The Early Years
Reading Terminal Market opened its doors in 1893. The new Market was approximately 78,000 square feet and held nearly 800 spaces for merchants, each positioned in six foot stalls. The Market was laid out in a grid system similar to the streets of Philadelphia. There were twelve aisles and four avenues. It was the perfect location for easily receiving and shipping goods.
Soon after opening, the new state-of-the-art Reading Terminal Market would boast that its refrigeration facility was by far the biggest in Philadelphia with its half-million cubic feet of space and 52 separate rooms, each cooled to individual temperatures, 15 – 25 degrees for meat and poultry, 34 degrees for fruits and vegetables. The refrigeration system included an array of special pumps, compressors, and other equipment to handle the brine and ammonia used in its operation. When the cold-storage facility reached full stride a few years later, a visitor to its chilly climes would regularly find stored there 200,000 pounds of meat, 50,000 crates of eggs, thousands of cans of cream, 10,000 – 20,000 boxes of poultry, 10,000 barrels of berries and cherries, 25,000 barrels of apples, and 10,000 tons of ice.
In later years, business flourished as suburban housewives began to take advantage of another aspect of the railroad’s involvement in the Market – a free market basket service on suburban trains. Under the system, the homeowner could arrange for her grocery order to be filled in the Market and the basket placed upon a train bound for her town and held at the station until she picked it up.
As horse-drawn wagons gave way to refrigerated trucks in the years after World War I, the Market was able to improve its earlier attempts at home delivery. The trucks provided service every hour to some 60 suburban towns and resorts along the New Jersey shore.
In November 1931 the Reading Terminal Market and the Merchants’ Association jointly celebrated the Market’s 40th anniversary with a week-long “Food and Home Progress Exposition,” which drew tens of thousands of people from all over the region. A proud Reading president, Agnew T. Dice, bragged that the railroad’s unique food emporium had won nationwide fame, touting that it was the biggest market in Pennsylvania, and the largest under one roof in the country.