Approximately 11,000 images collected by Thomas Norrell consisting of original photographic prints and photographic postcards, original film and glass plate negatives, and duplicate/copy photographic prints and negatives. The majority are external views of single locomotive engines of North American railroad and industrial companies. Images of international railroad company locomotives and of representative locomotives from various locomotive works and builders are also included. The collection contains a small number of subject-specific images covering such topics as train wrecks, funeral trains, experimental locomotives, miniature trains, and locomotives at the 1933 and 1939 World's Fairs.
Scope and Contents:
The collection contains material related primarily, but not exclusively, to early North American railroad locomotives. Photographs and negatives comprise the bulk of the material in the collection, with the number of individual images well exceeding 10,000. While the collection is particularly valuable for its images of locomotives from smaller or relatively obscure railroad lines and industrial concerns (such as mining and lumber companies), it also includes a substantial number of images from the leaders of the railroad industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (such as the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad).
Norrell's organization of the collection reflects his technical knowledge of railroad engines and his familiarity with various railroad companies. His use of Whyte notation as an organizational schema gives evidence to this. Whyte notation is broadly utilized by the railroad industry as a way to classify locomotives based on their wheel configuration. A count of leading (non-driving) wheels, middle driving wheels, and trailing wheels (non-driving) is represented by a three-digit hyphenated number. For example, a locomotive with four leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels would be classified as a 4-4-2. Norrell utilized this convention when subdividing railroad companies for which he had collected many images, such as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, among others. Norrell subdivided portions of his collection of Pennsylvania Railroad images based on that company's distinct classification system, where letters of the alphabet corresponded to different Whyte notations.
Norrell used other criteria to help subdivide larger assemblages of single-company railroad images, and these have been maintained. In some instances, he used the company number designation found on the locomotive itself (as in the case of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad). Other times, subject designations were used to distinguish rail yards, passenger cars, and special or prominent locomotives. Because the Pennsylvania Railroad comprised such a large segment of images, Norrell organized it according to a number of subdivision types (including year, Whyte notation, and subject) rather than any single one.
The collection is arranged into three series: Series 1, Negatives, 1831-1967, undated, Series 2, Photographic Prints, circa 1850-1960, and Series 3, Ephemera, undated.
Series 1, Negatives, 1831-1967, undated,contains photographic negatives and is divided into two subseries: Subseries 1, Film Negatives, 1831-1967, undated, and Subseries 2, Glass Plate Negatives, 1831-1967, undated.
The series contains original negative images, copy negatives of other printed images, and copy negatives of printed material, such as book illustrations. The inclusive dates for the series reflect the subject of the material photographed (as in the case of copy negatives) rather than the date the negative was created.
The negatives primarily depict views of single locomotive engines from various North American and international mainline and short line railroads. Interspersed among these are views of company-owned locomotives representing such North American industries as mining (coal, iron, limestone, copper, gold, quartz, zinc), lumber (timber, pulp, paper), metallurgical production (coke, iron, steel), stone/brick production (masonry, cement, gravel), utilities (power, light, telephone), chemical production, leather production, automotive production, and food service. A number of military railroad locomotives as well as early metropolitan transit systems are also represented among the negatives. Most of the images depict steam locomotives, though some diesel engines, diesel-electric hybrid engines, passenger and freight cars, and assorted repair/service vehicles are also spread throughout.
Subseries 1, Film Negatives, 1831-1967, undated consists of polyester film negatives ranging in size from 2 1/4" x 4 1/4" to 5" x 7". Additional larger polyester film negatives are interfiled with the glass plate negatives of Subseries 2 and range in size from 5" x 7" to 8" x 10".
The negatives are physically arranged by size, then by the negative series number originally assigned to them by the United States National Museum, Division of Transportation. This numbering system generally, but not always, follows an alphabetical order by name of railroad company (North American and international) or industrial company. The majority of the film negatives are 5" x 7" or smaller, and the number series for this size of negative begins with 85-20939 and ends with 85-31126.
Film negatives larger than 5" x 7" are separated and interfiled with the glass plate negatives of Subseries 2. As such, the negative series number range for these larger film negatives is not always consecutive. The first series number range begins at 82-4189 and ends at 82-4429. The second range begins at 82-13786 and ends at 82-13795. A printed, item-level index of the negatives containing an alphabetical list of railroad and industrial company names and associated negative numbers is available for consultation in the Archives Center.
The envelope enclosures for all negatives generally include the name of the railroad or industrial company, the engine/locomotive number, the engine/locomotive builder, the Whyte classification (wheel arrangement), the year of the engine/locomotive's construction, a brief description of the image, the size of the negative, and the negative series number.
Subseries 2, Glass Plate Negatives, 1831-1967, undated, consists of glass plate negatives ranging in size from 5" x 7" to 10" x 12". Three broken glass plate negatives have been re-housed and are stored separately. Otherwise the plates are arranged by size, then by original negative series number as assigned by the United States National Museum, Division of Transportation. This number range is not always consecutive because the glass plate negatives are interfiled with the larger film negatives of Subseries 1. A printed, item-level index of the negatives containing an alphabetical list of railroad and industrial company names and associated negative numbers is available for consultation in the Archives Center.
The 8" x 10" glass plate negative number series begins with 82-4168 and ends with 82-4424.
The 5" x 7" glass plate negatives contain series numbers 82-13783 to 82-13785.
The 12" x 10" glass plate negatives contain series numbers 82-4430 to 82-4452.
The envelope enclosures for the negatives generally include the name of the railroad or industrial company, the engine/locomotive builder, the Whyte classification (wheel arrangement), in some cases a brief description of the image, and the negative series number.
Series 2, Photographic Prints, circa 1850-1960,consists of visual material, including photographic postcards, illustrated postcards, photographic prints (made through a variety of photographic processes), and a photograph album. It contains five subseries: Subseries 1, North American Railroad Companies; Subseries 2, International Railroad Companies; Subseries 3, Railroad Builders; Subseries 4, Subjects; and Subseries 5, Duplicate Images.
Subseries 1, North American Railroad Companies, circa 1850-1960 includes photographic and illustrated postcards and photographic prints of North American railroad companies, industrial railroads, and urban transit companies. The images range in size from 2 1/4" x 4 1/4" to 8" x 10," with the majority being silver gelatin prints. Occasional albumen prints, cyanotype prints, and salted paper prints are found in the collection. The majority of the images are views of single locomotive engines, though some images of railroad stations, roundhouses, rail yards, and passenger cars are interspersed throughout. While the majority of the photographs are 4" x 6" or smaller, there are prints larger than 4" x 6" which are arranged alphabetically by railroad or industrial company name. In some cases multiple larger images from railroad companies with names close to each other alphabetically are filed together in a single folder and identified with the first common letters of the company names.
Norrell's original alphabetical organization by railroad or industrial company name has been preserved. In some instances where a substantial number of images for a particular railroad company exist, Norrell subidivided the images either by Whyte notation (wheel arrangement) or by subject. This usually follows either an alphabetical or numerical organization, but not in every case. In many instances, hand-written notes and postage appear on the reverse of the photographic postcards. Addresses and salutations indicate that many of the postcards were not sent to Thomas Norrell directly, but were acquired by him at a later date.
Subseries 2, International Railroad Companies, circa 1850-1960, includes photographs, illustrated postcards, and a photograph album depicting international railroads and railroad locomotives. Of particular interest is the photograph album compiled by Thomas Norrell containing sixty individual photographs of steam locomotive engines from eighteen assorted British, continental European, and South American railroad companies. The images are all approximately 14" x 10," and each corresponds to an identification chart mounted in the front of the album indicating the railroad company, engine number, Whyte notation (wheel arrangement), and special notes about each engine.
Subseries 3, Railroad Builders, circa 1850-1960 consists photographic prints and photographic postcards containing images of locomotives separated by builder. Norrell's original alphabetical arrangement of the images by locomotive works or manufacturing company name has been preserved.
Subseries 4, Subjects, 1804-1940, contains photographic prints and photographic postcards organized by subject. The images are arranged chronologically by date of the subject of the images. Of particular interest are Norrell's photographs of locomotives at the 1933-1934 Chicago and 1939-1940 New York World's Fairs.
Subseries 5, Duplicate Images, circa 1850-1960, contains duplicate photographic prints and duplicate copy prints created from the either the photographs in Series 2 or from the film and glass plate negatives from Series 1. The duplicate images, including photographic postcards and photographic prints, are subdivided by first letter of the name of the railroad or industrial company. The duplicate copy prints created from the negatives are arranged numerically by a negative number recorded on the negative itself.
Series 3, Ephemera, undated,consists of an unidentified and undated piece of railroad track.
Staufer, Alvin F. Pennsy Power III 1847-1968. Medina, OH: Alvin F. Staufer, 1993.
The collection is arranged in three series.
Series 1, Negatives, 1831-1967, undated
Subseries 1, Film Negatives, 1831-1967, undated
Subseries 2, Glass Plate Negatives, 1831-1967, undated
Series 2, Photographic Prints, circa 1850-1960
Subseries 1, North American Railroad Companies, circa 1850-1960
Subseries 2, International Railroad Companies, circa 1850-1960
Subseries 3, Railroad Builders, circa 1850-1960
Subseries 4, Subjects, 1804-1940
Subseries 5, Duplicate Images, circa 1850-1960
Series 3, Ephemera, undated
Biographical / Historical:
Thomas Norrell was born in West Ham (Essex County) England on November 11, 1899. He emigrated to the United States as a young man and became a naturalized citizen in 1911. He took an apprenticeship at the Baldwin Locomotive Works around 1920. Although the Baldwin works benefited from a boom in the export of steam locomotives meant to replenish foreign rail systems impacted by use during the First World War, the upswing was short-lived. Business at Baldwin slowed considerably in the 1920s as diesel engines began replacing steam locomotives. Recognizing that opportunities for advancement within Baldwin were scarce, Norrell moved out of railroad work completely and into the paper box industry. He married his wife Wilhelmina in 1929, and they resided in Cranston, Rhode Island and later Silver Spring, Maryland.
Despite his shift away from railroads as a vocation, Norrell maintained a life-long interest in trains and was a collector of photographic and print material related to locomotive engines, train cars, and industrial railroads. He contributed a number of articles to various railroad periodicals and was generous in providing images from his collection to other authors for reproduction in their publications. Norrell also influenced and supported a number of prominent railroad historians, including John H. White Jr., curator of the Division of Transportation in the Smithsonian National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History). It was through White's efforts that Norrell's collection became part of the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1942 Norrell gained some degree of notoriety for having rediscovered the famed Brady Civil War negatives in the vault of the Phelps Publishing Company in Springfield, Massachusetts while searching for an unrelated daguerreotype of an early Massachusetts locomotive. The locomotive had been identified from a wood-engraving made by an artist for a Phelps subsidiary publication, and Norrell secured permission to search the Phelps Company's vault for the image. During his search, Norrell stumbled upon and recognized the famed Civil War collection from earlier printed publications of the images. He brought the collection to the attention of the National Archives, which deferred to the Library of Congress. The storage fees for the images had been unpaid for many years by their owner, and the Phelps Company, interested only in recovering compensation for the use of the space, seized the images and sold them at cost to the Library of Congress in 1944.
Norrell later lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, close to his daughter Elise Mann. He died there on February 1, 1985.
Bell, Kurt R. "On the Shoulders of a Giant: A Profile of John H. White, Jr.," Railroad History, 204 (Spring-Summer 2011): 6-23.
Hodge, Robert, comp. An Index to the Death Notices in the Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), 1981-1991. Fredericksburg, VA: Robert A. Hodge (1992).
Norrell, Thomas. "The Norris Construction Record," Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, 150 (1983): 57-XX.
Norrell, Thomas. "Uriah Wells, Locomotive Builder of Petersburg," Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, 124 (1969): 40-XX.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930: Population Schedule. Massachusetts Enumeration District 9-169, Supervisor's District 10, Sheet 4-1, 1930.
Vanderbilt, Paul, comp. Guide to the Special Collections of Prints and Photographs in the Library of Congress. Washington D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1955.
Materials in the Archives Center
Baldwin Locomotive Works Collection (Engine Registers and Order Books), 1833-1956, (AC0157)
Baldwin Locomotive Works Drawings, 1870-1890, (AC0353)
John H. White, Jr. Railroad Reference Collection, 1880s-1990, (AC0523)
Materials Held by the National Museum of American History, Division of Work and Industry
Three images from the collection, including an 1848 daguerreotype image of the locomotive "Tioga", an 1855 daguerreotype image of a locomotive on the Niagara Falls, and a circa 1870 daguerreotype image of a Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburgh locomotive.
Materials Held by Other Institutions
Thomas Norrell photographic album, and other views of rail transportation in Canada and the United States, circa 1920-1979, R5500-27-4-E, Andrew Audubon Merrilees fonds. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.
The collection was donated to the United States National Museum, Division of Transportation (now known as the National Museum of American History, Division of Work and Industry) by Thomas Norrell on April 19, 1966.
The collection is open for research use.
Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives. Special arrangements required to view negatives due to cold storage. Using negatives requires a three hour waiting period. Contact the Archives Center at 202-633-3270. The collection is stored off-site with the exception of the negatives. Some glass plate negatives are broken and may require special handling care.
Copyright status unknown, though most images are in the public domain.