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

Operated For 84 years

Purchased from the State of Michigan: 1846

Control by: Vanderbilt lines - around 1878

Merged into: New York Central in 1930.




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 exit 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]


Michigan Central Trackside With Emery Gulash

Time Line

1846. Acquires the "Central" line from State of Michigan, from Detroit to Kalamazoo.

1852. Builds from Kalamazoo to Chicago.

1870. Leased the Kalamazoo & South Haven. Consolidated in 1916.

1870. Leased the Grand River Valley. Consolidated 1916.

1871. Leased the Michigan Air Line railroad. Consolidated in 1916.

1871. Leased the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw. Consolidated in 1916.

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]

1881. Leased the Detroit & Bay City. Consolidated in 1916.

1882. Operating agreement for the Canada Southern Railway. (Leased in 1904).

1883. Leased the Saginaw Bay & Northwestern.

1888. Leased the Lansing Transit railroad.

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

1891. Controlled the Grayling, Twin Lakes & Northeastern.

1894. Controlled the Buchanan & St. Joseph River. Consolidated 1916.

1895. Controlled the Detroit, Delray & Dearborn (at incorporation). Consolidated in 1916.

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

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]

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]

1902. January 11. The MCRR reorganizes, surrendering its special charter, and re-incorporating the company under the general railroad law. [MCR-1902]

1902. Leased the Detroit Manufacturers railroad.

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

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 cars, 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 wrecking cranes, 3 steam derricks, 4 hand derricks, 113 side dump construction cars, 130 tool cars, 65 boarding cars and 35 oil tank cars. The five largest categories of freight hauled in tons were: bituminous coal (16%), lumber (9%), anthracite coal (8%), grain (7%) and stone (6%). [MCR-1904]

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]

1905. Leased assigned of the St. Joseph, South Bend & Southern.

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

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

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

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

1906. Control of the Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw.

1906. SNAPSHOT. November. The Michigan Central dispatches 29 trains each day from the Third Street station along the river in Detroit:

  • Westbound: Chicago Express (2), Grand Rapids, Chicago Special, Mail & Express, The Wolverine, Grand Rapids Special, Chicago Express, Hillsdale Express, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids Express.
  • Eastbound: St. Thomas Accommodation (2), American Express, NY & Boston Express (4), and The Wolverine.
  • Northbound: Northern Peninsula Special (2) and Saginaw & Bay City Express (2).
  • Southbound: Cincinnati Express (2), Grosse Isle Accommodation (3), Queen City Limited, Pittsburg & Indiana Express. 

1907. Leased the Detroit River Tunnel Company.

1907. Control of the Detroit & Charlevoix. Consolidated 1916.

1909. Leased the Detroit Belt Line. Consolidated in 1916.

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.

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

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

1930. Leases their railroad to the New York Central railroad.

1961. Bought the Detroit, Hillsdale & South Western.

1976. Conveyed certain properties to Consolidated Rail Corporation.

1978. Conveyed rail properties to Penn Central Corporation.

Reference: [MRRC] and other sources.



The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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