The Reading Company , usually called the Reading Railroad and officially known as the Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway until 1924, operated in southeast Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Contrary to its spelling, it is actually pronounced 'redding'. Until the decline in anthracite loadings in the Coal Region after World War II, it was one of the most prosperous corporations in the United States. However, the reduced coal traffic, coupled with highway competition and short hauls, forced it into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The Reading Company's railroad was merged into Conrail in 1976, but the corporation lasted into 2000 disposing of real estate holdings.
An extension northwest from Reading to Mount Carbon, also on the Schuylkill River, opened on January 13, 1842, allowing the railroad to compete with the Schuylkill Canal. At Mount Carbon it connected with the earlier Mount Carbon Railroad, continuing through Pottsville to several mines, and would be extended to Williamsport. On May 17 of that year, a freight branch from West Falls to Port Richmond on the Delaware River north of downtown Philadelphia opened. Port Richmond later became a very large coal terminal.
On January 1, 1851 the Belmont Plane on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, just west of the Reading's connection, was abandoned in favor of a new bypass, and the portion of the line east of it was sold to the Reading, the only company that would continue using the old route.
The Lebanon Valley Railroad was chartered in 1836 to build from Reading west to Harrisburg. The Reading took it over and began construction in 1854, opening the line in 1856. This gave the Reading a route from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, for the first time competing directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which would turn out to be its major rival.
The Reading and Columbia Railroad was chartered in 1857 to build from Reading southwest to Columbia on the Susquehanna River. It opened in 1864, using the Lebanon Valley Railroad from Sinking Spring east to Reading. The Reading leased it in 1870.
The Port Kennedy Railroad, a short branch to quarries at Port Kennedy, was leased in 1870. Also that year, the Reading leased the Pickering Valley Railroad, a branch running west from Phoenixville to Byers, which opened in 1871.
The Reading leased the North Pennsylvania Railroad on May 14, 1879. This gave it not only a line from Philadelphia north to Bethlehem but the valuable Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad, the descendant of the National Railway project, giving it a route to New York City in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad's United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company. On the New York end it used the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Jersey City terminal.
The Port Reading Railroad was chartered in 1890 and opened in 1892, running east off a junction from the New York mainline near Bound Brook to a new port - Port Reading - on the Arthur Kill near Perth Amboy.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was leased on December 1, 1891 under the presidency of Archibald A. McLeod, but that lease was cancelled on August 8, 1893 when the Reading went into receivership. The Reading also relinquished control of the Central New England Railroad and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Amid the turmoil of the Panic of 1893, Joseph Smith Harris was elected president. Under his leadership, the Reading Company was formed and the P&R was absorbed into it on November 30.
The Reading Company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 1971. The bankruptcy was a result of dwindling coal shipping revenues and strict government regulations that denied railroads the ability to set competitive prices, required high taxes, and forced the railroads to continue to operate money-losing lines. To further complicate matters, the Reading was forced to continue paying its debts to the Penn Central Railroad, however, Penn Central (also in bankruptcy at the time) was not required to pay its debts to the Reading Company.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the Reading on contemporary American imaginations arose from its being included on the Monopoly game board, just five spaces after "Go".
Although many who only knew the Reading through print media (such as the Monopoly board) pronounced its name "REED-ing", it was actually pronounced "REDD-ing".