This railroad was chartered in 1833 to provide low-cost transportation from the Schuylkill and Mahanoy anthracite coal fields in eastern Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. Main line from Philadelphia to Pottsville opened 1842. Reading expanded by acquiring other railroads, and by 1869 had monopoly of coal traffic from Schuylkill anthracite region.
Expansion accelerated when Franklin B. Gowen became president (1869) and attempted to dominate entire anthracite trade. Purchased Schuylkill Canal (1870) to eliminate competition for coal trade; then organized the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company in 1871 to purchase and operate coal mines; secured over 40 percent of U.S. anthracite reserves, but debt incurred led railroad to bankruptcy and receivership (1880). Gowen's reckless style drove the Reading into second receivership (1886), and he was forced to resign.
Gowen's Successor, Archibald A. McLeod, tried to increase company control over anthracite trade (1892-1893), then control of several New England railroads. The Reading went bankrupt again and McLeod was ousted. In a reorganization (1896), the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad and the Coal & Iron Company became properties of the Reading Company, a holding company. Later additions to system were infrequent and largely confined to short branches and improvements inalignment. Due to anti-trust proceedings, company divested mining subsidiary (1923) and merged wholly owned railroad companies into an operating company. Acquired Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad 1963, went bankrupt in early 1970s, and conveyed portions of its lines to Conrail (1976). The reorganized Reading Company retains real estate and other non-rail holdings.
Primarily outgoing correspondence from the Engineering Department of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, the remainder being engineering reports and other miscellaneous papers.
SERIES 1: 219 letterpress copybook volumes from various engineers, each with own index (1865-1892): were generated by Chief Engineer, Assistant Chief Engineer, various resident engineers, other lower-level engineers, and the Chief Road-Master. Bulk of copybooks created by William H. Bines and Henry K. Nichols during long careers with the Philadelphia & Reading. Other volumes contain letters and reports by Charles W. Buckholz, Charles E. Byers, William Lorenz, and others. Correspondence covers all aspects of the engineering operations of the railroad, much of it at highest levels, being addressed to the Presidents of the Reading. Also includes one letterbook from John E. Wooten (1865), Superintendent.
SERIES 2: Reports of Chief Engineer to Auditor, 1908-1910; structural design calculation notebooks, 1901-1935; right of way deeds, 1903; and tracings of assorted machine parts.
Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History