Jerry Summers: The Railway Express Agency (1917-1975)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

In 1917 the United States government created a national monopoly which provided for transportation by rail for small package and parcel delivery using the national infrastructure interstate road system and FedEx as the primary aviation carrier along with UPS.

The creation of REA arose out of governmental concerns which originated during World War I pertaining to the movement of parcels, goods, and money.  REA was one of the entities created to address these issues and it remained a viable business until 1975 when competition from the tractor trailer and aviation industries made it outdated. It was forced into bankruptcy in November of that year.

By 1900, four principal express parcel businesses that used the existing railroad structure operated in competition with each other. During World War I seven express companies were consolidated as the United States Railroad Administration (USRA).  However, in the South the Southern Railroad system was excluded from the nationalization of the system.

In 1929 the Railway Express Agency (REA) was created by combining three companies into one freight railway entity.  The REA had a monopoly and unique setup whereby it was the sole express business to move goods via rail and the railroads transported freight cars.  The REA shipped a wide variety of products including animals, hazardous materials, explosives, and even fruits and vegetables.

The most profitable period for the REA was World War II but the railroad industry in general began to diminish after the war.  With increased competition from Federal Express in the late 1950’s, the REA continued to have financial difficulties. 

Its service expanded into piggy back and intermodal container and truck trailer movements in the 1960’s which provided some short-term relief but that also failed to produce sufficient income to sustain the business.

In 1969 the Railway Express Agency was sold to five of its officers and renamed as the REA Express, but unfortunately it continued to decline in profits.  Eventually they declared bankruptcy and the company exited the railroad transportation industry.

During its heyday the green trucks of the company were a familiar sight on the streets and highways of Tennessee and elsewhere. It maintained business locations at both the Union and Terminal railroad stations in downtown Chattanooga.

 * * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  

 

Southern Express employees in Chattanooga
Southern Express employees in Chattanooga

Jerry Summers: Ernest W. Holmes Sr. - Towing Pioneer

New Hamilton County Marriage Licenses

Jerry Summers: Laurence Durwood Sies And The Peerless Clipper World War II Aircraft


The world’s first tow truck was built in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1916, when Ernest W. Holmes, Sr. mounted the industry’s first vehicle to the body of a 1913 Cadillac. Mr. Holmes was born ... (click for more)

Here are the new marriage licenses from the County Clerk's office: MALAY PRAVINKUMAR SHAH SUHANI PARESH SHETH 13 WALGROVE MEWS SE 1701 N CONCORD RD #57 CALGARY, AB T2X4A3 CANADA CHATTANOOGA, ... (click for more)

During World War II it was a common practice to have some type of insignia or saying on the nose of a bomber that reflected some correlation to a hometown or person of the crew. On July 3, 1942, ... (click for more)



Happenings

Jerry Summers: Ernest W. Holmes Sr. - Towing Pioneer

The world’s first tow truck was built in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1916, when Ernest W. Holmes, Sr. mounted the industry’s first vehicle to the body of a 1913 Cadillac. Mr. Holmes was born on January 17, 1883 in Hobbs Island, Alabama and moved to Chattanooga, setting up a garage and workshop. The aforementioned Cadillac was modified to enable Holmes to pull and transport cars ... (click for more)

New Hamilton County Marriage Licenses

Here are the new marriage licenses from the County Clerk's office: MALAY PRAVINKUMAR SHAH SUHANI PARESH SHETH 13 WALGROVE MEWS SE 1701 N CONCORD RD #57 CALGARY, AB T2X4A3 CANADA CHATTANOOGA, TN 37421 DENNIS CRAIG DRAKE, SR GINGER RENE SANDERS 4809 ORCHARD VIEW AVE 4809 ORCHARD VIEW AVE CHATTANOOGA, TN 37415 CHATTANOOGA, TN 37415 LUKE BURROUGHS CHARLOTTE ELAINE ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Coronavirus Cases Rise By 1,291 In Tennessee; There Are Nine More Virus Deaths

Coronavirus cases in Tennessee rose by 1,291, bringing the total to 51,431, state health officials said on Sunday. Of the total, 30,254 have recovered. There were nine more deaths in the state, bringing the total to 646. Officials said 11 more have been hospitalized - up to 2,871. Tennessee is approaching 900,000 on its testing program. Hamilton County has had 53 ... (click for more)

Shooting On Hickory Valley Road Leaves Man In Critical Condition

A shooting on Sunday afternoon left a man with critical injuries. The incident happened at 1521 Hickory Valley Road. The victim was taken to the hospital by Hamilton County EMS. (click for more)

Opinion

Time To Examine Tax Breaks For Churches - And Response (2)

Churches are classified for tax purposes as 501(c)(3) organizations. This means contributions to them are generally tax deductible and they pay no property taxes on their real estate facilities. In return for this there are certain restrictions they must follow, the most important being: "Specifically, 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from engaging in excessive political ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Side Of Freedom

J.R.R Tolkien, who quite famously wrote books like ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, made a very astute observation one day before he died almost 50 years ago. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us.” None of us knows when the bell will toll, so my sole responsibility is to squeeze the most and best and brightest out of “the time given me” and I enjoy ... (click for more)