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 Post subject: PRR Corporate History Now Digitized and Online
PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 10:56 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
Here's another example of the Internet and preservation community expanding access to historical resources. The following comes from Christopher T. Baer of the Hagley Museum & Library in Wilmington, Delaware:
The Hagley Library has now digitized and posted the four-volume corporate history of the Pennsylvania Railroad by Coverdale & Colpitts, of which only 100 four-volume sets were printed. The platform is one provided by OCLC, the library cataloging consortium, and while serviceable, is not quite as user-friendly as a Google or Internet Archive digitized book. However, what was once a rare collector's item is now widely available. I have prepared an accompanying note describing some of the errors and limitations of the original work.

Use this link:

or go to the Hagley Library web site at

Background on the publication:
In preparation for its 1946 centennial, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company commissioned the engineering firm of Coverdale & Colpitts to prepare a comprehensive history of the company. Coverdale & Colpitts was a frequent consultant on PRR projects, and three members of the firm, William H. Coverdale (1871-1949), George H. Burgess (1874-1957) and Miles Coverdale Kennedy (1893-1965), had served in the engineer corps of the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh early in their careers. The commission involved the creation of two products. The first was a detailed corporate and financial history of the PRR system for the use of management only, completed in 1947. Using the data thus collected, Burgess and Kennedy produced Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which appeared in 1949. The latter was given extremely wide distribution, with copies sent to public libraries all along the system. The former was printed in a limited edition of 100 copies which were strictly controlled and issued only to certain corporate officers, making it an essential but extremely rare source for PRR history.

Specific copies of the Coverdale & Colpitts history were assigned to specific positions within the company and had to be passed to one’s successor when retired or promoted. Of the 100 copies, a number were kept in the Secretary’s vault in reserve. By the 1960s, however, as the company’s fortunes declined, and the information in the books became outdated, a few copies were given to libraries on request, and officers no longer turned them in to the Corporate Secretary. As a result, it is likely that some copies have been lost entirely, while the rest have been scattered, mostly in the hands of private collectors.

Although given free access to the company’s records, time constraints prevented Coverdale & Colpitts from doing truly thorough research. Instead, standardized data on corporate organization, finances and construction were collected from a few basic types of records. The most important were the surviving corporate minutes and annual reports of all the companies in the PRR system. Since the system’s growth spurt in the 1870s, company secretaries and lawyers had been producing digests of charters of incorporation, leases and other important legal documents as in-house reference works, most notably Samuel Hardin Church’s multivolume History of the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh, whose production ended with Church’s retirement in 1927. The Interstate Commerce Commission’s valuation of all U.S. railroads, carried out between 1913 and the early 1930s, required, under Valuation Order No. 20, that all companies submit manuscript corporate and construction histories. The ICC published abstracts of this data in its Valuation Reports, but copies of the more detailed manuscript originals were available to Coverdale & Colpitts. Construction data was also taken from the annual reports and from the PRR’s Record of Transportation Lines, annual listings of the mileage of each main and branch line dating back to 1878. Finally, Coverdale & Colpitts had the use of the General Office Library’s excellent collection of railroad trade magazines, although it appears that these were used in a superficial rather than comprehensive way.

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