The Reading Railroad 1892-1893: Combination to Collapse
When the Reading Railroad combined with two other railroad companies in 1892, it controlled more than half of New York City’s market for anthracite coal. Twelve months later, the company collapsed. This paper tracks the events of those twelve months, particularly the actions of the Reading’s president, Archibald A. McLeod, or as his contemporaries called him, “the Napoleon of Railroads.” Though state and federal government committees proposed legislation to curb the Reading’s burgeoning power, the source of the Reading’s troubles was more clandestine. Ultimately, John Pierpont Morgan played the decisive role in the collapse, usurping McLeod’s ambitions to regain control of the Reading. The story displays important features of American railroad business during the 1890’s: the role of government, monopolistic discourse, and divergent meanings of a company. But more fundamentally, the collapse harmed all Americans, as it began the Panic of 1893.