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Reading Railroad: A Game Piece Made Real

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Reading Railroad

While most people may have memories of Reading Railroad being a property in the game Monopoly, Reading Railroad was an important part of history on the East Coast. The Reading Railroad was part of a larger operation, and in 1833 it carried the name of The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, also known as P & R.   

It was first and mostly used for distributing and moving coal along the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, though was involved in other aspects as well such as iron making. Prior to the railway, barges transported the coal, but with technology came faster alternatives. 

With P & R, things were about to change, due to the government. They were concerned it had gotten too big, and with regulations in place, they forced the company to split. They worried it would become a monopoly (no pun intended), and in 1924 the company was ordered to break apart. They then became known as both the Reading Company and the P&R Coal and Iron Company.

The Reading Company was also known as Reading Railroad and Reading Lines throughout its existence. Steeped in history, they prospered for quite a while, but in the 70s they fell on hard times as the coal industry demands were changing, and ended up filing for bankruptcy. Eventually, they sold most of their properties to groups like Conrail.

The Reading Lines included multiple railways that catered to different areas such as Gettysburg, Atlantic City, Chester, New York and Philadelphia, and while they weren’t long-distance passenger carriers, they did have shorter lines connecting cities. 

Their hub was based out of Philadelphia and the Reading Terminal. It’s since closed the original location, and was eventually repurposed. Today, it stands as the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Terminal, 12th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA

Reading Terminal Market at 12th & Market Streets in Philadelphia, PA. Circa 1893

You can see their full line of rails and tracks in this image. It’s much denser than you might realize, covering a wide swath of the Northeastern portion of the states.  

Today, in Hamburg, PA you can visit the Reading Railroad Historical Museum. If you’d like to see and hear more about the rail line, they offer a page with audio, photographic, and video media resources here

In the archives of the Anthracite Coal Historical Society website, you’ll find over 250 images dedicated to the Reading Railroad. Likewise, you can take a 360 degree view online tour of one of the Reading passenger coach cars here. That comes courtesy of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. 

With a rich history in coal transportation, P & R also ended up buying Anthracite Coal properties and mines. By 1874, they’d purchased almost 100,000 acres of land that they intended to rent to mining companies. This specific type of coal was known to be efficient and clean burning. It was the premium coal product of choice. They would ride into massive financial success for the first half of the century, which eventually lead to them splitting the company as mentioned above. 

One of the fascinating files in the Smithsonian Institutes Online National Archives is a list of wages and certificate details that were used from the late 1860s to the 1920s. This specific file seen here was dated in 1879. (Requested Citation: Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company Records, 1866-1927, Archives Center, National Museum of American History)

The National Museum of American History also showcases this photograph of the inside of the Reading Railroad workshop. (Photo credit: James A. Millholland Collection)

While Reading Railroad didn’t rack up mile after mile as one of the railroads in passenger operational distance, they did grow to become a major player and top railroad in the coal transport industry. They were the king of coal back in the day. 

If you’ve always been interested in railroads, or your interest is more in the area of Pennsylvania history, you won’t go wrong by adding the historic Reading Railroad to your list. Whether stopping by Hamburg for a glimpse of their offerings, or heading to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, you’ll find plenty of rail history to suit your fancy.

In more recent news, if you’re looking for information on the initiative to bring more passenger railways to Berks County, you’ll want to check out this report from 2020. The Berks Alliance & Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce are looking to fix an issue that was closed off in the 1980s. Great news for those local. 

Interested in seeing a list of stations in the Berks County area and curious to see what’s still in use versus what’s now vacant? Check out the full list here. 

And don’t forget to grab your favorite Pennsylvania apparel, today. 

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