Company names

I initially started this project by collecting around 14,000 to 15,000 railroad company names from various sources. During that process, It became apparent that disagreement between sources was common. With time and experience, it became obvious that variations in the names of the same company could appear in different places:

  • initial incorporation
  • internal company usage
  • company interactions with governing bodies
  • name displays on operating equipment
  • interactions with the public (invoices, timetables, advertisements, tickets, passes, securities)
  • legal actions
  • common use among the public
  • usage by writers in newspapers, books, and magazines

Prior to the appearance of Noah Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806, spellings and pronunciations of words and places were highly flexible. As literacy and public education rose, spellings gradually hardened. Nonetheless, disagreements remain, even among place names.

Name used by first incorporation of Union Pacific Rail Road

The majority of railroad companies created their corporate names based upon proposed originations, destinations and waypoints. Those words had their own local and regional spellings and several changed over time. Perhaps the most notable change was the slow alteration of "Pittsburg" into "Pittsburgh." The names of many smaller places drifted with local usage, particularly names than ended in "-borough," "-burg" and "-ville." Some names were spelled differently across state lines. ("Mojave" in California vs. "Mohave"  in Arizona; "Vermilion" in Illinois vs. "Vermillion" in Indiana.)

Some companies officially incorporated with or without the word '"The." Most companies officially incorporated their company names with the word "and." Most companies seem to have used "and" in their official communications, although the public tended to shorten the word to an ampersand (&), as did companies in their unofficial and day-to-day usages.

Some of the most notorious spelling inconsistencies were names that involved the combination of cardinal directions. For instance:

  • North Western
  • North-Western
  • North-western
  • Northwestern

Disagreements over names abound published references

It is quite laborious, and frequently impossible, to determine names in the records of state incorporations. It is even more difficult to determine official names when those companies re-incorporated or reorganized. Sometimes, it is even impossible to positively determine whether companies were officially called "Railroads" or "Railways." Companies were generally consistent within their own communications, but the public rarely noticed and probably never cared about official naming; they tended to use the words "Railroad" and "Railway" interchangeably. Even authors of prestigious references were notoriously inaccurate in their usages, mainly because records were and remain difficult to find.

Name used by Union Pacific Railway, 1880-1897

It is important to understand that inconsistent spelling is the rule. I don't think it is possible to overstate the extent of disagreement over railroad names found in different sources. It did not help that railroad companies often changed railroad/railway designations during corporate reorganizations. For instance, the famous Union Pacific's official names were:

  • Union Pacific Railroad Co: 1863-1880 (NY)
  • Union Pacific Railway Co: 1880-1897 (UT)
  • Union Pacific Railroad Co: 1897-1998 (UT)
  • Union Pacific Railroad Co: 1998-present (DE)

The longer a company stayed in business, the greater the likelihood of inconsistent name usage. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad existed without reincorporation for 160 years, longer than any other North American railroad company. During that time, it used:

  • Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Company
  • Baltimore and Ohio Rail-Road Company
  • The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company
  • The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company

I have been unable to determine whether the B&O codified any of those names in Maryland state records. Nonetheless, certificates make it clear that the use of various names overlapped in time.

Name used by Union Pacific Railroad, 1897-1998

Whether official or not, the names of railroad companies that appear in public records and references are highly inconsistent. Determining official names at any point in time remains difficult. Regardless, this project had to decide which names and spellings to use for cataloging purposes. Those thousands of decisions contended with several realities:

  • certificates needed to be seen
  • names in the database needed to agree with collectible certificates
  • names in public references remain notoriously inaccurate and unreliable
  • auction catalogs and pricelists often lacked images and references to full names
  • definitive state records of incorporations are rarely available online
  • collectible certificates are discovered and reported randomly

Company names used on stocks and bonds prevail over all other sources

If no security certificates are known, then secondary types of railroad company documents (stock and bond transfers, receipts, invoices, timetables, route maps, passes, tickets, etc.) suffice. Lacking those documents, other name sources are used and decisions are made about consistency and reliability. For instance, state incorporation records are known for several eastern states and I consider their name use very close to factual, full well understanding that "Rail Road" was often considered customary while companies may have actually used "Railroad." Records of early incorporations in Midwestern and Western states is more spotty, so determining official names is more challenging.

I consider transcriptions of court actions to be more accurate than summations of court cases in derivative records. I consider summations of court actions to more reliable than newspaper reports of crashes and other events. 

Grouping certificates by spelling of names on certificates

Numbers of collectible certificates suggest that some name variations might have been due more to error or printer decisions than actual corporate directions. Lacking any record of reincorporation or official name changes, When several certificates are known with similar but variable names, I list all variations under one catalog number with secondary variations in parentheses – e.g. XYZ Rail Road (Railroad) Co .

New York Central Railroad Company title on bond

When companies become populated by an excess of certificate varieties, I often create new company entries based upon different spellings of company names to make it easier for users to locate listings of collectible certificates. (The Baltimore & Ohio, and New York Central are primary examples.)

Most railroad companies are NOT represented by certificates, so I display company names based on preponderance of evidence UNTIL collectible certificates appear. When multiple certificates are known from the same apparent company but with inconsistent display of names, I commonly spend some time researching a bit further. I usually try to separate certificates into two or more incorporations when warranted. However, it is also true that some companies such as the Missouri Kansas & Texas Railway went through re-incorporation without changing certificate designs, so separation may not be either needed or possible.

It is not at all unusual for companies to have reincorporated one or more times with the same name and changed certificate designs with each change. It is beyond the purposes of this project to try to identify every possible incorporation of every company. Consequently, many corporations lie hidden until a variation appears on certificates. At that time, additional research becomes necessary and new listings are frequently added.