The Milwaukee Public Library was designated as the official archives of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St.
Paul & Pacific Railroad, a.k.a. the Milwaukee Road, in 1981.
The Milwaukee Road Archives collection is very large, with valuable materials for the historian as well as the railroad hobbyist. For more information, please browse the details below or contact the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room .
Milwaukee Road History
In 1847, the Milwaukee and Waukesha Railroad was incorporated, and three years later its first train operated between Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. By 1857, track reached Prairie du Chien. The name changed to Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul in February 1874. The railroad grew strong throughout the Midwest, by 1887 reaching through Iowa and South Dakota, as far west as Kansas City and north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
In 1905, the Milwaukee decided to expand west again, this time to Puget Sound. The "Lines West" were built between 1906 and 1909, from the middle of South Dakota to Seattle/Tacoma. Technological marvels, the lines were never successful, and were a major contributor to the bankruptcy in 1925. In 1928 the Road reorganized as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific. It was bankrupt again in 1935 and 1945. In 1977, once more in financial trouble, it reorganized and shed two-thirds of its trackage. It was acquired by the Soo Line Corp. on February 21, 1985, which operated it as the Milwaukee Road, Inc., until merging it into the Soo Line on January 1, 1986.
Despite its financial difficulties, the Milwaukee was innovative. It pioneered long-distance electrification (656 route miles), construction of all-welded freight and passenger cars, and operation of high-speed intercity passenger trains. (The steam powered Hiawatha commonly ran over 100 mph.) The road employed thousands and touched millions during its operation — its legacy continues today through the interests of hobbyists and historians alike.
Because the Milwaukee Road built most of its own equipment, the collection contains more than 50,000 engineering drawings of cars, structures and locomotives. No index currently available for public use. For information related to the ongoing inventory project that will lead to an index, see the Milwaukee Road Drawings page of MPL's website.
Images range from glass plates done in the late 1800s to modern color slides. Print indexes available for use in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room (Locomotive Negative Guide, Photos & Negatives Guide)
The archives include a complete collection of passenger train timetables from 1886 to Amtrak 1971, and a large number of "employee" or divisional operation timetables from the Milwaukee Road and smaller railroads that became part of it. Index available at Humanities reference desk.
Historical documents reveal the development of the Milwaukee Road from the Midwest in the 1850s to the Pacific Northwest by World War II.
- Annual Reports -
Annual reports for the Milwaukee Road are listed in MPL's CountyCat catalog. Except as noted below, they may be requested and used in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room at Central Library. Available years are:
1863-1889 (See Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room page for access info)
- Corporate Records -
Included are reports of the Board of Directors from the Milwaukee Road, contracts that were made between the railroad and various suppliers as it moved westward, and documents concerning its bankruptcies. Finding aids available online and at Humanities reference desk.
- Employee Magazine -
There is a complete set (1913-1974) of the employee magazine, Milwaukee Road Magazine, indexed by the railroad with historical information about the Milwaukee Road and biographical information on employees. Index available online and at Humanities reference desk.
- Officials and employees -
The Milwaukee Road Archives also has records on many officials of the railroad and some employee files. Indexes to these employee records are available online and at the Humanities reference desk.
Using the Collection
Finding aids and indexes may be consulted online or used in print format in the Humanities Room, as indicated above. On-site use of the archival materials described above requires an advance appointment. Contact staff in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room of the Central Library at (414) 286-3061.
Long-distance research questions should be addressed via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and will be answered in the order received.
The Milwaukee Road Historical Association, a not-for-profit corporation to study and preserve the history of The Milwaukee Road, offers support to the Milwaukee Public Library’s Milwaukee Road Archives.
The image in the upper right header of this page is:
2-6-6-2 Compound steam engine #5023
Built by Alco in 1911
Photographed by Milwaukee Road on September 14, 1911 in Avery, Idaho
Digitized from a black & white negative on August 13, 2008