Milepost 100

In 1933, the Burlington claimed to be 83 years old, which would mean it was born in 1850. But later the company decided its centennial would be in 1949, based on when its earliest predecessor received its charter. It is quite possible it made this decision because Ralph Budd planned to retire in 1949, when he turned 70, and he wanted to be around for the celebration. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this event, it published this booklet by Richard C. Overton.

Click image to download a 24.5-MB PDF of this booklet.

Overton was a professor of business history at Northwestern University. While getting his PhD in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he worked for the Burlington Railroad for several years, serving for a time as an executive assistant to the history-loving Ralph Budd. In that capacity, he no doubt helped persuade Ralph Budd to turn over many tons of corporate records to library archives at Harvard (where Overton received his PhD) and the Newberry Library in Chicago. His friendship with Budd led the railroad to commission this booklet.

At a meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association in Lexington, Kentucky, he met other historians interested in rail history, and together they founded a group dedicated to the subject which they called (after the city they were in) the Lexington Group in Transportation History. This was an informal but invitation-only historical association that often sponsored (and still sponsors) rail trips for its members. Just don’t call them rail fans–they’re historians!

Overton later wrote a three-volume history of the Burlington Route that he cut down to one volume for popular consumption. This 1965 book is often considered a model for railroad histories. As another rail historian once wrote of Overton, “He showed us the way.” Overton’s last book was a dual biography of Charles Perkins, Burlington’s president from 1881 to 1901, and Ralph Budd, who was president from 1932 to 1949. The book is out of print but is briefly summarized in this essay.

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