Early life and career
Samuel Rea was born in 1855 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His parents were James D. Rea and Ruth Blair Moore. His paternal grandfather General John Rea was in the United States Congress from Bedford and Franklin, Pennsylvania, during the terms of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Through the marriage of his father's siblings he was related to the Asa Childs and the Henry Clay Frick families. Samuel's father died when Samuel was 13.
He began his vocational life as a clerk in a country store. In 1871, Rea began his connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) at 16. He worked for the PRR for most of his career. He left the PRR during 1875 to 1879 to work for the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, and he worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in the late 1880s.:39
Samuel Rea married Mary Black, the daughter of Jane Black. In 1880, Samuel and Mary lived with her widowed mother and family in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Their children, born after 1880, include George Rea and Ruth Rea.
By age 31, Rea was assistant engineer in the construction of chain suspension bridges over the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh. He began as a rodman (surveyor's assistant) in 1871, at a time when the PRR had hardly outgrown its original (1846) charter, which provided that it should extend from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh. Not only did he see the road pass through the greater part of the expansion which has made it a 12,000-mile (19,000 km) system, but it was directly through his efforts that the Pennsylvania secured access to Manhattan.
In the mid-1880s, Rea supported a proposal by consulting engineer Gustav Lindenthal to build a large bridge across the Hudson River from Jersey City, New Jersey to Manhattan. Due to the enormous costs of the proposal, a decision on the project would not come for many years. In 1889 Rea resigned from the PRR due to frustration with his lack of advancement within the company, and he went to work for the B&O. He worked on the B&O's Belt Line project in central Baltimore, which included a new tunnel and the use of electric locomotives.:39-40
In 1892 Rea was rehired by the PRR and reported directly to President George Brooke Roberts. In his new position Rea explored multiple options for crossing the Hudson, and eventually renewed his support for Lindenthal's bridge proposal. However, other railroads declined to share in the project costs, and the financial constraints of the Panic of 1893 made that prospect unlikely for the rest of the decade.:41-43 By 1900, as the economy improved, Rea and Lindenthal continued to press for the bridge project, but to no avail.:53-54 The PRR then took a more serious look at building tunnels under the river, and this option was supported by Alexander Cassatt, who had become PRR President in 1899. Under Cassatt's and Rea's leadership, the New York Tunnel Extension project commenced in 1903 and was completed in 1910.:127,277
Rea later arranged with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to build the Hell Gate Bridge over the East River, which gave the PRR access to upstate New York and New England.
In 1886, Samuel Rea became a member of the New York Stock Exchange—being the first seat held in the city of Pittsburgh. He remained a member for 12 years. In 1888, he published a book called “The Railways Terminating in London: With a Description of the Terminating Stations”.
President of the Pennsylvania Railroad
Rea became President of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1913. As head of the PRR system employing 250,000 men, he became one of the three or four dominating powers in American transportation. Rea was considered largely responsible for many features of the Esch-Cummins Act, whereby the railroads were returned to private control in 1920 after World War I.
Samuel Rea was a member of the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, whose earthen dam failed in May 1889, causing the Johnstown Flood. After the flood, Rea removed to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to an estate called "Waverly Heights," designed by architect Addison Hutton. Waverly Heights later became a lifecare community in Gladwyne.
Rea was reared in the Presbyterian faith and said he preferred reading Prof. Moffet’s translation of the Bible. Samuel Rea retired as President of the Pennsylvania Railroad system in 1925 at the age of 70, having served as President from 1913 to 1925. He served as President of the Long Island Rail Road, a PRR subsidiary, from 1923 to 1928. Rea died in March 1929.
Simultaneously with the tunnel project, the PRR began construction of its massive Pennsylvania Station in New York City. The project was completed under PRR president James McCrea, and the station opened in 1910. It was built to accommodate as many as half a million daily passengers, and Rea, who became PRR president in 1913, found himself defending against charges that the station had been wastefully overbuilt. Time was to prove him right. By 1919 the station was accommodating almost 35 million travelers a year, eclipsing the nearby Grand Central Terminal as the busiest New York station. Less than a decade later more than 60 million used it annually, enough to make it the most heavily-used railroad station in all of North America. By 1939 its yearly traffic had reached a then-record level of almost 66 million passengers.
- Jonnes, Jill (2007). Conquering Gotham - A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-03158-0.
- Boucher, John Newton (1908). A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People. 4: 1854-1933. Lewis Publishing Co. p. 223.
- Time Magazine, Jan 4, 1924
- American Heritage: “Penn Station Lives!” by William D. Middleton, Fall 1997
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Samuel Rea.|
- "Samuel Rea as the New Prometheus" – millinerd.com (blog)
|President of Pennsylvania Railroad
William W. Atterbury