In 1995, a nearly complete collection of the annual reports of the earliest interstate and common carrier railroad in the U. S., the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O), was rediscovered in the archival collection at the Bruno Library of the University of Alabama. Dating from the company's inception in 1827 to its acquisition by the Chessie System in 1962, the reports present a unique opportunity for the exploration, study, and analysis of early U.S. corporate disclosure practice. This paper represents a study of the annual report information made publicly available by one of America's first railroads, and one of the first modern U.S. corporations.

In this paper, early annual reports of the B&O which detail its formation, construction, and operation are catalogued as to content and evaluated. Mandated in the corporate charter, the annual “statement of affairs” presented by the management and directors to stockholders is studied as a process and as a product that instigated the institutional corporate practice recognized today as “annual reporting.” Using a single company methodology for assessment of reporting follows a pattern developed by Claire [1945] in his analysis of U.S. Steel and utilized by other researchers. This study demonstrates the use of archival information to improve understanding about the origins and contents of early annual reports and, therein, related disclosure forms.

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