Saturday, March 15, 2014
On the Pennsylvania Railroad
On the Pennsylvania Railroad: A little more than a decade after the first steam locomotive (Tom Thumb) made its debut in the United States, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) received a business charter from Harrisburg in 1846. For most of the 1830s, Pennsylvania spent millions of dollars on canal construction, effectively trying to replicate New York's Erie Canal success. But the state's bankruptcy in 1841 (due to excessive spending on the canals) forced Pennsylvania to embrace railroads as an emerging transportation technology. Although the PRR's initial strategy was to model itself after the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, it quickly became the B&O's biggest competitor for both passenger and freight traffic between the Northeast and Midwest. By the mid-1850s, the PRR had reduced travel times between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from 3.5 days to just 13 hours. In the 1860s, the PRR was the first American railway to use domestically-produced steel rails and install air brakes on its train cars. These decisions helped the PRR become the world's largest corporation in the 1880s. With approximately 30,000 employees and revenues in the hundreds of millions, the "Pennsy" had outgrown even the federal government. However, its growth became stunted by the simultaneous emergence of air travel and interstate highways in the mid-20th century. The PRR went bankrupt in 1968.