Railroad Archives | Newberry

Railroad Archives

Twentieth Century Transportation. 1910. Temp Map 4F G3701.P1 1910Y2.

Twentieth Century Transportation. 1910. Temp Map 4F G3701.P1 1910Y2.

The collecting of large corporate archives at the Newberry was initiated in 1943 by Librarian Stanley Pargellis, who advocated the acquisition of records of Midwestern enterprises that contained materials for social and intellectual history as well as business history. Pargellis’s vision was realized with the deposit of several large and important archives of Midwestern railroad companies: the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and the Pullman Company. Smaller railroad-related collections have also been added.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company

Formed in 1855 by Boston capitalist John Murray Forbes, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) employed 35,640 people by 1900 and included 7,545 miles of track mainly in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. In addition to its railroad operations, this mammoth “Burlington System” was responsible for encouraging emigration and town development, and for stimulating local economies along its routes. It also promoted tourism to Yellowstone, the Black Hills, Glacier, and other scenic sites within reach of its tracks and beginning in 1934 introduced its revolutionary and enormously popular stainless steel Zephyr passenger trains.

The CB&Q archives at the Newberry (2,300 linear feet) mainly document the nineteenth and twentieth century operations of the Burlington and its component roads. Beyond their significance for the study of railroad and labor history, the archives are a valuable resource for those interested in topics related to the social and economic development of the region served by the CB&Q.

The following are among the topics covered:

Finding aids:

  • Online inventory to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company records.
  • Online gallery of images by subject entitled CB&Q: Building an Empire 
  • CB&Q processing blog Everywhere West, describing the processing of the collection
  • A selection of unique black and white photographs focusing on Illinois scenes, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, and its workers is available online.

The printed Guide to the Burlington Archives in the Newberry Library, 1851-1901, compiled by Elisabeth Coleman Jackson and Carolyn Curtis (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1949) is available in the Special Collections Reading Room of the Newberry. Please note that this guide is now obsolete.

Illinois Central Railroad Company

With origins dating from an 1830s Illinois-sponsored program of internal improvements, the Illinois Central Railroad (IC), based in Chicago, was chartered in 1851 to take advantage of the Federal Land Grant Act of 1850 and build a north-south line in Illinois from Cairo to Chicago. In advertising and selling lands along its route, the IC was a catalyst for growth in the central and southern regions of Illinois, attracting thousands of settlers and laying the foundations for agricultural, industrial, and urban development. The company had a significant impact on the growth of Chicago and the development of its lakeshore. Expanding west to Iowa and into the southern states, the IC became the primary passenger and freight link between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

The bulk of the IC records at the Newberry (ca. 1,000 cubic ft.) date from 1851 to 1906, but there are also important groupings of twentieth-century material. The archives include practically complete correspondence files of company presidents, one of the largest series being the In-letters of Stuyvesant Fish (president 1887-1906). This series contains not only correspondence, but also a number of printed and manuscript maps, broadsides, brochures, etc., many of which document Fish’s involvement in the wider cultural and business life of Chicago. There is a good deal of information on buildings, structures, and right-of-way, including many large-scale “track books” with maps of the lines, sidings, and wayside structures. Other files contain reports of construction and materials, information about the day-to-day operation of the railroad, and about finance, securities, and employees. Although most of the Land Department files remain in IC custody, there are important materials here on immigration, colonization, and land sales. Dozens of timetables, both “public” and “employee,” provide detailed information about the day-to-day operations. Several hundred maps document regions, states, cities, and towns along the IC lines. There are also records of a number of subsidiary lines and other railroads incorporated into the IC systems, in the southern states and the upper Midwest.

The following are among the topics covered:

  • Railway construction and labor
  • Operations and finance
  • Promotion of emigration and settlement
  • Land grants and land sales
  • Development of and economies of cities and towns along route
  • Civil War operations
  • Expansion into the South
  • World’s Columbian Exposition
  • History of Chicago

Finding aids:

Pullman Company

In its century of operation (1876-1969) the Pullman’s Palace Car Company and later Pullman Company rose quickly, employing thousands in the manufacture and operation of sleeping cars on railroads throughout North America, as well as in Mexico and Europe. Just as suddenly in the decades following World War II, the firm fell victim to the convenience, comfort, and speed of road and air travel. In its heyday, Pullman systematized rail car construction at its sophisticated plant in Pullman, Illinois, and attempted to improve the living conditions of its workers at the model company town adjacent to the factory. Providing a chain of hotels on wheels for millions of passengers, the Pullman Company revolutionized rail travel and in so doing dramatically increased employment opportunities for African Americans who served as porters on its cars. Beyond that, the company had a significant effect on the American labor movement and on the economies of the many cities where it operated shops and yards.

The business archives of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company and Pullman Company held at the Newberry (2,500 cubic feet, 1867-1981) are a primary source of immense importance for the study of American social, technological, business, and family history. They include records of the entire firm until the mid-1920s when separate manufacturing and operating (sleeping car operation, service, and repair) companies were formed. After that date, the records mainly chronicle the activities of the operating company. In addition to voluminous individual employee records, there are extensive files on management policy relating to personnel and labor relations. Another large body of materials comprises the records of individual Pullman cars (e.g., drawings, specifications, photographs). There are also numerous scrapbooks documenting the nineteenth century operation of the company: including the Town of Pullman and the Strike of 1894; administrative, legal, financial, and securities records; and records of subsidiary companies and competitor firms absorbed by Pullman.

The following are among the topics covered:

  • Town of Pullman
  • Pullman Strike of 1894
  • Mexican and British operations
  • Subsidiary and competitor firms (e.g., Wagner Palace Car Company)
  • Pullman cars
  • Porters, maids, attendants, laundry, shop, and yard employees
  • Labor relations
  • Unions (e.g., Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters)
  • Antitrust suits (e.g., US vs. Pullman, 1940-1944)
  • Government regulation of railroads
  • Construction of street, private, and freight cars

Finding aids:

  • The Inventory to the Pullman Company Records 
  • The Guide to the Pullman Company Archives, compiled by Martha Briggs and Cynthia Peters in 1995, is the primary finding aid for the Pullman collection. This is a large (2 MB) PDF file that also contains an index and a section describing Pullman records held by other institutions. Print versions are available in the checklist area on the third floor and in the Special Collections Reading Room.
  • Full catalog records with name and subject access for record series and the record groups and subgroups to which they belong are located in the Newberry online catalog and on OCLC.
  • In addition to the manuscript material, the Newberry also holds an extensive set of Pullman microfilm records. A guide to the microfilm collection is available in the library.
  • Car records are found in Record Group 05.  See the Pullman Car Records guide for more information.
  • The Pullman Digital Collection features 1,299 drawings of heavyweight and lightweight cars.
  • Employee records are found in Record Group 06.  See the Pullman Employee Records guide for more information.
  • The online exhibit Pullman: Labor, Race, and the Urban Landscape in a Company Town features many images from the Pullman collection.

Record Group No. 03, Office of Finance and Accounts, contains the only unprocessed records. While inventories are unavailable for unprocessed materials, survey sheets describing the contents of series are available upon request in the Special Collections Reading Room. Please contact the Newberry in advance of your visit if you would like to consult Group No. 3 records.


Other Railroad Collections

Beberdick, Frank H. (Frank Harry), 1927-. Frank H. Beberdick Pullman Collection, 1881- 2001.
4.3 linear feet (2 boxes and 2 oversize boxes)
Miscellaneous materials relating to the historic Pullman company town and Pullman Manufacturing Company, 1881-2001, collected by Pullman (IL) resident and archivist Frank Beberdick.
Other Subjects:  None
Call Number: Midwest MS Beberdick Pullman
Location: 3a 37 3
Finding Aids
Collection-level catalog record

Chicago Union Station Company. Chicago Union Station Company Records, 1920-1958.
0.1 linear feet (2 folders)
Documents relating to the company’s issue Series “C” Bonds (printed volume, 1920), together with a file containing letters, memoranda, and other documents relating to vacations with pay authorized for war veterans returning from service with the armed forces, 1945-1958.  Also an “m” Series sinking fund bond.
Other Subjects:  Business
Call Number: Midwest MS 110
Location: 3a 35 3
Finding Aids

Railroad photograph collection, ca. 1868-1914.
0.1 linear feet (2 folders)
Two groups of railroad photographs, including 15 reproductions related to the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, ca. 1868-1869, and 34 snapshots and postal cards of railroad men, engines, cars, stations and wrecks apparently taken in Wisconsin, ca. 1913-1914.
Other Subjects:  Business Photographs
Call Number: Midwest MS 145
Location: 3a 35 3
Finding Aids
Collection-level catalog record

Call our reference desk at (312) 255-3506 with questions on our holdings, or contact a librarian with research questions.