Reading Company: Wikis


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Reading Company
Reporting mark RDG
Locale Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Dates of operation December 5, 1833–April 1, 1976
Successor Conrail
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1923 map

The Reading Company, usually called the Reading Railroad (pronounced /ˈrɛdɪŋ/), officially the Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway until 1924, operated in southeast Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Until the decline in anthracite loadings in the Coal Region after World War II it was one of the most prosperous corporations in the United States. Reduced coal traffic coupled with highway competition and short hauls forced it into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The railroad was merged into Conrail in 1976, but the corporation lasted into 2000, disposing of real estate holdings.

Since the railroad served Atlantic City, New Jersey (via subsidiary The Atlantic City Railroad), Reading Railroad is a property in the board game Monopoly.




Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road: 1833–1896

Original Philadelphia & Reading logo

The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R) was one of the first railroads constructed in the United States. Along with the Little Schuylkill, a horse-drawn railroad in the Schuylkill River Valley, it formed the earliest components of what became the Reading Company. Primarily, the P&R was constructed to haul anthracite coal from the mines in northeastern Pennsylvania's Coal Region to Philadelphia. [1] The original P&R mainline extended south from the mining town of Pottsville to Reading and then onward to Philadelphia, following the gently graded banks of the Schuylkill River for nearly all of the 93 mile journey. [2] [3] The P&R mainline had the distinction of being, upon its 1843 completion, the first double track main line in the United States [4].

Almost immediately the P&R became a very profitable business as coal replaced wood as fuel in businesses and homes. Soon the P&R bought or leased many of the railroads in the Schuylkill River Valley and Pennsylvania Coal Region. The Reading also constructed Port Richmond, in Philadelphia, to load coal into ships and barges to be exported. This increased the potential market for anthracite and was key to the P&R's success. Port Richmond was the self-proclaimed "Largest privately owned railroad tidewater terminal in the world" [5] . In 1871, the Reading established a subsidiary called the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, which set about buying anthracite coal mines in the Coal Region. This vertical expansion gave the P&R almost full control of coal from mining through to market.

The heavy investment in coal paid off quickly, and in 1871 the Reading was the largest company in the world, with $170,000,000 in gross value [6] , and may have been the first conglomerate in the world. In 1879, the Reading gained control of the North Pennsylvania Railroad and gained access to the burgeoning steel industry in the Lehigh Valley. [7] The Reading further expanded its coal empire by reaching New York City through control of the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad in 1879, and the construction of the Port Reading Railroad in 1892, allowing for the direct delivery of coal to New York City by rail and barge instead of the longer trip by ships from Port Richmond, around Cape May, and up the Jersey Shore to New York Harbor.

The reliance of the Reading on anthracite eventually ruined the company in the 1970s. Instead of broadening its rail network the Reading invested its vast wealth in anthracite and its transport in the mid 1800s. In 1890, the Reading under the leadership of Archibald A. McLeod, finally saw that more riches could be earned by expanding its rail network and becoming a trunk railroad. McLeod went about trying to control neighboring railroads in 1891. He was able to gain control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Boston and Maine Railroad. The Reading almost achieved its goal of becoming a Trunk Road, but the deal fell through due to the efforts of people like J.P.Morgan, who did not want more competition in the northeastern railroad business [8] [9]. The Reading was relegated to a regional railroad for the rest of its history.

1833-1893 Expansion History

The Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road was chartered April 4, 1833 to build a line between Philadelphia and Reading along the Schuylkill River. The part from Reading to Norristown opened July 16, 1838, the full line December 9, 1839. Its Philadelphia terminus was at the state-owned Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad (P&C) on the west side of the Schuylkill River, from which it ran east on the P&C over the Columbia Bridge and onto the city-owned City Railroad to a depot at the southeast corner of Broad and Cherry Streets.

1873 map

An extension northwest from Reading to Mount Carbon, also on the Schuylkill River, opened on January 13, 1842, allowing the railroad to compete with the Schuylkill Canal. At Mount Carbon it connected with the earlier Mount Carbon Railroad, continuing through Pottsville to several mines, and would be extended to Williamsport. On May 17 of that year, a freight branch from West Falls to Port Richmond on the Delaware River north of downtown Philadelphia opened. Port Richmond later became a very large coal terminal. On January 1, 1851 the Belmont Plane on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, just west of the Reading's connection, was abandoned in favor of a new bypass, and the portion of the line east of it was sold to the Reading, the only company that continued using the old route.

The Lebanon Valley Railroad was chartered in 1836 to build from Reading west to Harrisburg. The Reading took it over and began construction in 1854, opening the line in 1856. This gave the Reading a route from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, for the first time competing directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which would turn out to be its major rival. In 1859 the Reading leased the Chester Valley Railroad, providing a branch from Bridgeport west to Downingtown. It had formerly been operated by the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad.

A new Philadelphia terminal opened on December 24, 1859 at Broad and Callowhill Streets, north of the old one at Cherry Street. The Reading and Columbia Railroad was chartered in 1857 to build from Reading southwest to Columbia on the Susquehanna River. It opened in 1864, using the Lebanon Valley Railroad from Sinking Spring east to Reading. The Reading leased it in 1870.

The early Philadelphia and Reading Railroad named all of their locomotives with names such as Winona or Jefferson, as did most American railroads following in the British precedent, but in December 1871 the P&R replaced all the names with numbers.[10] The Port Kennedy Railroad, a short branch to quarries at Port Kennedy, was leased in 1870. Also that year, the Reading leased the Pickering Valley Railroad, a branch running west from Phoenixville to Byers, which opened in 1871.

The Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway During 1875 four of the Camden and Atlantic Board of Directors left , led by Samual Richards who was a officer of the C&A for 24 years, to build a second railroad from Camden, New Jersey to Atlantic City NJ by way of Clementon NJ. Incorporated on March 24, 1876 . A gauge of 3 foot, 6 inches was selected because narrow gauge was successful at the time and saved in lower operating cost. Work began in April 1877. The track work was completed in a remarkable ninety days. On Saturday, July 7, 1877 the final spike was driven and the 54.67 miles line was opened. On July 12, 1878 the P&AC Railway slipped into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway was acquired by the CNJ and the Philadelphia and Reading Railway for $1,000,000 on September 20, 1883. The name was then modified to Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railroad effective December 4, 1883. The first major task was to convert all trackage to standard gauge. This was completed on October 5, 1884. The Philadelphia and Reading Railway acquired full control on December 4, 1885.

The Reading leased the North Pennsylvania Railroad on May 14, 1879. This gave it not only a line from Philadelphia north to Bethlehem but also the valuable Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad, the descendant of the National Railway project, giving it a route to New York City in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad's United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company. At the New York end it used the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Jersey City terminal.

1884 map of the Pennsylvania, Reading and Lehigh Valley Railroads, soon after the Reading acquired the CNJ

On May 29, 1883 the Reading leased the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The Reading eventually bought a majority of the CNJ's stock.

Effective April 1, 1889 the Philadelphia and Reading Railway consolidated the Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway, Williamstown & Delaware River Railroad, Glassboro Railroad, Camden, Gloucester & Mt Ephraim Railway, and the Kaighn's Point Terminal Railroad in Southern New Jersey into The Atlantic City Railroad. The Port Reading Railroad was chartered in 1890 and opened in 1892, running east from a junction from the New York main line near Bound Brook to the new port of Port Reading on the Arthur Kill near Perth Amboy.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad was leased on December 1, 1891 under the presidency of Archibald A. McLeod, but that lease was canceled on August 8, 1893 when the Reading went into receivership. The Reading also relinquished control of the Central New England Railroad and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Amid the turmoil of the Panic of 1893, Joseph Smith Harris was elected president. Under his leadership, the Reading Company was formed and the P&R was absorbed into it on November 30. [11] . Also in 1893 the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad built its most famous structure, Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. Reading Terminal served as the terminus for most of the Reading's Philadelphia bound trains, as well as the Headquarter for the Company. [12]

Philadelphia and Reading Railway: 1896–1923

After the Panic of 1893, and the failure of Archibald A. McLeod's efforts to turn the Reading into a major trunk line, the Reading was forced to reorganize under suspicions of monopoly. The Reading Company was created to serve as a holding company for the Reading's rail and coal subsidiaries: the Philadelphia and Reading Railway, and the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, respectively.[13] However in 1906, with the support of the Roosevelt Administration, the Hepburn Act was passed. This required all railroads to disinvest themselves of all mining properties and operations, and so the Reading Company was forced to sell the P&R Coal and Iron Company. [14] Even though moving and mining of coal was their primary business, the P&R eventually became more diversified through the development of many on-line industries, averaging almost five industries per mile of main line at one point, and the expanding role of the Reading as a bridge route.

This included its important role on the Alphabet Route, from Boston and New York to Chicago, with traffic from the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central entering the Reading System in Allentown, traveling over the East Penn Branch to Reading, where trains then traveled west over the Lebanon Valley Branch to Harrisburg, and then onward over the Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburg branch, or PH&P to Shippensburg, PA. There trains connected with the Western Maryland Railroad to continue westward. This route became known as the “Crossline”and became very important. Therefore the Reading started to pool locomotive power between its connecting railroads to provide a more seamless transfer of freight and passengers.[15]

An early picture depicting the trainshed of Reading Terminal, predating the 1930s electrification

Even though the Reading was never again to regain its powerful position of the 1870s, it still was a very profitable and important railroad. From the turn of the twentieth century to the outbreak of World War One, the Reading was among the most modern and efficient railroads. In keeping with the standards of much larger railroads, The Reading embarked on many improvement projects which typically were not attempted by smaller railroads. This included triple and quadruple tracking many of its major routes, improving signaling and track quality, as well as expanding system capacity and station facilities[16].

The Reading invested in the construction of new cut-offs, bypasses, and connections, much like the Pennsylvania Railroad's Low Garde lines and the Lackawanna Cut-off. The completion of the Reading belt line in 1902, a 7.2 mile long westerly bypass of downtown Reading, alleviated the heavy rail congestion in the busy city. [17] [18]. In Bridgeport, a new bridge was constructed over the Schuylkill River in 1903. It connects the P&R main line on the west (south) bank of the river with the Norristown Branch on the opposite side, allowing passenger service to Norristown, and a bypass of the old main line, known as the West Side Fright line.[19] The Ninth Avenue branch, the main thoroughfare into Reading Terminal was also improved. Between 1907-1914 the old double track and street level route was replaced by an elevated quadruple track route that offered greater capacity and safety.[20]

In 1901 the Reading gained a controlling interest in the Central Railroad of New Jersey, allowing The Reading to offer seamless, one seat rides from Reading Terminal in Philadelphia to the CNJ's Jersey City Communipaw Terminal by way of Bound Brook onto the CNJ mainline. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was also looking for access to the New York market, and in 1903 the B&O gained control over the Reading and thus ensured its trains track rights over the Reading and CNJ to Jersey City[21]. To the North, the New York Short Line was completed in 1906, and was a cut-off for New York Bound through freights and the B&Os Royal Blue.[22]

A 1914 picture of Reading Class M1sa, note the cab behind the wide Wootten Firebox, a first for the Reading

Reading Shops

In 1900, the famous Reading Shops began construction along the Reading yards and North 6th street, facilitating the maintenance and construction of a greater locomotive and rolling stock fleet. The shops were completed four years later, with their imposing brick architecture,they were the largest railroad shops in America, and unlike most railroads, allowed the Reading to make its own engines. [23]. Larger steam locomotive’s started to be introduced to haul the increasing traffic, including the massive N1 class 2-8-8-2 mallet, and Reading made M1 class 2-8-2 freight haulers, as well as the G1 class 4-6-2 passenger locomotives. These classes were an important break of tradition of the Readings motive power fleet. The M1s were the first Reading locomotives to include a trailing truck, and the first engine with the cab behind the Wootten firebox. The G1s were the first Reading passenger locomotives with three coupled driving wheels.[24] Also of note was the Reading’s investment in smaller 4-4-0s and switcher fleet.[25].

Reading Passenger Operations

The Reading Company did not operate extensive long distance passenger train service but it did field a number of named trains, most famous of which was the streamlined Crusader, which connected Philadelphia and Jersey City. Other trains in the fleet included the Harrisburg Special (between Jersey City and Harrisburg), King Coal (between Philadelphia and Shamokin, Pennsylvania), North Penn (between Philadelphia and Bethlehem), Queen of the Valley (between Jersey City and Harrisburg), Schuylkill (between Philadelphia and Pottsville), and Wall Street (between Philadelphia and Jersey City). Also, the Reading participated in the joint operation of The Interstate Express with the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, with service between Philadelphia and Binghamton, NY.[26]

The Reading operated an extensive and very busy commuter network out of Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. In the late 1920s most of the system was electrified for improved efficiency.

Reading Company: 1924–1976

After World War One, and the return of the Reading from government control, the Reading decided to streamline their corporate structure. For twenty years the Reading Company, the holding company created for the P&R and the P&R Coal and Iron Company, only controlled the P&R after the sale of the P&R Coal and Iron Company. In 1924, to simplify corporate structure the P&R ceased operation and the Reading Company took over operating the Railroad.[27] The time period just after WW1 may have been the Reading Company's best, with traffic on the Reading at their peacetime high. Annual volume was about 15 million tons of Anthracite, 25 million tons of Bituminous Coal, with a further 30 million tons of industrial traffic.[28] Even though the Reading had taken great strides to ween itself of anthracite dependancy, the Reading was still heavily reliant on coal revenue. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania anthracite production had reached its maximum production in 1917 with 99.7 million tons produced.[29]

Commuter lines

In the 1920s, the Reading operated a dense network of commuter lines branching off of the Ninth Avenue Branch mostly powered by small 4-4-0s , 4-4-2s and 4-6-0 camelbacks.

Bankruptcy protection

The Reading Company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 1971. The bankruptcy was a result of dwindling coal shipping revenues and strict government regulations that denied railroads the ability to set extravagant prices, required fair taxes, and forced the railroads to continue to operate money-losing lines. The final stake was the outrageously high prices paid to sharehoder dividends and Corporate Officers.


The railroad also had an extensive commuter operation centered around Philadelphia, the hub of which was Reading Terminal. Electrically operated and serving the Philadelphia suburbs of Norristown, Chestnut Hill, Doylestown, Hatboro, and West Trenton, the Reading continued to expand its commuter operation into the 1960s even though they were a massive drain on profits. To further complicate matters, the Reading was forced to continue paying its debts to the Penn Central Railroad, however, Penn Central (also in bankruptcy at the time) was not required to pay its debts to the Reading Company.


On April 1, 1976, the Reading Company sold its current railroad interests to the newly formed Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail), leaving it with 650 real estate assets, some coal properties, and 52 abandoned rights-of-ways. It had sold 350 of the real estate tracts by the time it left bankruptcy in 1980. In the early 1980s a Los Angeles lawyer named James Cotter gained control of the corporation through his holding company, the Craig Corporation, and liquidated the rest of its assets to finance his cinema chains in Australia and New Zealand. The company sold its last railroad-related asset, the Reading Terminal Headhouse, in 1993. In 1996, Cotter reorganized the company as Reading Entertainment. The Craig Corporation merged in 2001 with Citadel Holding Corporation, another Cotter company, and became Reading International, Inc.

Company officers

The presidents of the Reading were as follows:

  • Elihu Chauncey, 1834–1842
  • William F. Emlen, 1842–1843
  • John Cryder, 1843–1844
  • John Tucker, 1844–1856
  • Robert D. Cullen, 1856–1860
  • Asa Whitney, 1860–1861
  • Charles E. Smith, 1861–1869
  • Franklin B. Gowen, 1869–1884
  • Frank S. Bond, 1881–1882 (Elected president when Gowen's leadership was contested)
  • George DeBenneville Keim, 1884–1887
  • Austin Corbin, 1887–1890
  • Archibald A. McLeod, 1890–1893
  • Joseph Smith Harris, 1893–1901
  • George Frederick Baer, 1901–1914
  • Theodore Voorhees, 1914–1916
  • Agnew Dice, 1916–1932
  • Charles H. Ewing, 1932–1935
  • Edward W. Scheer, 1935–1944
  • Revelle W. Brown, 1944–1952
  • Joseph A. Fisher, 1952–1960
  • E. Paul Gangewere, 1960–1964
  • Charles E. Bertrand, 1964–1976

Popular Culture

Although the Reading was habitually overshadowed by its larger, longer, and more powerful neighbor the Pennsylvania Railroad, it still managed to make a mark on the public consciousness when railroads dominated the national economy and many imaginations. The railroad was a frequent target for the Molly Maguires, and that conflict is reflected in a number of musical and print works.

Perhaps the greatest impact of the Reading on contemporary American imaginations arose from its being included on the Monopoly game board, just five spaces after "Go".

Although many who only knew the Reading through print media (such as the Monopoly board) pronounced its name "REED-ing", it was actually pronounced "REDD-ing", after its namesake city of Reading, Pennsylvania, which in turn was named after Reading, England, which is in the county of Berkshire. Reading, Pennsylvania is in Berks County.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Reading Steam in Color by Jeremy F. Plant
  2. ^ Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 35. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  3. ^ Pennypacker, Bert (2002). Reading Company in Color Volume 2. Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 43. ISBN 1-58248-079-6.  
  4. ^ The Reading Eagle
  5. ^ Morning Sun Books Reading Company in Color Volume 2(2002) Burt Pennypacker ISBN 1-582428-079-6
  6. ^ Reading Railroad
  7. ^ Pennypacker, Bert (2002). Reading Company in Color Volume 2. Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 38. ISBN 1-58248-079-6.  
  8. ^ # ^ Reading Company In Color Volume 1 by Jeremy F. Plant ISBN 1-878887-95-5
  9. ^ # ^ Morning Sun Books Reading Steam in Color by Jeremy F. Plant ISBN 1-878887-70-X
  10. ^ Reading Railroad Steam in Action volume II by Benjamin L. Bernhart pg. 3
  11. ^ James L. Holton, The Reading Railroad: History of a Coal Age Empire. Garrigues House, Publishers, Laury's Station, Pennsylvania. 1989. p. 339.
  12. ^ Reading Company In Color Volume 1 by Jeremy F. Plant.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 122. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  15. ^ Plant, Jeremy F. (1998). Reading Company In Color Volume 1 (1st ed.). Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Bools, Inc. ISBN 1-878887-95-5.  
  16. ^ Reading Company In Color Volume 1 by Jeremy F. Plant ISBN 1-878887-95-5
  17. ^ Reading EagleQuote: “1902: Reading Belt Line, which runs through West Reading and bypasses the city, is dedicated, 1900: Construction of new rail shops in Reading begins” ret>6/17/09
  18. ^ >Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 68. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  19. ^ Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 45. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  20. ^ Pennypacker, Bert (2002). Reading Company in Color Volume 2. Scotch Plains NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 10. ISBN 1-58248-079-6.  
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ >Plant, Jeremy F. (1998). Reading Company in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 25. ISBN 1-878887-95-5.  
  23. ^ >Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 59. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  24. ^ >Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color Volume 1. Edison NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 16. ISBN 1-878887-70-X.  
  25. ^ Steam roster
  26. ^ Greenberg, Jr., William T. "The Interstate Express" Railroad Model Craftsman, August, 2003: pp. 86-97.
  27. ^ Alecknavage II, Albert (June 12, 2002). "Reading Company History". Philadelphia PA: The Philadelphia Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Retrieved July 17, 2009. "After World War One, it became desirable for the P&R to simplify its corporate structure. The Reading Company, which had existed earlier as a holding company, became an operating company in 1923. Many previously-leased railroads which the Philadelphia & Reading RR had taken over - as well as the original P&R itself - were now providing service as the Reading Company."  
  28. ^ Pennypacker, Bert (2002). Reading Company in Color Volume 2. Scotch Plains NJ: Morning Sun Books Inc.. pp. 4. ISBN 1-58248-079-6.  
  29. ^ Waston, Kathie (September 16, 1997). "THE USE OF HISTORICAL PRODUCTION DATA TO PREDICT FUTURE COAL PRODUCTION RATES". USGS. Retrieved July 18, 2009. "70-year long period of rapid growth until 1917, when annual production reached 99.7 million tons during World War I"  


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