In the later part of the 1800s and throughout the Progressive Era, the United States experienced a great expansion of its railroad industry, which resulted in many partnerships, mergers, and changes in leadership. Among railroad companies that became a dominant force in the industry was the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company (originally the Aurora Branch Railroad), which was purchased in 1901 by James Jerome Hill. Hill, a businessman and resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, also owned the Great Northern Railway and other entities. Hill's other business interests included mining, timber, land, and livestock--all industries with ties to the transportation industry, and particularly to railroads as the country became more reliant upon this mode of transportation. Hill was noted for his business acumen and competition with other wealthy men and families of the time--J.P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, and E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific--who eventually pooled their resources to form the Northern Securities Company.
Northern Securities Company was a holding company, set up to hold a controlling part of the stock of other companies, essentially to control four big railroads of the Northwest. During a period of much labor unrest and migration to the country's Midwestern and Northwestern regions, people were left at the mercy of one big conglomerate that had a stronghold on the industry. It is important to note that the Northwestern Securities Company (at President Theodore Roosevelt's request) was sued by the United States government through invocation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
In March of 1904, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruled in favor of the United States and ordered the Northern Securities Company dissolved (Northern Securities Company vs. United States 193 U.S. 197). While the images in this collection are not known to be tied to the court case, they do provide details of many construction projects that are significant to the railroad expansion occurring at that time. The bulk of the collection focuses on railway bridge construction. Also included are photos of the Metropolis Bridge in Metropolis, Illinois, which was overseen in part by Ralph Modjeski. Modjeski was a lauded civil engineer who wrote the engineering manual Standard Designs for Steel Bridges for the Northern Pacific Railway Company. Additionally, the collection includes earlier photographic negatives showing construction from 1890 to 1894 of the Mound Street Viaduct and buildings at the corner of the Main and Brooklyn Streets in St. Louis, Missouri.