National Park Service
Special Hisory Study
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The Altoona Works are one of the most important railroad shop complexes in America. From modest beginnings in 1850 as one of several railroad shops along the main route of the Pennsylvania Railroad, this grew to become one of the world's largest railroad repair and construction operations of locomotives and cars by 1945. Today, this complex continues to repair locomotives having successfully made the transition from steam to diesel and electric operations. This marks it as one of the oldest railway shop complexes in continuous operation, having conducted car and locomotive construction and repairs for more than 130 years under the management of three companies. The most impressive development here, besides the sheer magnitude of repair and construction operations, was the Pennsylvania Railroad development of a test department beginning in 1875. The Pennsylvania Railroad led the nation in the development of research and testing programs of practical value for the industry. The original test department remained active until 1968. Shortly after this date, most of the structures associated with the test department were demolished. A notable exception to this is the Conrail Ninth Avenue and Twelfth Street Office Building which housed the test department from 1874 until 1914. Pennsylvania Railroad management rarely was innovative, but took proven ideas and developed them fully. This can be illustrated in the use of the locomotive test plant set up for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and moved to Altoona the next year. This facility was demolished in 1968.

The Altoona shops constructed a wide variety of locomotives and cars used by American railroads. The most significant contributions can be found in the construction of the first all-steel passenger, mail, and baggage cars in 1906 and 1907. In the engineering of locomotives, the engine that best represents the Altoona design school is the K4 which was first designed in 1914.

Major National Park Service history themes represented at the Altoona Works include: XII. Business, B. Manufacturing Organizations, 2. Transportation Equipment is not represented by any site in the National Park Service; XII. Business, B. Manufacturing Organizations, 4. Fabricated Metal and Glass Products is represented by one site not related to the railroad industry; the theme XIV. Transportation, E. Railroads is represented by three sites, all relating to the American railroad industry; and the theme XVIII. Technology (Engineering and Invention), B. Transportation is represented by three sites with one relating to the American railroad industry; and XXX. American Ways of Life, J. Occupational and Economic Classes is represented by two sites, none relating to the American railroad industry. Minor themes at Altoona Works include: XXXI Social and Humanitarian Movements, H. Labor Organizations, which is not currently represented by any site in the National Park Service.


A number of studies are appropriate for this site. A special history study should be undertaken to go into greater detail concerning the ethnic groups which served as workers in Altoona and evaluation of the integrity of their neighborhoods. Another special history study should be completed on the role of the Altoona shops in the history of American railroading and railroad technology. Historic structure reports should be written for the most significant structures remaining in the Altoona Works.

National Register of Historic Places forms should be written when the role of the National Park Service in Altoona is further defined. The records of the Pennsylvania Railroad at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware, would be searched more thoroughly for material when they become fully inventoried and available to researchers. The same statement holds true for material at the state archives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, concerning the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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Last Updated: 22-Oct-2004