The New York Central Railroad was an amalgamation of numerous railroads in the northeastern United States. It can trace its inception to the year 1826 and the chartering of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. The purpose of this original system was to provide a more cost effective and efficient alternative for passengers and freight to the Erie Canal System between Schenectady and Albany.
Over the course of the next 20+ years additional railroads formed throughout New York state. In 1853 no less than 10 of these railroads agreed to merge. On May 17, 1853 the sum of these companies became the New York Central Railroad.
American Industrialist Erastus Corning was the Chief of the railroad when the merger was undertaken. Later, the railroad was headed by Robber Baron Cornelius Vanderbilt.
At the time of the Civil War, the Main Line of the New York Central Railroad consisted of nearly 300 track miles stretching from Buffalo to Albany.
Of total, the system consisted of approximately 1050 miles of total track and possessed 239 locomotives.
During the years 1863-1864 a total of 2.12 million miles of passenger trains were run, with a total of over 193 million passengers spanning that time-frame!
Within the same period, the system earned a total of nearly $13M in revenues and earned a net profit of approximately $3.65M.
Given the era, that was a large sum of money and very handsome profit margin.
In 1867 through a clever maneuver, Vanderbilt as owner of the Hudson River Railroad, wrestled a coordinated takeover of the New York Central.
At the time, the two separate railroads operated independently in the state, but both shared a railroad bridge which crossed the Hudson.
Known as the Hudson River Bridge in Albany, and owned by the New York Central, Vanderbilt in the winter of 1867 began refusing to run his trains across the bridge. He would stop his trains at the beginning of the bridge, and require his passengers to disembark. Amidst the treacherous cold, they were forced to cross the bridge on foot. At the other end the passengers would then board a New York Central train.
Needless to say, passengers weren’t happy, and the bitter winter weather certainly didn’t help. Soon New York Central’s stock prices crashed. Vanderbilt, in a strategic move, hastily bought the company’s depressed stock and took control of the undervalued railroad. Vanderbilt merged the two systems, and thus was born the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad.
For just over a century, the New York Central continued operations.
In 1967 the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad, forming the Penn Central until the 1970’s, when the final death knell came and the railroad went bankrupt. Services were handed over to Amtrak and Conrail.
Below please find several New York Central Rail Road pieces.
The first specimen is a passenger voucher. Issued for the year 1882, the voucher entitled its bearer to receive unlimited passage on the railroad.
The second specimen is a New York Central Rail Road Civil War Token. Struck on copper and catalogued as a NY10D-1a, Fuld lists it as having a rarity rating of R-4. Though no date appears on the token, it was struck sometime in the years of 1862 through 1864.
Notes and Sources
Wikipedia – New York Central Railroad
New York Central and Hudson Railroad
‘American Journal of Numismatics’, June 1866, Vol. I, No. 2, pg. 15
‘The Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review’, William Dana, Vol. 58, Jan-Jun 1868, pg. 58
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.480
The Library of Congress Digital Archives