New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company

New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company

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New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company
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Beautifully engraved certificate from the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company issued in 1953. This historic document was printed by the Columbian Banknote Company and has an ornate border around it with a vignette of the company's logo flanked by an allegorical man and woman. This item has the printed signatures of the Company’s President and is hand signed by the Company's Assistant Treasurer and is over 48 years old. During the centennial celebration of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad in 1926, President E. J. Pearson boasted that the "...history of the New Haven system was a history of transportation in this country." Had he limited his claim to the New York - Boston corridor, Pearson would have been substantially correct. For more than one hundred years the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad was the primary means of passenger and freight transportation in Southern New England. Chartered in 1872, this merger between the New York New Haven and Hartford-New Haven Railroads resulted in the long desired rail link between Boston and New York. Approximately one hundred small independent railroads were built in southern New England between 1850 and 1860. By 1911 the majority were absorbed into the vast New Haven system. At its peak in 1929, the New Haven Railroad owned and operated 2,131 miles of track throughout New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The local railroad lines that eventually became part of the New Haven system developed in response to local business and transportation needs. Unlike the Western states, where railroads preceded and shaped settlement, in the Northeast they served primar ily to link existing towns, businesses, and markets. The New Haven system thus developed as a result of numerous consolidations and mergers. The New Haven traced its founding to 1826, when one of its predecessor companies originated, but the New York, New Haven and Hartford was not chartered until 1872. The company followed the pattern of consolidation established by the Pennsylvania Railroad and other companies, particularly after 1887, when major lines in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts provided a strong network linking New York and Boston. By 1890, company revenue exceeded $100,000,000 per year, and the New Haven employed 4,000 people to serve twelve million passengers annually. This success led a wealthy group of New York investors, headed by J. P. Morgan, to seek and gain control of the New Haven's board. In 1903, Morgan installed Charles Mellen as president of the railroad. Together Morgan and Mellen set out to achieve a complete monopoly of transportation in New England. Substantial improvements to the system were made during the Mellen years, including electrification of rail lines between Hartford and New Haven and construction of a power generating plant in Cos Cob, Connecticut. These accomplishments, however, were overshadowed by Morgan's ambitious schemes to dominate all modes of transportation in New England. Steamboat lines, trolley companies, and other railroad lines were purchased regardless of price and incorporated into the New Haven system. An investigation of the New Haven's activities by Louis Brandeis in 1907 revealed the overextended railroad was on the verge of financial collapse. Morgan's death in 1913 and Mellen's subsequent resignation brought to a close a stormy period in the New Haven's history. During the First World War the New Haven Railroad was operated by the federal government. Under Edward Pearson, Federal Manager, the railroad was able to recover partially, despite increasing competition from automobiles, by sharing in the national economic growth. The company tried to meet this transportation competition by forming the New England Transportation Company, which operated a fleet of trucks and buses. Recovery of the New Haven, however, was cut short by the Depression, and in 1935 the New Haven plunged into bankruptcy. The company remained in trusteeship until 1947, when it returned to private ownership. A series of struggles for control of the company in the postwar period severely weakened the management of the company and its ability to adapt to changes in the transportation industry. The completion of the Connecticut Turnpike and other superhighways and the start of air shuttle service between Boston and New York intensified competition. The company's historic liability as a railroad overburdened with many short, costly branch lines further accelerated its decline. On July 2, 1961, the New Haven Railroad once again went into receivership. A seven year trusteeship period followed, culminating in the absorption of the New Haven in the Penn Central system. Three years later the Penn Central itself collapsed into bankruptcy and in New England the former components of the New Haven Railroad were divided among four companies. Freight service was assumed by Conrail. Passenger service was divided among Amtrak, Metro-North Commuter Railroad, and the Connecticut Transit Authority. The history of the New Haven Railroad thus reveals a company formed by one of the classic merger and consolidation patterns of the late 19th century, which was unable to respond effectively to major changes in the transportation industry. The company's rapid growth, collapse, temporary recovery, and final dissolution offer a dramatic story. Government regulation, internal management decisions, and market competition played important roles in the company's history.


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