From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

“Do not think of the Pennsylvania Railroad as a business enterprise. Think of it as a nation.”

Even if we allow for such a hyperbole – in this case by a writer in the May 1936 edition of Fortune Magazine – it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) – or “the Pennsy” as it was seemingly known to all – dominated American transportation and corporate life for nearly a century after receiving its charter on April 13, 1846. To commemorate the railroad’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary this year, a number of museums and historical organizations, led by the PHMC’s popular Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, will conduct a wide variety of exciting programs and events.

The scale and scope of the Pennsy in its heyday impresses even those of us who are awed by today’s multinational companies and megacorporations. By 1874, the PRR had become the nation’s busiest and most powerful line, with a system that extended from New York City to Chicago and St. Louis. In the 1920s, the company employed two hundred and eighty thousand and annually grossed more than six hundred million dollars.

Among the cosponsors of this year’s sesquicentennial celebration – which will be launched by Governor Tom Ridge with a proclamation in April – are the National Park Service, the Railroaders Memorial Museum of Altoona, and the Hagley Museum and Library, located in Wilmington, Delaware. The placement of historical markers at significant sites and a brochure listing anniversary events are planned. An article devoted to William Rau, a photographer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, will appear in the fall 1996 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage. The observance will conclude with a symposium at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in October.

For those of us involved in preserving and interpreting objects, artifacts, documents, photographs, even historic places, associated with our industrial heritage, the task is daunting. The sheer physical magnitude of preserving a locomotive or a coal colliery or a blast furnace is difficult enough. An even greater challenge lies in interpreting the stories of the women and men who lived through the industrial age and who ultimately saw their once invincible world dwindle and die within a generation. To tell that story with respect, integrity, and sensitivity, and to consider what Jay ahead for them, is an important part of our responsibility as curators, educators, and historians.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director