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Harold E. Cox transportation photograph collection


Held at: Philadelphia History Museum [Contact Us]15 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia History Museum. 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

"Prior to the 1870s, Philadelphia's public transportation system consisted of dozens of independently owned and operated horse-drawn streetcar lines. However, as Philadelphia's population grew, increasing street congestion and the disorganization of the numerous independent streetcar lines created a need for a more efficient transportation system. Efficiency could only be achieved through expensive mechanization, which required consolidated capital. The path to electrification and unification was begun in 1883 when three men, William Kemble, Peter Widener and William Elkins, formed the Philadelphia Traction Company to supply power to existing lines. At that point, there were three primary rival companies operating in Philadelphia: Philadelphia Traction Company, People's Traction Company and Electric Traction Company. They merged to form the Union Traction Company in 1895. Still, the problem of street congestion remained, and the solution seemed to lie in subway and elevated rail lines. To accomplish this, Union Traction Company was absorbed into a new organization, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) in 1902. Construction on the Market Street subway began in 1903, and by 1905 the western part of the subway was open for use.

"Through a 1907 contract with the City of Philadelphia, the municipality gained control over the public transportation system and the company gave up leadership in the development of Philadelphia's rapid transit system. In addition, the burden of snow removal and other maintenance tasks formerly carried out by the rail companies, as well as the car licensing fees mandated in the 1850s by streetcar laws, were taken away. The city gained control of PRT through a number of measures. Namely, municipal representatives were given seats on the Board of Directors. The city also gained access to PRT financial records and the right to approve mergers or any other major changes to the company structure.

"Despite the changes brought on by the 1907 charter, PRT still experienced financial troubles and could not finance the promised subway lines. Further pressure was placed on the PRT in the form of multiple strikes by transit workers demanding pay increases. The strike of 1910 turned into a violent city-wide riot, after which PRT underwent a drastic refinancing and reorganization. Thomas E. Mitten (1864-1929) took over management of PRT in 1911. He placated the workers by establishing a Co-Operative Welfare Association, expanded PRT's business, and brought the company back from the brink of financial ruin.

"In 1913, the city established the Department of City Transit, which would oversee the development of rapid transit in Philadelphia. PRT could then rent or lease the infrastructure constructed and paid for by the city department. The relationship between PRT and the municipality was not without conflict, and disputes over finances continued well into the 1930s. Nevertheless, PRT and the Department of City Transit managed the public transportation system until 1940, when Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) was created. With the establishment of this company, the City of Philadelphia and public transportation became even more intertwined. The city received half the company's profits and the right to purchase all its property. Essentially, through the formation of this private company, the municipality gained even more control of Philadelphia's transit system. In 1968, PTC was purchased by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), [the regional transportation] authority...[established in 1963]."

Dr. Harold E. Cox, Professor of History Emeritus and University Archivist at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania, is the former editor of Pennsylvania History and has written extensively on the history of urban transportation and the development of inner cities in the nineteenth century. Cox was notified by a friend that SEPTA had discarded a large body of old records. Cox located and gathered the materials and later donated it to the Philadelphia History Museum.


Quoted text from: Courtney Smerz, Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, and Michael Gubicza. Finding aid to "Harold E. Cox transportation collection," 1803-1967 (bulk 1858-1960), Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection 3158. 2011. Accessed September 26, 2014.

This collection consists of approximately 800 gelatin silver print photographs, about 50 film negatives, and a few PRT and PTC company newsletters, ephemera, and programs from employee events. Most of the items date from the 1930s and the 1940s, leading up to and immediately following the 1940 transition of the management of Philadelphia's public transit system from Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) to Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC). Depicted in the photographs are Philadelphia street scenes, maintenance and repair work, vehicle interiors and exteriors, and employees, including Thomas E. Mitten. Many of the photographs appear to have been taken as publicity shots, or to document incidents such as traffic accidents and PRT/PTC routes blocked by private or business vehicles.

An item-level inventory of this collection is available on-site.

Gift of Harold E. Cox, 1990 (accession 90.37)

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Philadelphia History Museum directly for more information.

Philadelphia History Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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