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Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company records

Identifier: CB&Q-Main

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, reports, maps, blueprints, financial documents, advertising materials, photographs, and other items documenting the history of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company (CB&Q). The CB&Q’s growth and expansion, both organizationally as a corporation, and geographically as it built westward, is well represented. The collection contains significant material related to CB&Q’s participation in the federal land grant program, the other railroads it absorbed, the company’s disputes and negotiations with organized labor, and other aspects of railroad management. Photographs include travel and tourist destinations along Burlington routes in the West and Midwest, as well images of employees, property, and equipment.

A corresponding online subject gallery, CB&Q: Building an Empire, features images from the collection divided into 11 subject areas: CB&Q: Building an Empire; Environmental History; Genealogy & Local History; Machinery & Technology; Maps & Geography; Migration & Settlement; Photographs; Politics; Printing, Advertising & Design; Strikes & Labor; and Travel & Tourism. Each image is linked to its appropriate place in the inventories. In addition, the gallery includes 5 in-depth essays, or Panoramas, also illustrated with images of materials from the collection. Panoramas include CB&Q Photographs, Women & the Railway Age, The Pioneer Zephyr, The Land Department, and the Strike of 1888.

Because of its large size, the collection is divided into twenty Record Groups, each with a separate inventory.


  • Creation: 1820-1999



Materials are primarily in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company records are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company records are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

History of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company

Commonly known as the Burlington, the CB&Q was formed in 1855 from a small local predecessor line, the Aurora Branch Railroad, located in northeastern Illinois. Directed by Boston financier John Murray Forbes and managed by Charles Elliott Perkins, the company expanded rapidly in the post-Civil War era westward across Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado to Denver. It also acquired the Hannibal and St. Joseph Line through Missouri, built a new line from Chicago to St. Paul, and purchased or constructed hundreds of branch lines along its main routes. By 1901, when Minnesota railroad baron James J. Hill acquired its stock, the railroad employed over 35,000 people and encompassed 7,500 miles of track, forming a web of connections through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. It continued to operate independently well into the twentieth century and to expand operations, acquiring southerly extensions from Chicago into Kentucky, and a north-south through route from Wyoming to the Gulf of Mexico. At its height in 1925, the CB&Q exceeded 12,000 route miles in fourteen states.

In addition to its railroad operations, the CB&Q, like many western railroads, recognized that its future depended on the prosperity of emergent communities and the surrounding countryside served by its routes. To sell its federal land grant acreage in Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, the firm actively sought settlers in the United States and foreign countries, and provided passage and temporary housing in immigrant homes. It fostered improved agricultural conditions, establishing experimental farms and deploying demonstration trains along its routes. It established towns, supported the development of schools, churches, and other institutions in communities made viable by its presence, and started local industries including coal mines and grain elevators. It was also a pioneer in promoting tourism to the Colorado Rockies, Yellowstone, the Black Hills, Glacier, and other scenic sites throughout the American West.

The CB&Q was also well known for technological innovation. It operated the first printing telegraph in 1910, became the first railroad to use train radio in 1915, and was among the first to employ centralized traffic control. Perhaps the company’s best known achievement came in 1934, when it introduced the revolutionary Pioneer Zephyr, America’s first diesel-electric powered streamlined passenger train.

In 1970, CB&Q merged with the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, and Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad.


2341.6 Linear Feet


Correspondence, reports, maps, blueprints, financial documents, advertising materials, photographs, and other items documenting the history of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company (CB&Q), which existed from 1855 to 1970.


Papers are organized in the following record groups:

Record Groups 1&2 : Predecessor Companies: The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, 1854-1889; The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Rail Road Company, 1849-1889
2.3 linear feet (5.5 boxes)
Record Group 3: Correspondence, 1857-1918
319.6 linear feet (771 boxes and 1 oversize box)
Record Group 31: Correspondence by Office, 1875-1909
19 linear feet (45.5 boxes)
Record Group 32: Historical and Printed Materials, 1849-1999
132 linear feet (172 boxes, 89 volumes, 8 record cartons, 7 oversize boxes, 2 flat file folders, and 4 index card boxes)
Record Group 33: Decade Subject File, 1856-1935, bulk 1860-1920
113.2 linear feet (177.5 boxes, 28 oversize volumes, 15 oversize boxes, 2 flat file folders, and 7 oversize rolls)
Record Group 36: Auditor's Office, 1855-1914
43.9 linear feet (7.5 boxes and 85 oversize volumes)
Record Group 4: Securities, 1856-1922
106.7 linear feet (39 boxes, 1 oversize box, and 137 volumes)
Record Group 5: Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Iowa, 1852-1919
44.6 linear feet (22 boxes and 37 oversize volumes)
Record Group 6: Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska, 1850-1914
121.7 linear feet (124 boxes, 1 oversize box, 121 oversize volumes, and 2 oversize rolls)
Record Group 7: Land Department, 1852-1934
491.5 linear feet (745.5 boxes, 10 oversize boxes, 282 oversize volumes, and 2 flat file folders)
Record Group 8: Other Corporations, 1820-1964, bulk 1870-1900
509.6 linear feet (355.5 boxes, 510 oversize volumes, and 8 oversize boxes)
Record Group A-1: Office of the President, 1924-1955
10.4 linear feet (20 boxes and 1 oversize box)
Record Group A-2: Advertising Department, 1850s-1960s
4.3 linear feet (4 boxes and 2 oversize boxes)
Record Group A-3: General Passenger Traffic Department Records, 1924-1965
50.7 linear feet (94.5 boxes, 10 record cartons, and 1 oversize box)
Record Group A-4: Personal Papers, 1862-1934
1.5 linear feet (3.5 boxes)
Record Group A-5: Photographs, Artwork, and Audiovisual, ca. 1852-1975
51 linear feet (93.5 boxes, 13 oversize boxes, and 1 flat file folder)
Record Group A-6: Maps, Blueprints, and Drawings, 1870-1971
26.8 linear feet (.5 box, 2 oversize boxes, 17 flat file folders, 1 oversize folder, 2 oversize volumes, 1 oversize item, and 53 rolls )
Record Group A-7: Aurora Laboratory Records, 1876-1906
8.6 linear feet (20.5 boxes)
Record Group A-8: Master Mechanic's Records, 1886-1966, bulk 1886-1895
0.8 linear feet (2 boxes)
Record Group A-9: Payroll Records, 1879-1938, bulk 1889-1900
282.9 linear feet (422 volumes and 1 box)

Collection Stack Location

4a 36-44; 4a 21; 4a flat file drawers


Deposit of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Company, 1943, with subsequent additions, 1948-onward. Ownership transferred to Newberry Library by Burlington Northern Company, 1975.

Processed by

Martha Briggs, Alison Hinderliter, Lisa Janssen, Kelly Kress, Emma Martin, Andrew Olofsson, and Pamela Olson, 2014.

Inventory of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company records, 1820-1999CB&QCB&Q.Main
Finding aid prepared by Alison Hinderliter and Kelly Kress
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States