Reading Company (pronounced “Redding”), a name remembered mainly as a railroad, was in its heyday a multifaceted industrial giant. Originally established as The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad (P & R) in 1833 to transport anthracite coal, the pioneering 94-mile line evolved into a mighty corporation serving eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Operations included coal mining, iron making, canal and sea-going transportation and shipbuilding. With its great complex of shops for locomotive and car building and repair, and constant advances in railroad technology, the company held a position of leadership in the railroad industry for over a century.
By the nature of the territory which it served, the P & R fueled the Industrial Revolution which led the United States to economic leadership. With lines reaching out to the North, South, East and West, the P & R served the heart of the most densely industrialized area of the nation and by the 1870s became the largest corporation in the world.
During this period the P & R established a subsidiary, The P & R Coal and Iron Co. to gain control over the vast anthracite deposits being mined for shipment over its lines. As one of America's first conglomerates, this attracted the infamous “robber barons” of the latter 1800s, such as Carnegie and Vanderbilt. During the company's final spectacular attempt at expansion through control of lines to New England, Canada and the West, the formidable J.P. Morgan pulled the financial rug out from under The Reading, and forced the company to settle into its traditional role as a regional railroad–mainly a carrier of anthracite.
During the 1890s, to ward off government efforts to break up monopolies, the P & R’s owners created a new holding company named Reading Company, to own on paper, the P & R Railroad and P & R Coal and Iron Co. Finally, a Supreme Court ruling forced a complete separation of the P & R entities. On January 1, 1924, the P & R Coal and Iron Co. became independent, and Reading Company became the railroad's operating name.
After World War II as America began to turn away from coal as its major fuel, The Reading’s fate began to turn as well. Dragged down by the failure of surrounding lines on which it depended for traffic to offset the loss of the coal business, The Reading entered bankruptcy in 1971. Its operations were taken over as part of the federally financed CONRAIL, on April 1, 1976.
The Reading Lines, as they came to be known, were actually a conglomeration of a number of successor railroads. On December 31, 1923, the "Reading Company" was separated from the P & R Coal and Iron Co., forming what most people today think of as the Reading Lines. The components of the eventual railroad were: