Records of railroad companies, mainly Michigan lines, absorbed with the merger of the New York Central Railroad Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company into the Penn Central Transportation Company.
The nature of the records of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad reflects the recent history of the two companies. When the Penn Central Transportation Company was formed in 1968, the offices of New York Central--the junior merger partner--were dismantled and only a small percentage of records retained. Therefore, the extant New York Central records consist almost entirely of minutes and account books of a routine nature. By contrast, records of the Pennsylvania Railroad were relatively undisturbed by the merger and are today richer and more varied than those of the New York Central. The Penn Central records are most useful for their documentation of the growth of the railroad industry. They depict an industry in constant flux due to the opportunities for success offered by a burgeoning industry and the intense competition among railroads that resulted. A single volume of records often contains minutes of two or more railroads, reflecting either the failure of the original company or its takeover by or merger with another company.
Besides documenting the history of individual railroads and of the railroad industry as a whole, the Penn Central records are a good source on the economic and commercial development of Michigan and neighboring states, and provide insight into the rise and decline of various towns along the railroad. Minutes of New York Central subsidiaries, for example, contain discussions of negotiations with town officials over the proposed construction of tracks, bridges, depots, and the like. Similarly, the locality files in the Superintendent--Toledo Division series of the Pennsylvania Railroad records consist of correspondence and memoranda regarding improvements to, or the abandonment of, stations in small towns in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. This series also contains substantial correspondence files on Toledo, Detroit, and Grand Rapids.
Labor and social historians will find the Penn Central records useful in illuminating the lives of workers and in documenting relations between management and workers. More than 40 feet of labor relations files of the Ann Arbor Railroad include agreements between the company and unions, grievances, petitions concerning work rules and pay, wage and hour schedules, and circular letters. There are small series of labor relations files of other companies scattered throughout the collection. Researchers will also find information on the workplace and working conditions in the locality files of the Superintendent--Toledo Division series of the Pennsylvania Railroad; these files contain, for example, memoranda concerning clubrooms and sleeping quarters for workers in city depots.
There is very little technical material in the Penn Central records; photographs are likewise scarce. The most notable exceptions are in the car ferry files, found in three subseries of the Pennsylvania Railroad records: General Manager--Western Region, Vice-President and General Counsel, and Subsidiaries: Mackinac Transportation Company. The car ferry files include maps, plans, specifications, blueprints, and some photographs.
A large portion of the collection consists of records of small railroads that ran through Michigan or were based in Michigan. Records of these companies are brief, often including nothing more than articles of incorporation, a few pages or a volume or two of minutes, and perhaps some annual reports and financial records. Although many of these railroads were subsidiaries of either the Michigan Central Railroad, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, or the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, they have been filed under the parent company of which the sub-system was a part (New York Central, Pennsylvania, or Ann Arbor Railroad) to promote ease of access. Thus, for example, records of the Canada Southern Bridge Company, a subsidiary of Michigan Central Railroad, are filed under New York Central Railroad, the parent company of Michigan Central. Researchers uncertain of the parentage of a particular railroad should look in the subsidiaries section of the contents list under Ann Arbor, New York Central, and Pennsylvania Railroads. The railroads in each of these subsidiaries sections are arranged in alphabetical order.
Brief histories of individual railroads can be found in the "Green Books"--the annual reports of the New York Central Railroad Company and its subsidiaries. There are several published histories of the Pennsylvania Railroad in boxes 183 and boxes 155-157 and on microfilm in box 60.
A card file giving the date of incorporation, name changes, and parentage of subsidiaries of the Michigan Central Railroad, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad has been photocopied and can be found in box 1 of the collection. This folder also contains a list of records in the Public Archives of Canada of Grand Trunk and Great Western Railway system properties in the United States. Finally, there is a section of Aids, Gifts, Grants and Donations to Railroads Including Outline of Development and Successions in Titles to Railroads in Michigan by the Michigan Railroads Commission (1919).
Information in this finding aid concerning the histories of the various railroads was drawn from the collection itself, from sources compiled by the project archivists, and from the following published sources: William Frederick Dunbar All Aboard! A History of Railroads in Michigan (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969) and Henry E. Riggs, The Ann Arbor Railroad Fifty Years Ago (Ann Arbor Railroad Company, 1947?)