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Reading Company employment and real estate records

Creation: 1836-1960
Accession: 2176


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 the predecessor Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company between 1833 and 1896. The Reading Company employment and real estate records comprise a largely incomplete and extremely fragmentary synthetic collection of material related to the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company and its successors. The collection comprises incomplete employment records largely dating from the first half of the twentieth century, records related to the employee pension program and the Relief Association, a small amount of contracts, and deeds and agreements reflecting the company's process of land acquisition following initial main line construction in the 1830s and through to the early twentieth century.


  • Creation: 1836-1960



12 Linear Feet

Historical Note

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 the 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% per year up to $1 million, with 5% 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 diversity 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 with many falling 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.


The Reading Company employment and real estate records are divided into five series:

Series I. Employment and personnel files, is divided into five subseries. Subseries A is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically; Subseries B is arranged alphabetically by location or division; Subseries C is arranged alphabetically by surname; Subseries D is arranged alphabetically by surname; Subseries E is arranged alphabetically by surname.

Series II. Pension and Relief Association files, is divided into two subseries. Subseries A is arranged alphabetically by surname; Subseries B is arranged chronologically.

Series III. Contracts and lease agreements, is arranged alphabetically by primary party.

Series IV. Real Estate Department records, is divided into four subseries, each arranged chronologically.

Series V. Operating statements, is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically.

Scope and Content

The Reading Company employment and real estate records comprise a largely incomplete and extremely fragmentary synthetic collection of material mostly related to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company and its successors. Such material includes incomplete employment records largely dating from the first half of the twentieth century, a small set of records related to the employee pension program and the Relief Association, contracts related mainly to equipment and trackage rights, and deeds and agreements reflecting the company's process of land acquisition following initial construction in the 1830s through the early twentieth century.

The Reading Company employee and personnel files represent one of the only existing archive of its kind. A small series of registers primarily lists employees who worked under the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad's Motive Power and Rolling Equipment (MP & RE) Department. They include employees from numerous P&RR shops and locations and span from 1888 to 1926. Along with the employee's name, most of the registers include such information as occupation, rate of pay and, in many cases, the dates in which an individual began and ended their employment. Additionally, most of the registers include an index of locations and shops. There is also a monthly employee check roll for those employed at the company's coal terminal at Port Richmond in Philadelphia between 1852 and 1856. Employee time books make up the bulk of the collection and cover Philadelphia and Reading operations throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

A series of employee applications document those individuals who applied for various positions at the Philadelphia and Reading Railway's engine house in Reading, Pennsylvania. Positions range from laborer to master mechanic. There are fewer applications for positions at the Lebanon, Pennsylvania, engine house, as well as the company's shops in Palo Alto, Pennsylvania. Applications for individuals with last names beginning with the letters N through V were not included as part of the original collection. Salary record cards document various employees' monthly pay rates throughout the year. The cards generally include the employee's occupation and work location. Additionally, a small series of special service files traces the employment history of several Motive Power & Rolling Equipment Department superintendents. The files include employment applications, biographical information, correspondence, and memos regarding the individual's various promotions through the ranks.

Pension and Relief Association files for Philadelphia and Reading employees are incomplete and extremely fragmentary, while some are more extensive than others. Information included within most of the files comprises the employee’s pension application - which includes employment history - along with intercompany correspondence acknowledging an employee’s enrollment into the program, changes in employment, their death, and notifications of checks made to their beneficiaries. The record of members of the Relief Association only includes workers employed at the Reading car shops, and contains such information as the employee's occupation, their per month contribution to the fund, certificate number, age, pay rate, and employment dates.

A small collection of contracts and leases made with other railroads, telegraph companies, and trust companies mostly involve equipment leases and trackage rights.

Records of the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company’s Real Estate Department are, like the employment records, extremely fragmentary and incomplete. However, the documents included offer some insight into the construction progress of the railroad’s main line after 1835, and sheds light on the company’s general property management and acquisition process throughout the nineteenth century.

Deeds, leases, and other agreements relate to the acquisition of property in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Much of the property purchased subsides on the railroad’s main line along the Schuylkill River extending from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia. The bulk of the deeds and agreements in this series, however, originate from the late nineteenth century, and largely document the railroad’s expansionary efforts in that era via land acquisition in Philadelphia. Of particular interest is a circa 1840s memo discussing the right and certain obligations of the railroad to construct its Richmond Branch in Philadelphia. There is also a series of property damage claims and settlements from those living alongside the railroad’s main line during its initial construction phase in the late 1830s and early 1840s.

A small series of property plans document both the railroad’s main line and Lebanon Valley Branch near Robesonia, Pennsylvania. Plans from the 1850s show the former's junction with the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, as well as with the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown Railroad. Plans of the company’s Lebanon Valley Branch include maps depicting the depot grounds at Robesonia, as well as the Robesonia furnace and other nearby plots. A series of fragmented miscellaneous material include property appraisals, a case involving property encroachment in Philadelphia, and other minor issues.

Lastly, a series of operating statements partly encompasses an incomplete run of monthly revenue and operating accounts of the Bloomsburg & Sullivan Railroad Company, a shortline railroad that operated in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, which became a Reading Company subsidiary in 1928. Additionally, a register kept by Daniel Jones, who began as the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company's Comptroller in 1881, gives summary statistics and general operating account data for the parent company and its various subsidiaries between 1881 and 1900, a turbulent financial period for the railroad. It includes wage statements, coal distribution, passenger counts, and profit and loss statements, thus giving insight into the company's overall financial volatility in the late nineteenth century.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access.

Related Material

Reading Company records (Accession 1520), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Reading Company loan collection (RR1978:3), Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 Gap Road, Pa. Route 741, Strasburg, Pennsylvania 17579.

Language of Materials


Additional Description

Separated Material

About 3.5 linear feet of material that includes bills, car mileage statements, invoices, and material accounts and general expense lists from 1886 and the 1930s gifted to the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society, 500 South Third Street, Hamburg, PA 19526.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Reading Company employment and real estate records
Clayton J. Ruminski
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
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Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA