The railroad designs of Frank Furness: Architecture and corporate imagery in the late nineteenth century

Preston Thayer, University of Pennsylvania


Between 1880 and 1910, the Philadelphia architect Frank Furness (1839-1912) produced nearly two hundred designs for three of the nation's largest railroads. As a salaried employee of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad between 1880 and 1885, Furness created a de facto corporate image by applying his unique design sensibility to railroad stations, passenger cars, and myriad ancillary structures throughout eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey. From 1886 to 1890, his work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad explored the efficiencies of standardized plans while creating a distinct group of stations along a politically contentious line between Baltimore and Philadelphia. After 1890, his firm Furness, Evans and Company designed stations from Pittsburgh to the Hudson River for the Pennsylvania Railroad, including some of the most prestigious commissions from this, the largest corporation in America.^ Forty years of railroad company correspondence, some only recently made available to scholars, was examined to document Furness' working relationships with railroad executives, engineers, and contractors. The secondary literature in image theory, railroad architecture, and business architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was read to form a contextual basis for discussing Furness' work.^ The thesis presents Furness as an exemplar of the increasing interconnections between big business and its architecture in the 1880s and 1890s. The developing professionalization of architecture and the beginnings of corporate identity creation through architecture are addressed, and a catalogue raisonne is presented of nearly two hundred projects that Furness created between 1876 and 1906 for three major railroads, the largest body of work by this important American architect.^ In the 1880s, the expression of corporate identity was developing as a form of communication, and architecture--and particularly railroad architecture--was to assist at its birth. Frank Furness was an exemplar of the American architect in this new role, and his professional identity was shaped by it, as shown by his patent and trademark activity. It was a role that would expand the professional horizons of the nineteenth century architect and form a prelude to the corporate imagery programs of the twentieth century. ^

Subject Area

Biography|American Studies|Art History|Architecture

Recommended Citation

Thayer, Preston, "The railroad designs of Frank Furness: Architecture and corporate imagery in the late nineteenth century" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9321487.