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Jervis Langdon, Jr. papers

1889-1991
 Collection
Accession: 2068

Abstract

Jervis Langdon, Jr. (1905-2004) was a railroad executive largely known for rehabilitating ailing railroads and for his influence in the reshaping of national railroad policy in the 1970s. Langdon's papers document the U.S. railroad industry's efforts to obtain a competitive rate rule through Congress in relation to other freight carriers, such as trucks and barges. Also included is material covering Langdon's efforts in revitalizing bankrupt railroads, such as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, and the Penn Central reorganization and its subsequent 1980 valuation case.

Dates

  • 1889-1991

Creator

Extent

18 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Jervis Langdon, Jr. was born in Elmira, New York, on January 28, 1905 to parents Jervis (1875-1952) and Eleanor Langdon (1878-1971). His father, a prominent businessman in the Elmira region of southern New York, joined the family business of J. Langdon & Co. in 1897. He was involved with numerous commercial interests, including the Chemung Coal Company, the Chemung Canal Trust Company, and the Lackawanna Coal Company, an affiliate of the Lackawanna Railroad. Moreover, Langdon’s uncle, Edward E. Loomis, served as president of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and proved influential to Langdon as he began his career in railroading, advising him to become either an engineer or a lawyer if he wanted to succeed in the business.

Langdon graduated from the Hill School in 1923, and followed with an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1927. Shortly thereafter, Langdon began his career in the railroad industry with an entry level position with the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Heeding his uncle’s advice, Langdon returned to Cornell to earn his law degree, and in 1931 joined the Lehigh Valley RR’s office of the foreign freight agent, later advancing to the company’s legal department where he largely focused on tax work. His tenure with the company was short, however, and later obtained a position as general attorney with the New York Central Railroad in 1934. Two years later, he took a similar position with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and, in 1941, Langdon was promoted to Assistant Vice President of Traffic.

After serving in the Air Force during the Second World War, Langdon returned to the New York Central Railroad as a commerce lawyer. In 1947, he became special counsel on rate issues with the Southern Freight Association, assuming chair of the newly-launched Association of Southeastern Railroads (ASER) five years later. During his tenure with the ASER, he became well-known within the railroad industry and related legislative groups due to his numerous contributions to professional and trade publications.

In 1956, Langdon joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, eventually rising to the position of Vice President and General Counsel. In 1961, he succeeded Harold E. Simpson as the company’s president. Upon taking over the position, Langdon inherited numerous financial issues and economic problems facing the railroad industry. The B&O was falling under the domination of the Chesapeake & Ohio, while it also saw traffic loss and increased competition from other transportation sources such as trucks and barges. To counter increasing profit loss, Langdon brought in new methods and younger personnel, including “sizing-up” individuals, thus placing them into major policy-making positions. He also took steps to prevent the erosion of rail traffic while initiating detailed cost-accounting procedures prominently used in other industries. Additionally, Langdon expanded piggyback service and introduced specialized single-commodity trains to haul coal. Within eighteen months, he turned the company’s $30 million deficit into a moderate profit.

Despite Langdon’s success, many of the projects he envisioned for the B&O were vetoed by the management of its corporate partner, the Chesapeake & Ohio RR. Unhappy with his role, Langdon in 1964 accepted a position as board chairman and later president of the ailing Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Although he and his administration focused on winning ICC approval for merging with the Union Pacific, Rock Island ultimately declined the merger deal due to the property’s deteriorating physical condition. Langdon, however, was not part of the final merger discussions. He stepped down from his position with Rock Island in 1970, largely due to the Union Pacific’s unwillingness to compromise and negotiate a fair deal. Despite this, Langdon’s work gave life to the Rock Island, and shippers would eventually retain access to rail service.

Shortly before he stepped down from Rock Island, Philadelphia federal district court judge John P. Fullam, Jr. contacted Langdon about the possibility of becoming a lead full-time trustee with the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company. Langdon was initially hesitant and believed that his experience would be best suited for the position of president.

Considered one of the largest corporate debacles in American history, the Penn Central bankruptcy was a result of the 1968 merger of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad, which created the world’s largest privately owned railroad. Most believed the formation of Penn Central was in the public interest for customers, employees, and investors alike. The ICC prematurely emphasized service advantages such as single-line service between more points with less handling of freight, less switching of cars, and ultimately less equipment damage and confusion. The actual merger process, however, proved a disaster. Classification clerks were unable to route cars correctly, which resulted in heavy congestion in yards and sidings. Superintendents became overwhelmed and dispatched trains without proper paperwork, while waybills were prepared incorrectly or not at all. Additionally, former New York Central and PRR personnel held opposing worldviews of general operating practices, and historically embraced dissimilar forms of governance.

Langdon remained a lead trustee for Penn Central until 1973, when he assumed the presidency. His work largely reflected that of his time with the B&O and Rock Island companies, transforming Penn Central into a much stronger property by pushing for modernization. However, the project also required massive federal assistance to the tune of $600 to $800 million over a three-year period. Additionally, Langdon helped shape national railroad policy in the 1970s, including legislation such as the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1974, which helped create the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) in 1976, a government-funded private company that operated the lines deemed profitable by the United States Railway Association.

Following the formation of Conrail, Langdon remained active in the business well into his late 80s. He served on the boards of Amtrak and other railroads, and also became an advisor and consultant with several other projects. In his private life, Langdon maintained a home at Quarry Farm in Elmira, where Mark Twain, who married Langdon’s great aunt Olivia, spent several of his summers writing. Langdon died of congestive heart failure at his home in Elmira on February 16, 2004.

Arrangement

Series I, Railroad costs and shipping rates, is divided into four subseries, each arranged chronologically within.

Series II, Reorganization and bankruptcy, is divided into five subseries, each arranged chronologically within.

Scope and Content

The Jervis Langdon, Jr. papers largely document the railroad executive’s efforts at reforming national railroad policy in the form of competitive shipping rates versus other transportation sources, such as trucks and barges. Additionally, the records also cover Langdon’s involvement in the rehabilitation and reorganization of several bankrupt railroad lines, including the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific and the Penn Central Transportation Company (Penn Central), as well as reports, analysis, and problems associated with the formation of the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) in 1976 and its subsequent 1980 valuation case.

The Langdon papers are divided into two series, the first of which documents Langdon’s involvement in the railroad industry’s efforts to procure competitive freight rates in the early-to-mid twentieth century. The majority of files within this series consist of court hearings before the Interstate Commerce Commission related to rates on various freight commodities, tax cases, and other issues such as passenger fares. The rate cases apply to lines ranging from the Southwest, New England, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic, and include, among others, cases involving the Lehigh Valley RR and the Baltimore & Ohio, Langdon’s employers for much of the 1930s. Along with the Lehigh Valley and B&O hearings, Langdon served as general counsel in most of the other cases within the series.

Numerous House, Senate, and ICC hearings focus on competitive shipping rates throughout the transportation industry with a particular emphasis on trucking and water rates. There are also several reports and studies detailing the effects of fluctuating railroad freight rates on other industries. Moreover, the series includes analysis on the effects of ICC regulations and the impact of new technologies and energy sources on railroads. Numerous speeches given by Langdon and other railroad executives cover subjects such as their opposition to competitive rate rules, general railroad operations, and the need for less restrictive regulations on railroads and other freight carriers.

Series II largely consists of reports, legislation, and hearings related to the bankruptcy and reorganization of select railroad lines, most of which Langdon played a major role. A series of preliminary reports from the 1930s and 1940s covers regulations and law related to major freight carriers throughout the United States, as well as reports on the status and trends of various industries crucial to the success of motor, water, and rail freight carriers. Langdon’s involvement with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad is well documented, and includes testimony, ICC dockets, and other material related to the prospective merger of Rock Island with the Union Pacific and the former’s potential to develop into a profitable line. There is also correspondence between Langdon and Maury Klein, a Hagley fellow, regarding the Rock Island non-merger.

The bulk of the second series consists of material from Langdon’s effort to revitalize the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company (Penn Central). These include prospective reports, Langdon’s deposition regarding the company’s valuation and reorganization, as well as testimony from the valuation proceedings. Some maps are included and highlight lines to be acquired by Penn Central and other carriers. There are also several reports discussing Penn Central’s reorganization and the need for extensive financial assistance from the government. Lastly, a series of reports touches on the problems of the Conrail organization, including inventory, its financial situation, and performance reviews. Other reports cover Conrail’s profitability, freight statistics, and operational comparisons with other freight carriers.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access.

Related Material

Amtrak Northeast Corridor Improvement Project records (Accession 2731), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Penn Central Trustees' records, 1967-1975 (Accession 1807/1810, Record group 20), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Jervis Langdon, Jr., papers
Status:
Author:
Dave Burdash; Clayton J. Ruminski
Date:
2018.
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