Book: The New Haven Railroad - Its Rise and Fall

Hardcoaler Mar 20, 2021

  1. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    I've been reading a most interesting book by John L. Weller, The New Haven Railroad - Its Rise and Fall, c. 1969. From its beginning in 1844 through its demise in 1968, the road had a storied history of financial misdeeds by its officers, attorneys, bankers, brokers, Federal, State and Local governments, suppliers and even newspapers bought to sway public opinion. Everyone with influence had their fingers in the pie, aided by the New Haven's byzantine purpose-built accounting methods which resulted in a dizzying and untraceable number of subsidiaries and transactions.

    J.P. Morgan was the road's principal Financier. Surprisingly, he cared little for what he paid for acquisitions, as long as his monopolies were maintained. This led to the New Haven's purchase of steamship lines, trolleys, interurbans and other railroads, whether actual or merely posing a threat on paper. His lieutenants and elected officials were only too happy to help, lining their pockets along the way and building their careers, attracting ever-growing circles of crooked associates and even corrupt government prosecutors.

    My reading has carried me to 1914 and the road's empty fortunes are finally coming to light. This book would provide a terrific basis for a movie. (y) Viewers would think it was fiction.

    2021-03-19 New Haven Book - for upload.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2021
  2. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter


    I had no idea. I knew that many companies, large or small, had "intriguing" financial backgrounds. But this sounds as though it was a web woven far more than average.
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  3. Randy Stahl

    Randy Stahl TrainBoard Supporter

    The Steamboat follies, the trolley follies, the Westchester follies. Its a really well written book and its really fun to read.
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  4. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    Glad that you've enjoyed it too. I never knew that the New Haven once owned the B&M and had a significant interest in the Boston & Albany and other New England roads. Interlocking directorships assured that New Haven influence would be preserved all around. Although I haven't read about it yet, I recall that mid-1950s New Haven CEO Patrick McGinnis was later imprisoned after taking kickbacks on scrapped equipment.
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  5. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    Finished the excellent New Haven book and have moved on to The Wreck of the Penn Central, by Daughen and Binzen, c. 1971. It's interesting, but its "kiss and tell" narrative and extensive financial detail goes to excess and bogs the reader down with too much information. I'm already familiar with much of the story, so I doubt I'll finish the book. Most certainly PC's failure was borne within its management, however the ICC, railway unions, Congress and State legislatures, forced adoption of the New Haven, the nation's economic state and general corruption served to assure PC's collapse.

    Penn Central Book - for upload.jpg
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  6. gmorider

    gmorider TrainBoard Member

    Well said.
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  7. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    Have moved on to another book, The Railroad Mergers and the Coming of Conrail by Richard Saunders, c. 1978. It's far from the dry-as-toast tome it might appear to be and is actually quite fascinating. Saunders starts back in the early days of U.S. railroading to sketch in the origins of the trunk line railroads and their efforts to expand or fend off acquisition as the industry matured throughout the 1900s. Government regulators, banking interests, shipper influence, managements of all stripes, organized labor and Wall Street all served to create quite a mess in the run-up to the modern merger era.

    Saunders recounts the merger of the GM&N and M&O in 1940 was one of the first and the L&N's taking of the NC&StL in 1957 continuing the trend.

    I found his thoughts regarding the DL&W's failure to merge with the NKP very interesting. Both roads were natural partners, interchanging at Buffalo and later circumventing the NYC's grip. During the teens and twenties, the DL&W minted money with its anthracite tonnage. It wisely invested in a superb physical plant, but was inwardly focused and maintained payment of princely dividends through difficult years as its coal loadings waned. The NKP's history was the opposite, operating in the shadow on the NYC and starved for profits in its early years.

    Realizing its plight too late, the DL&W began a steady acquisition of NKP shares in the early 1950s. However, by this time the NKP had become a money machine of its own and it's management and shareholders had no interest in partnering with a fading DL&W. The DL&W was spurned.

    If the DL&W had moved to buy the NKP decades earlier when its hand was strongest, the combination would have likely rewritten the eastern railroad map.

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