Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) was incorporated on May 1, 1902. Its incorporation came about during a time of serious competition for railways and transit in Philadelphia. Even at its beginning the PRT met with financial hardship and public dissatisfaction. Through a 1907 charter with the city of Philadelphia, the municipality took over much of the financial burden of the public transportation system. As a result of the contract, the PRT relinquished management in the development of Philadelphia's transit system. For example, the obligation of snow removal and various other responsibilities of maintenance previously provided by the rail companies now fell upon the city to finance. The contract also allowed the continued existence of the PRT underlying companies, a source of constant controversy. It was in March 1907 that the PRT finished construction on the city’s first subway line, which ran under Market Street, and a street level line on Broad Street.
On May 29, 1909, PRT employees went on strike as a result of poor financial decisions and fare increases which lead to a great deal of public ire. The striking workers congregated in various parts of the city, most predominately concentrating in streetcar suburb areas such as Frankford, Brewerytown, West Philadelphia, and Germantown. After sunset the strikes sometimes turned violent. Damages incurred by the strike left the Philadelphia transit network at a standstill for days until compromises between the PRT unions and management stifled the strike. However, dissatisfaction from the workers continued into 1910.
In the wake of the 1907 contract, the PRT showed deficits until 1915. It was not until the company came under the new management of Thomas E. Mitten, former president of the Chicago City Railway Company, in the latter part 1911 that the PRT began to show signs of cohesive growth. Mitten introduced a “Cooperative Plan”, which earmarked 22 percent of all the company earnings for wages, benefits, and pensions. In 1912 Mitten established the Cooperative Welfare Association, which put in order health benefits, and provided for co-operative purchasing of food and other consumer goods for employees. Under the new management of Mitten the PRT began thriving at the start of the 1920s.
On July 2, 1925, the city began to take serious steps towards buying out the underlying companies of the PRT system. This move came as a result of the constant stifling of construction due to the legal rights of those underlying companies who owned the tracks. This had been a problem since the PRT’s incorporation.
Ridership began to lessen after 1926, and the system grew more unsteady, Mitten started to sell assets to increase funds. A 75 percent interest in the Peoples Rapid Transit Company and the western bus lines was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad in the latter part of 1928, although it remained under Mitten Management. The Pennjersey Rapid Transit Company was sold to Public Service Co-ordinated Transport of New Jersey in 1929. Discussions about the sale of PRT to the city of Philadelphia began in 1927.
In 1925 investigations into the PRT and its books began with audits issued by City Controller William B. Hadley. In the beginning Hadley was met with much opposition, but on November 11, 1928, he won lawsuits that allowed him access to PRT financial records. There he found a wealth of questionable business dealings such as unexplained advances, bribery, and ledger manipulations. In an effort to counteract the unfavorable press, Dr. A. A. Mitten, Thomas Mitten’s son, began putting out radio shows that detailed initiatives of the PRT in defense of the business and in direct opposition of the newspapers and media.
In 1929 Thomas Mitten was found dead in his summer home in the Poconos. The suddenness of the death of the PRT’s president led some to believe that it could be attributed to suicide due to mounting pressures from litigation and investigation into the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company books. In 1930, the Philadelphia courts removed control of the PRT from Mitten Management Inc. and appointed three receivers: Edward Hopkinson (Drexel & Co. and J. P. Morgan & Co.), E. L. Austin (former controller of the PRT and later director of the Sesqui-Centennial), and Dr. Herbert J. Tily (president of Strawbridge & Clothier and chairman of the Utilities Committee of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce).
On October 1, 1934, the PRT filed for bankruptcy. In the midst of the Great Depression, the City struggled to carry on its rapid transit plans. Construction began on the Locust Street Subway and on lengthening the subway-surface tunnels to 33rd Street in West Philadelphia. The PRT became the operator of the rapid transit line constructed on the new Delaware River (Ben Franklin) Bridge by the Delaware River Joint Commission. It opened between 8th and Market and Broadway, Camden, New Jersey, on June 7, 1936. With the resulting wane of patrons using the Delaware River ferries, the raised spur of the Market Street Line on Delaware Avenue was cancelled on May 8, 1939. The Broad Street Subway was stretched from South Street to Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia on September 18, 1938. On January 1, 1940, the PRT was reorganized into the Philadelphia Transportation Company.
The collection consists of three disbound scrapbooks of clippings pertaining to the PRT. The scrapbook pages have been placed in chronological order into folders and boxes. The clippings originated from four main newspapers of the era: Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Record, Philadelphia Bulletin, and Philadelphia Public Ledger. These clippings span from 1928 to 1932, the time after Thomas E. Mitten sold the Philadelphia Rapid Transit company to the city of Philadelphia. The clippings also coincide with pending litigations against the PRT regarding its business dealings.
The clippings heavily feature the construction efforts of the PRT and their costs to the city. The clippings also report on mounting or active litigation concerning the PRT. Of particular note were William B. Hadley’s suit to explore the PRT books and the litigations to buy out the PRT underlying companies. In addition, the clippings cover fare increases.
Volume three of the collection contains a column entitled “Inside Transit Facts” from The Philadelphia Public Ledger, which begins February 10, 1930 and ends March 12, 1930.The column was written by Edmund Stirling editor of The Philadelphia Public Ledger, and gives readers a very detailed background of the Philadelphia urban transport system.
Gift of Miss Frances Bradford, 1961.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Dan DelViscio.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2013
- Access Restrictions
Collection is open for research.