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General literature on the history of American railroads is surprisingly scarce. While numerous volumes have been written in recent years on special phases of the railroad question, few histories of any real value are available. Probably the best outline history of American railroad development as a whole is still Arthur T. Hadley's Railroad Transportation, its History and its Laws (1885), but this necessarily covers only the earlier periods of railroad growth and its discussions are limited to the problems which confronted the carriers many years ago. An extremely valuable book (now out of print) giving a very complete picture of railroad building and expansion in the pre-Civil War period is The Book of the Great Railway Celebration of 1857, by William Prescott Smith. This is primarily a description of the Ohio and Mississippi Railway, which connected the Mississippi Valley for the first time with the Eastern seaboard. A volume of real value, but somewhat technical, giving a complete and accurate view of the reorganization period of the great railroad systems, from 1885 to 1900, is Railroad Reorganization, by Stewart Daggett (1910). This book contains outline sketches of the histories of nearly all of the large systems, as well as very accurate details of the financial reorganizations of all of the defaulted properties.
p244 The most comprehensive history of any American railroad system is The Story of Erie, by H. S. Mott (1900), but even this is partially unreliable and much of it is compiled from unofficial sources. On the financial history of the Erie Railroad, the really valuable authority is Charles Francis Adams in his Chapters of Erie (1871). This book furnishes a full and accurate account of the régime of Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, James Fisk, Jr., and the famous "Erie ring," including "Boss" Tweed, and also throws side lights on the character and career of Commodore Vanderbilt. Among other important histories of particular railroad systems may be mentioned The Union Pacific Railway, by John P. Davis (1894) and History of the Northern Pacific Railroad, by Eugene V. Smalley (1883); but neither of these volumes covers the recent and more interesting periods in the development of these properties. To get a complete and satisfactory view of the later development of the Northern Pacific system, one must turn to modern biographical works, such as the Life of Jay Cooke, by E. P. Oberholtzer (1910), the Memoirs of Henry Villard (1909) , and the Life of James J. Hill, by Joseph Gilpin Pyle (1916) , which also recounts at length the rise and development of the Great Northern Railway system. But in these volumes, as in many biographies of great men, the authors often betray a bias and misrepresent facts vital to an understanding of the development of both of these railroad systems. A recent volume entitled the Life Story of J. P. Morgan, by Carl Hovey, although extremely laudatory and therefore in many ways misleading, contains valuable information about the development of the Vanderbilt lines after 1880 and also about the financial vicissitudes and rehabilitation p245 of the many Morgan properties, such as the Southern Railway, the modern Erie system, the Northern Pacific, the Reading, and the Baltimore and Ohio.
Some of the railroad companies many years ago themselves published histories of their lines, but most of these attempts were of little value, as they were always too laudatory and one-sided and evidently were usually written for political purposes. The best of this class of railroad histories was a book issued by the Pennsylvania Railroad many years ago, giving a record (largely statistical) of the growth and development of its lines. But this book has been long out of print and covers the period prior to 1885 only.
For original material on American railroad history, one must depend almost entirely on financial and railroad periodicals and official and state documents. By far the most valuable sources for all aspects of railroad building and financing during the long period from 1830 to 1870 are the American Railroad Journal (1832‑1871) and Hunt's Merchant Magazine (1831‑1870). Both of these periodicals are replete with details of railroad building and growth. And for the period from 1870 to the present time the best authority is the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, with its various supplements. The story of modern railroading is so intertwined with finance and banking that to get any broad and complete view of the subject one must consider it largely from the viewpoint of Wall Street. For facts regarding operation and management of modern railroads, the Railroad Age-Gazette also is extremely useful. By far the most valuable sources for railroad statistics, railroad legislation, and all related facts, are the annual reports and bulletins of the Interstate Commerce Commission, p246 which have been regularly issued since 1888. Many state commissions also have issued volumes of value.
The best account of the origin of the Granger laws is contained in S. J. Buck's The Granger Movement (1913). The beginnings of Federal regulation are traced in L. H. Haney's A Congressional History of Railways in the United States, 1850‑1887 (1910) . The history of recent railroad regulation by state and Federal legislation, and of court decisions affecting the railroads, is clearly and succinctly told in William Z. Ripley's Railroads: Rates and Regulation (1912), and in Johnson and Van Metre's Principles of Railroad Transportation (1916).
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Page updated: 26 Nov 22