D.K. Minor in the digital age

In March 1910, the University of Illinois library received a bound set of the first sixty volumes of the American Railroad Journal from A. H. Grant of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Grant's stationery proclaims him to have been a "Dealer in Technical Periodicals Only" ("Services Prompt - Prices Reasonable - Terms Cash"). Grant closed his letter asking that the library make the "earliest possible remittance, as I had to pay cash, not an easy matter at this time of year."

One hundred years later, the university partnered with the Internet Archive to make these same bound volumes available over the internet. I found the volumes (including Grant's letter, scanned in the the first volume) through HathiTrust, a staggering collection of online materials from a consortium of research libraries. HathiTrust takes the time and effort to get the metadata correct, meaning that searches can be executed with Library of Congress subject headings and a host of other methods.

D. K. Minor began publishing the American Railroad Journal in January 1832. At the time, railroads powered by steam were hardly a sure bet. Yet Minor believed that the time was right for a journal dedicated to internal improvements. He made his goal clear in the very first issue, stating that he wanted to "diffuse a more general knowledge of this important mode of internal communication, which, at this time, appears to engage the attention of almost every section of the country." The American Railroad Journal was an exceptionally important resource for me when writing Railroads in the Old South, since I could mine its pages for evidence that southern railroad developments were engaged in a broader, national conversation about internal improvement. Minor's journal existed during the nullification controversy and the run-up to the Civil War, allowing me to judge how railroad promoters balanced sectional politics with their goals of a national system of internal improvements.

At the time of its publication, Minor's journal was read all over the country, as the lists of subscribers printed in the journal attested. Now that the journal is available on the internet, his goal of "diffus[ing]" knowledge about railroads is even easier to accomplish. While I don't regret the time I spent hunkered over the microfilm version of the journal when I was researching my first book, I am certainly glad to see that this critical source for U.S. railroad history available online.

Additional reading: Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, volume 2, 1850-1865 (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1938), pages 297-300 covers the history of the journal. See also "One Hundred Years with the Railroads," Railway Mechanical Engineer 105 (October 1932): 385-392, 401.