Railroad: Michigan Central railroad

The Michigan Central railroad was organized by Boston financers in 1846 to purchase the "Central" line which was built and owned by the State of Michigan. Around 1878, the Vanderbilt family asserted control of the company through stock purchases, and the line (along with the Canada Southern) began a slow integration into the New York Central system, which was completed in 1930. In addition to the main line from Detroit to Chicago, the MC purchased branch lines all over Michigan.

"Central" line → Michigan Central Railroad  New York Central System

Chartered: 1846

Purchased from the State of Michigan: 1846.



The Michigan Central railroad was created primarily by Boston capitalists for the purpose of purchasing the "Central" line from the State of Michigan. See "Central" line. In the late 1830's, the state had invested in several public works projects consisting of new railroads and canals. The "central" project was one of these. Though more successful than the other public works projects, the state decided to exist these projects and this line, radiating west from Detroit was sold to the Michigan Central.

MC Stag Hound locomotiveMC Conductor Charles Milliken

The Michigan Central was a profitable and successful railroad over the years, known for many innovations. It became controlled by Vanderbilt interests ( NYC&HR) and in 1916 was merged into the New York Central System. But it continued to be called the " Michigan Central" by many, and in fact the great Michigan Central passenger station in Detroit is still known by that name. 

Photo Info: Top, this is MCRR No. 20, the "Stag Hound", taken in 1854. The locomotive was a product of the Lowell Locomotive Works. Note the large driver wheels which provided speed necessary for passenger train operations. The locomotive was also equipped with an oil headlight for night operations. This was a typical new locomotive purchase in the 1850's. [Doug Leffler collection]. 2nd photo, MC conductor Charles Milliken making a self portrait in his caboose in 1915. [Doug Leffler collection]

Time Line:

Acquired: 1846 - "Central" line from State of Michigan, Detroit to Kalamazoo.

Built: 1852 - Kalamazoo to Chicago.

Leased: 1870 - Kalamazoo & South Haven. Consolidated in 1916.

Leased: 1870 - Grand River Valley. Consolidated 1916.

Leased: 1871 - Michigan Air Line railroad. Consolidated in 1916.

Leased: 1871 - Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw. Consolidated in 1916.

Leased: 1881 - Detroit & Bay City. Consolidated in 1916.

Operating agreement: 1882 - Canada Southern Railway. (Leased in 1904).

Leased: 1883 - Saginaw Bay & Northwestern.

Leased: 1888 - Lansing Transit.

Leased: 1889 - Bay City & Battle Creek railroad and Battle Creek & Sturgis railroad. Consolidated in 1916.

Control: 1891 - Grayling, Twin Lakes & Northeastern.

Control: 1894 - Buchanan & St. Joseph River. Consolidated 1916.

Control: 1895 - Detroit, Delray & Dearborn (at incorporation). Consolidated in 1916.

Leased: 1902 - Detroit Manufacturers railroad.

Control: 1902 - Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee (50% with Lake Shore & Michigan Southern). Leased in 1905.

Lease assigned: 1905 - St. Joseph, South Bend & Southern.

Leased: 1905 - Lansing Manufacturers railroad (50% with Lake Shore & Michigan Southern).

Control: 1905 - Detroit Terminal (25%, along with Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (25%) and GTW.

Leased: 1906 - Toledo, Canada Southern & Detroit. Consolidated in 1916.

Control: 1906 - Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw.

Leased: 1907 - Detroit River Tunnel Company.

Control: 1907 - Detroit & Charlevoix. Consolidated 1916.

Leased: 1909 - Detroit Belt Line. Consolidated in 1916.

Leased To: 1930 - to New York Central railroad.

Bought: 1961 - Detroit, Hillsdale & South Western.

Conveyed: 1976 - certain properties to Consolidated Rail Corporation.

Conveyed: 1978 - rail properties to Penn Central Corporation.

Reference: [MRRC]

1878. Oct. 31. James F. Joy resigned the position of counsel to the MCRR as of the last annual meeting. [DFP-1878-1031]

1880. The railroad pays the remaining $70,000 to resolve disputes from the recent accident at Jackson. [MCAR-1880]

June 28, 1895. The MC is laying new rails, 80-lb. section on 28 miles of its track west of Niles, Mich. [RG]

August 9, 1895. The MCRR has ordered from the General Electric Co. two search lights with which to illuminate Niagara Falls. The lamps will be of 100,000 candlepower each, and will have 48 inch reflectors. They will be placed near Falls View station. [RG]

November 29, 1895. The Superintendent of the United State Mail Service has arranged for postal cars on fast trains between Buffalo and Detroit, through Canada, by the Michigan Central. [RG]

1903. President Ledyard of the Michigan Central is to retire August 1 and W. H. Newman, president of the New York Central and the Lake Shore roads will be made president of the Michigan Central. This plan is similar to the PRR. [DFP-1903-0620]

1903. SHAPSHOT: The MC operated 461 locomotives, 24 12-wheel passenger carfs, 244 8-wheel passenger cars, 117 baggage/express cars, 8,842 box cars, 651 stock cars, 2,290 platform cars, 2,124 ore cars, and 280 conductor way cars. The railroad also owned 25 snow flangers, 5 snow plows, 2 pile drivers, 8 steam shovels, 2 steam wricking cranes, 3 steam derricks, 4 hand derricks, 113 side dukmp construction cars, 130 tool cars, 65 boarding cars and 35 oil tank cars. The five largest cetegories of freight hauled in tons were: bituminous coal (16%), lumber (9%), anthracite coal (8%), grain (7%) and stone (6%). [MCR-1904]

December 30, 1904. The Michigan Central orders fourteen 2-8-0 , three 4-6-2 and seventeen 4-6-0 locomotives from the American Locomotive Company. The MC also orders 1,500 box cars and 800 stock cars from the American Car & Foundry company. [RG]

October 27, 1905. The MCRR begins using Eastern Time in their timetables. [RG-1905-1027:129]

1920. The Michigan Central railroad serves 733 industries in Detroit with 719 sidings and a car capacity of 7,124 cars. They have 242 sets of team tracks which hold 1,214 cars and ten freight houses. [DWT-1920] This is the largest capacity to serve industry of all railroads in the Detroit market.

September 18, 1926. The MC orders ten coaches from the Pullman Car & Manufacturing Company, and ten baggage cars from the American Car & Foundry. [RR]

October 7, 1926. The MC reports that steam-operated bell ringers have been installed on all locomotives. [RR]