Why not include utilities?

Tunnels, bridges, and utilities are the types of companies that have caused about inclusion or exclusion in this project. The simplest and most logical answer I can give is, "They belong in this project when involvement in railroading appears in their corporate names."

The rule

Discussions about these industries have consumed an enormous amount of time., hence this rule:

I will include tunnels, bridges and utilities in this database IF AND ONLY IF they included one or more a railroad keywords in their corporate names,

Keywords will appear in their names something like this:

  • XYZ Railroad and Tunnel Company
  • XYZ Bridge and Railway Company
  • XYZ Power and Street Railway Company

The rationale

The hardest of industries to deal with has been utilities. This is because huge numbers of utilities started as street railways. Many operated street railways for a while. Still, the overwhelming majority chose NOT to indicate involvement in the railroading industry with their company names.

Many references to railroad companies and street railways include utilities among their listings. My goal, however, is NOT to record every utility that ever had an interest in, or even operated, a street railway. We need to remember utilities made their profits from selling power. My project is about railroading. an industry that made the bulk of its profits from transportation.

Railroading and electricity production overlapped for a while in many locations. That is not in dispute.

Nor is it in dispute that this is a one-man project with time being the primary limiting factor for what can be accomplished. Corporate history research is time-consuming and beyond the purpose of cataloging stocks and bonds. Anyone who tackles corporate histories will run into information sources that are incomplete, contradictory, and rife with arguable "facts" and outright guesses.

The images below show a stock certificate from the Monongahela Power & Railway Company. The image on the left is dated 1922, a few months before West Penn Power Company formed a subsidiary named Monongahela West Penn Public Service Company. That company bought Monongahela Power & Railway and another nearby traction company. In order to sell stock quickly, the public service company merely overprinted its own name on certificates of the purchased company (image on the right.) Confusion reigns when trying to answer the question of whether the new company directly operated interurbans under its own name or more indirectly through other corporate entities. It is seldom possible to access reliable corporate documents, so one usually must rely on derivative sources that often disagree with each other. At some point, often later rather than sooner, it becomes obvious that it simply takes too much time determine whether utilities really operated railways, and if so, for how long.

Clear relationship between utility and railway Unclear relationship between utility and railway

Correspondents sometimes plead with me to include specific utilities because they ran streetcars for several years. No argument there.

It is also true that some utilities bought street railway companies and abandoned passenger service as quickly as they could. Should such a utility be included i this project simply because it operated a street railway for only a few days or few weeks?

It is common to spend an hour or more trying to unravel the rail-related history of a single utility. Even if I spent that time and decided to list a particular utility, how long would it be before other correspondents asked me to include precursor and successor companies? And what should I do about "reluctant utilities" that operated streetcars only because states prevented them from abandoning services sooner?

I have also heard arguments that I should include utilities that never operated street railways or interurbans, but merely owned vast numbers of gondola cars for hauling coal. That creates yet another "rabbit hole" I avoid. Is it even possible to determine whether utilities actually owned cars or merely leased them?

Let's ask the question this way

How many railroads would be included in a project titled...

Collectible Stocks and Bonds of North American Utilities

...if one existed?


Practically every mid-size and larger North American town and city had streetcar service powered by horses and mules by the 1880s. Electric motors had been around for a half century and numerous attempts had been made to perfect electric haulage with only partial success. In June, 1883, the United States Electric Company displayed a 2,700-pound electric locomotive named "The Judge" at the National Exposition of Railway Appliances in Chicago. Over the course of two weeks in carried 26,805 attendees in a single car over a 0.3-mile track around the Exposition Hall.

Electrified Union Passenger Railway from unattributed newspaper

Starting in August, 1884, a company named Bentley-Knight ran an electrified streetcar over a stretch of the East Cleveland Street Railway Co for about a year. That effort seems to qualify as the first commercial street railway project in North America.

In September, 1885, about the time the Cleveland project wound up, the Daft Company put another electric car attempt into operation on the Union Passenger Railway in Baltimore. That project used motorized "dummies" that pulled small four-wheel streetcars and picked up energy from an electrified third rail.

More commercial streetcar applications quickly followed, the earliest being:

May, 1886, Windsor Electric Railway (Windsor, Ontario)
Jul, 1886, Appleton Electric Street Railway (Appleton, WI)
Oct, 1886, Port Huron Electric Railway (Port Huron, MI)
Oct, 1886, Highland Park Railway (Detroit, MI)
Oct, 1886, Scranton Suburban Electric Railway, (Scranton, PA)
Apr, 1887, Los Angeles Electric Railway (Los Angeles, CA)
Jul, 1887, Lima Street Rail-Way Motor & Power Co (Lima, OH)
Sep, 1887, Columbus Electric Railway (Columbus, OH)
Oct, 1887, St. Catharines, Merriton and Thorold Street Railway (St Catherines, Ontario)
Oct, 1887, Seashore Electric Railway (Asbury Park, NJ)
Nov, 1887, San Diego Electric Rapid Transit (San Diego, CA)
unk, 1887, Capital City Electric Street Railway (Montgomery, AL)

(Source: The Electric Railway, Fred H. Whipple, 1889, viewable at hathitrust.org)

Some of these early operations were powered by their own dynamos. Others purchased power from municipal and private power and light companies. As the electric street railway industry grew, it was commonly more economical for railways to generate their own electricity. Whether they purchased or generated, street railways tended to be dependable consumers of large quantities of power. Throughout the 1890s and into the first years of the 20th century, railway and utility companies tended to take on crossover names such as "XYZ Light & Railway Co." and "XYZ Railway & Power Co."

While the order of names probably did not suggest comparative profitability between the two business lines, I have not seen evidence that street railway and interurban tickets were more profitable than sales of electricity. After all, homes and businesses were becoming electrified at an ever-growing pace.

By examining the two largest sources of railroad and railway names, we can see that during the first years of the 1900s, many street railways shifted ownership to companies with utility-related names. (See The Trolley and Interurban Directory by Joseph Gross (1987) and Railroad Names by William Edson (1984, 1989, 1993 and 1999.)

From the turn of the century onward, the profits generated by selling power allowed more and more consolidations of utilities. With each new merger, the likelihood of reference to "Railway" surviving in corporate names diminished. This was especially true after World War I. It seems hard to imagine that companies would have dropped "railway" monikers if profits from passenger haulage had been substantial.


Gross' book mentioned above segregates companies by state. Close reading indicates that "pure" utility names (company names that lack reference to railways and interurbans) are found earlier and are more common in some states than others. This may reflect pure happenstance, but it could also reflect political motivations to keep reference to passenger-focused services longer than profits would have otherwise suggested. As we have seen in the habits of the Interstate Commerce Commission, railroad companies often had to wait years before receiving permission to abandon unprofitable and useless branch lines. Did some states take the same attitude?

How long did utilities maintain street and interurban services?

I have found that it is much easier to identify utilities that supposedly operated street railways than to identify exactly when they suspended services. Some references are confused because the term "electric trolley services" can be applied to both electric streetcars and electric "trolley buses" both of which acquire power from overhead wires.

Although trolley wires create visual sky "pollution," cities tended to prefer trolley buses over fixed-route street railways. They were cheaper to install, easier to shift with demand and created little street disturbance. To avoid confusion, this project purposely avoids the word "trolley" in favor of "streetcar."

I once had a correspondent who insisted that a certain utility belonged in the railroad database because it operated street railways longer than my data showed. I asked him to find proof. After almost a year of on-and-off library work and even examination of corporate records at a museum, he gave up. Like my experience, he found records vague, contradictory, and silent on when rail service had ceased.

Were "transit" companies rail-related or bus-related?

"Transit" is another confusing word with dual meanings. Whenever "transit" is found in a company name after about 1910, research is needed to discover the type of conveyance referred to. Just because a "power and light" company used the word "transit" in its corporate name does not automatically mean railroading.


I started this project because I wanted to track the prices being paid for certificates in the North American railroad specialty. There were a few published references to certificates in general but not to railroading in particular.

At the time I started, there were no references to certificates issued by companies in any specific industry. Not mining, oil, banking, logging, shipping or anything else. Lawrence Falater issued a hardback catalog on automotive stocks in 1997 (American Automotive Stock Certificates by BNR Press), but to my knowledge, no guide for any other single industry has been cataloged since.

It might take hours to research a single utility company with no definitive answer.

If my catalog did not exist and I were looking for certificates from railroad companies, I would definitely look at three works that focus on specific regions; Alaska and Yukon Stocks and Bonds by Dick Hascom, Catalog of Puerto Rico Stocks and Bonds by Dennis Rodriguez and Georgia Railroad Paper by Gary Eubanks. However, even though Lawrence Falater is a friend, I would not think of looking in his book for railroad certificates. Plainly, railroads are not automobiles.

The same logic extends to utilities. Would any collector of utility-related stocks and bonds look to a catalog about stocks and bonds from North American railroads for information? Yes, a collector might look to my project for very early certificates issued by street railway companies which generated their own power. Nonetheless, no one would call those companies "utilities."

If another cataloger were to tackle the task of cataloging securities from utility companies, they would end up with the same problem I face. "Where does a street railway company end and a utility begin?"

While speaking of practicalities, there is one invisible and inviolable fact. When speaking about expanding the project to include utilities, I simply do not have the time. Period.

But if someone wants to take on that little project, let's talk!