Great Northern 1949 Annual Report

And the winner of the most boring cover photo on a Great Northern annual report in the 1940s is . . . 1949! Seriously, the bridge under construction in the photo could be anywhere; it could be a highway bridge. All it really illustrates is that the railway was spending its profits on line improvements instead of returning them to stockholders as dividends.

Click image to download a 23.3-MB PDF of this 28-page report.

This report is missing all of the tables of statistics that made up the second half of previous reports in the 1940s. Instead, these were published as separate statistical supplements. I don’t have the statistical supplement for 1949, but I have a few others that I’ll post in the future.

The report has no photos of passenger trains and very little to say about passenger service. It does note that passenger revenues declined by 7.6 percent and that, despite the decline, the railway had ordered 115 new passenger cars, including a replacement Empire Builder and new trains between Seattle-Vancouver and Grand Forks-St. Paul. The cars would cost $129,000 each, or about $1 million in today’s dollars.

While there are no photos of passenger trains, there is a photo of a passenger locomotive, E7 number 503, on page 4. Strangely, the goat on the Great Northern logo is facing the wrong way. As delivered, the E7s had goat logos on the sides, with the right-side logo facing to the right so it would be looking forward. But GN quickly repainted them, putting a left-facing goat on the locomotive’s nose, as shown on other photos of number 503 (such as one on page 18 of the 1945 annual report). Some illustrator must have flipped the goat somehow, and either no one caught it (which seems unlikely) or it was some sort of an inside joke.

Page 17 of the report notes that 1949 was the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Great Northern, and it includes the minutes of the board meeting in which the company was created. Hill wanted a company with a broader charter than came with the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba, the name of the road he was then running. Rather than go to the legislature and ask for a broader charter, he acquired the Minneapolis & St. Cloud Railroad, a company that existed only on paper but whose charter was more to Hill’s liking.

The minutes record a board meeting on September 16, 1889, at which the board did nothing but vote to change the name from Minneapolis & St. Cloud to the Great Northern Railway Company. The minutes, written by Edward Sawyer, who was secretary of both the St. Cloud and Manitoba roads, are in a very elegant hand; the words “Great Northern Railway” could almost be used on a letterhead and in fact resemble the script used on the nose of the as-delivered E7 locomotives.

Only three other board members were present: President Hill, Alexander, and Bode. Alexander was probably Walter S. Alexander, freight agent for the Manitoba road and also president of the Eastern Minnesota Railway, another Hill road. Bode was Adolphus H. Bode, the Manitoba’s comptroller. In other words, they were all really Hill’s employees. A curious side point is that September 16, 1889, was James J. Hill’s 51st birthday.

In 1890, the Great Northern’s stockholders elected a real board, most if not all of whom were on the Manitoba’s board. These included Hill and Sawyer but not Alexander or Bode. GN leased the Manitoba road for 999 years


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