population. On May 2, 1893, the Gordon Heights Railway Company was incorporated to construct a feeder line from the Gordon Heights Pier along the Delaware River to Shellpot Park. An amusement park was subsequently constructed at the river to generate additional traffic. Another company, the Elsmere and Wilmington Electric Railway Co., incorporated May 1, 1895, built a line from Brandywine Springs and transferred passengers to the Wilmington City Railway Co.’s line.

By the late 1890s, Wilmington contained six streetcar companies that in most cases only provided service over three or four streets. However, large-scale consolidation of electric streetcar companies took place in most American cities by the turn of the century. Merger on a smaller scale began in Wilmington on August 17, 1891, when the Wilmington City Railway Co. purchased the smaller Front and Union Street Railway Co., thereby eliminating its immediate competitor. Wilmington City Railway Co.’s stock remained in the hands of Wilmington financiers until 1897, when private bankers E. W. Clark & Company of Philadelphia purchased the majority stock. During the 1890s, the Clark interests purchased numerous lines in Chester, Pennsylvania, and planned to connect the cities of Wilmington and Chester to create a single, dominant electric railway in one of the largest metropolitan regions in the Mid-Atlantic. Nearly all of the stock was transferred to a new company, the Wilmington and Chester Traction Co., incorporated February 21, 1898. The new company held nearly all of the capital stock of the Wilmington City Railway, the Gordon Heights Railway, Front and Union Street Railway, and the Chester Traction Company. Further consolidation followed when John A. Riggs, a financier from Reading, Pennsylvania, began purchasing streetcar companies surrounding Philadelphia and others stretching as far west as Harrisburg. Riggs’s acquisitions were controlled by a holding company known as the United Power and Transportation Co., which acquired the Wilmington and Chester Traction Co. in May 1899.

Riggs, however, was underfinanced and little was done to expand his company’s lines. In 1903, the Interstate Railways Company – also controlled by Riggs – purchased the United Power and Transportation Co.’s stock. Interstate Railways achieved little and was plagued by financial problems. Although the company extended some smaller lines to outside Wilmington’s city limits, Interstate Railways fell victim to debilitating strikes and the 1907 economic depression drove it into bankruptcy. After defaulting interest payments on its bonds, Interstate Railways reorganized its subsidiaries and leased the Wilmington and Chester area properties through the J. G. White Engineering Co. to the DuPont interests on July 1, 1910. A new company, the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co., was formed June 25, 1910 to operate the Delaware trolley properties; a subsidiary known as the Southern Pennsylvania Traction Company was formed June 2, 1910, to operate the Pennsylvania lines. Oscar T. Crosby (April 21, 1861-January 2, 1947), an electric engineer and first president of the Potomac Electric Power Company in Washington DC, was named the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co.’s first president.

Capitalized at $5.5 million, the new company benefitted from local control and implemented several upgrades to older equipment while also raising wages for employees. Service was drastically improved and worn out rails were replaced with new ones. However, local control of the company was short-lived. In January 1913, Crosby resigned as company president and disposed of his interests to another holding company: the National Properties Company. Pittsburgh financier and National Properties Co. president Van Horn Ely took over operations of the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. and spearheaded the June 1, 1915 consolidation of its long-time competitor, the Peoples Railway Company (which formed May 15, 1900 through the merger of the Brandywine Springs Railway, Elsmere and Wilmington Electric Railway, Park Railway, and the Citizens’ Railway Company). On October 1, 1915, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction purchased the stock of the Wilmington Southern Traction Company and the Wilmington, New Castle and Delaware City Railway Company. Indeed, it had succeeded in creating a complete street railway monopoly in the state of Delaware. In December, Ely expanded his holdings further by purchasing the stock of the American Railways Co., a utilities holding company that controlled numerous electric railway, gas, electric, ferry, and steam heating companies.

After this series of mergers, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. began to clean up its lines and removed redundant ones. Lines of the former Peoples Railway that duplicated those of Wilmington & Philadelphia were removed and the rails used elsewhere to extend one-way operations through downtown Wilmington; operating bottlenecks within the city were eliminated. Older lines such as the New Castle-Delaware City were overhauled and modernized. By the end of 1916, profit margins improved and the company saw an increase in business during the First World War, but this prosperity was short-lived. During the war, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction was not guaranteed necessary supplies due to labor shortages. In turn, rising labor and equipment costs forced the company to increase fare rates from six to eight cents in 1920 and transition from paper tickets to more costly metal tokens. This wartime financial strain on Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction resulted in the collapse of American Railways Co., leading to its consolidation with United States Electric Railway and Light Co., another large utilities holding company (whose name was changed to the American Electric Power Co. in 1923). Nevertheless, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction’s fare increase was successful and the company made a surplus of $1.5 million in the 1920s. But new modes of personal transportation put electric trolley operations in considerable danger.

Between 1890 and 1918 the automobile was a novelty; something only wealthy Americans could enjoy. Yet the advent of Henry Ford’s assembly line reduced the cost of its production and brought the comfort and novelty of the automobile to the masses. As a result, electric streetcar companies began to face increasing competition and congestion in the city streets. The general public lost interest in once popular suburban amusement parks built by street railway stockholders to keep their lines busy. Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction also faced competition from independent bus lines formed in the early 1920s. To counter these problems, the company introduced one-man cars to save on labor and reduced the number of cars that terminated in downtown Wilmington. Still, these measures were not enough.

To stay competitive, the company on April 27, 1925, organized a bus subsidiary called the Delaware Bus Company and began a line from Wilmington to Newark, Delaware. Later that year, Delaware Bus Co. acquired numerous independent bus lines in Delaware, including Red Arrow Bus Line, Inc., the United People’s Transit Company, and the Delaware Rapid Transit Company. Aside from bus transportation, profits also came by way of utilities sales. As a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co., over 40% of Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction’s profits originated from the sale of electric power and 20% from the sale of gas; electric rail transportation continued to decline. To reflect this trend, Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction on November 16, 1927 changed its name to the Delaware Electric Power Company. Through a series of corporate transfers, it became a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based United Gas Improvement Company in February 1928. Shortly thereafter, United Gas Improvement merged all of its electric and gas utilities on December 31, 1928 to form the Delaware Power and Light Company, which in turn was controlled by Delaware Electric Power.

Despite some investment in its electric railway system, Delaware Electric Power’s street railway department continued to fade financially. Beginning in 1928, lesser used trolley lines were replaced with bus services while significant rail renovation had not taken place since 1915. The Great Depression put even more strain on the company’s street railway operations. Between 1930 and 1933, the company’s marginal lines were removed and replaced with bus lines. By 1934, only seven railway lines remained. Because the company produced its own electricity, trackless trolleys – buses operated by electricity using overheard wires – were an attractive alternative to street railcars. They eliminated expensive rail replacements, seated more passengers, and reduced operating costs by 16%; most former rail lines were converted to trackless trolleys in 1939. In the mid-1930s, subsidiary operating companies such as the old Wilmington City Railway Co. and the Front and Union Street Railway Co. were finally dissolved. The last trolley line in Wilmington operated on January 6, 1940. By 1942, Wilmington city streets still contained an estimated 24 miles and 3,361 tons of unused rail. The remaining rail were removed by outside contractors and scrapped for the war effort.

In 1941, United Gas Improvement Co. severed the connection between Delaware Power and Light Co. and Delaware Electric Power Co. because of New Deal legislation (Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935) that prohibited electric utilities from operating transit systems. As a result, Delaware Electric Power was left with only transit operations and changed their name to the Delaware Coach Company on June 27, 1941. After the general prosperity of the war, urban transportation declined as many began moving away from the city and into the suburbs. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the company introduced several promotional offers and new bus features designed to attract passengers; most were aimed at women and children. These included a Ride “N” Shop program that offered passengers discounts to certain downtown department stores; Mother’s Day promotions whereby women received a free carnation; and diesel buses with new Nylon seats. The company overhauled their original trackless trolleys in 1950, but no new equipment was purchased. Without its connection to Delaware Power and Light Co., Delaware Coach lacked the resources it needed to survive economic and financial downturns. Thus, on March 30, 1951, United Gas Improvement sold Delaware Coach to Russel S. Stoughton, a Pennsylvania investor and the company’s first private owner in 40 years.

Stoughton’s tenure, however, did not last long. On August 28, 1956, he sold Delaware Coach to the New York-based American Transportation Enterprises (ATE), well-known for salvaging transit companies in financial distress. ATE took measures to economize Delaware Coach’s fleet of trackless trolleys and buses by eliminating the former and replacing the entire system with buses by the end of 1957. In 1963, ATE promoted Charles W. Croft to vice president and general manager of Delaware Coach, who formerly acted as the company’s superintendent of equipment. As general manager, Croft instituted new uses for the company’s buses, including charters to numerous special events, schools, workplaces, and sports venues. He also introduced experimental fare packages and new methods of advertising. In 1969, the Delaware General Assembly created the Delaware Authority for Regional Transit (DART) to assume bus operations formerly run by Delaware Coach. For two years DART operated under the Greater Wilmington Transportation Authority until the governing authority was replaced by the Delaware Department of Transportation in 1971. In 1994, the Delaware General Assembly created the Delaware Transit Corporation to manage and operate DART, which today provides services throughout Delaware with 500 buses and 70 bus routes.

Arrangement

The records are organized and arranged into eleven distinct series:

Series I: General Manager’s files, is divided into five subseries by company name. They are arranged alphabetically by document type or subject, and then chronologically.

Series II: Street railway company files, is divided into two subseries. Subseries A is arranged alphabetically by company name and then by document type and then chronologically. Subseries B is arranged alphabetically by subject and then chronologically.

Series III: Minute books, is arranged alphabetically by company name and then chronologically.

Series IV: Personnel records, is arranged alphabetically by company name and then alphabetically by surname.

Series V: Accident and injury reports, is divided into two subseries. They are arranged alphabetically by document type and then chronologically.

Series VI: Securities and Exchange Commission reports, is arranged alphabetically by document type or subject and then chronologically.

Series VII: Scrapbooks, historical files, and miscellany, is arranged alphabetically by subject or document type and then alphabetically.

Series VIII: Financial and operating reports, is arranged alphabetically by company name and then chronologically.

Series IX: Stock transfer books and certificates, is divided into two subseries. They are arranged alphabetically by company name and then chronologically.

Series X: Account books, is divided into numerous subseries by company name, and then alphabetically by document type and then chronologically.

Series XI: Blueprints and maps, is divided into two subseries and arranged by subject relation.

Scope and Content

The Delaware Coach Company records consist of official documents and other company material from the files of Charles W. Croft, vice president and general manager of Delaware Coach in the 1960s. Although many of Mr. Croft’s files are from the 1940s through the 1960s when Delaware Coach operated strictly as a transit company, electric street railway companies in Wilmington and Chester, Pa., are well-represented and help trace the evolution of mass-transit in northern Delaware and to a smaller extent southeastern Pennsylvania. The records also give insight into the effects that New Deal legislation had on public utility holding companies.

The bulk of the collection documents the Delaware Coach Company and its operations in the Wilmington metropolitan area in the mid-twentieth century. Company records detail Delaware Coach’s efforts to maintain profitable operations as urban mass transit declined after the Second World War, and focuses on bus and trolley coach operations rather than streetcar operations. Along with financial statements and operating expenses, other documentation includes promotional events designed to attract passengers, labor and union contracts and agreements, cost studies, and route analysis reports. Most other functions of the company are represented. Route changes, advertising, fare rates, bus stops, equipment upgrades, publicity, passenger complaints, and employee earnings, photographs, and newsletters supplement the extensive statistical data found in Mr. Croft's files. There are similar but less extensive records for the Delaware Bus Co. and the Southern Pennsylvania Bus Co., both Delaware Coach subsidiaries; the majority of records from the Delaware Electric Power Co. focus on the transition from streetcar to bus services.

A large portion of Mr. Croft's files consists of documents and material related to Wilmington and Chester’s late nineteenth and early twentieth century horse-drawn and electric street railway companies. The bulk of this material comprises official and legal documentation such as railway leases, ordinances, land deeds, agreements, articles of association, charter amendments, and by-laws. Numerous reports, data, and correspondence document track construction and removal efforts in Wilmington and Chester during the Great Depression and World War II. A series of account books that include ledgers, cash books, and journals detail the financial end of nineteenth and early twentieth century street railway company operations in Wilmington, De, and Chester, Pa. In addition, minute books of numerous Delaware Coach predecessors, including the Wilmington City Railway Co., Front and Union Street Railway Co., and the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co., give insight into decisions made by management and stockholders. They also help untangle the corporate web of consolidations and mergers that affected most electric street railway and utilities companies after the turn of the twentieth century.

Personnel records (which are subject to a 75-year time seal from the date of document creation) include those from Delaware Coach Co. and also cover the period when the company was known as the Delaware Electric Power Co. and Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. These include disciplinary records, medical exams for employment and military service, evaluations, applications and reference letters, and pension applications. Some files contain a photograph of the employee. Accident and injury reports (also subject to a 75-year time seal from the date of creation) document such occurrences at the Wilmington City Railway Co. from April to May 1901, and the Delaware Coach Co. between 1959 and 1963. Those from the Wilmington City Railway Co. consist of statements from trolley operators that detail accidents as trivial as a man twisting his ankle on the trolley, to horses, dogs, and people being hit. Delaware Coach Co. bus accident reports include names of bus drivers and other drivers involved, description of damaged vehicles, location of the accident, and the cause and extent of the damage. Injury reports document injuries to Delaware Coach employees, insurance and damage claims, and descriptions of medical bills and treatments given to accident victims.

Reports and data submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission chronicle the ramifications that the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 had on public utility holding companies and their subsidiaries who operated transit systems. The separation by act of legislation of Delaware Electric Power Co.'s gas, electric, and other utilities operations from their bus and trolley transit system is represented through numerous exchanges with the SEC, ultimately leading to the sale of Delaware Coach Co. to Russel S. Stoughton in 1951. Accordingly, Stoughton's purchase of stock in and the finalization of the sale of Delaware Coach Co. is well-documented. A series of near complete financial and operating reports from Delaware Coach Co. and its subsidiary bus lines give insight into how these companies fared statistically during significant government policy changes and economic downturns.

Other material of interest includes a series of maps that help reconstruct numerous bus and street railway lines in both Chester and Wilmington, while blueprints detail various trolley coach equipment, bus models, and seating arrangements used by the company in the 1930s and 1940s. There is also a small collection of trackmans' badges used by employees of the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Co. and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Traction Co. Lastly, a small collection of stock transfer books and certificates dating from 1814 to 1936 contain prominent names from northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania. Such names include Tatnall, Gilpin, and Mendenhall. This series largely consists of stock transfers from early nineteenth century turnpike companies and a few street railway companies, most notably the Wilmington City Railway Co. Included in some of the turnpike company books are notes dating from the 1820s through the 1850s that lists stockholders and the transfer of shares.

Access Restrictions

Personnel and other employee records containing private information are subject to a 75-year time seal from the date of their creation.

Related Material

Delaware Coach Company photograph collection (Accession 1979.315), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Delaware Coach Company records
Status:
Author:
Clayton J. Ruminski
Date:
2016
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400