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Cody Pfanstiehl papers

Identifier: MS2016

Collection Scope and Content

The majority of documents in the Cody Pfanstiehl papers date from 1967, when the WMATA was formed, through 1982, when Mr. Pfanstiehl retired from the Authority. Some documents predate this, the earliest being several documents and timeline projections from 1964. The bulk of the material dates from 1975 through 1979. The volume of correspondence, newspaper clippings,and Metroclips editions are largest for these years.

The collection consists primarily of photocopied multiple-page letter-size documents. The bulk of the collection is memoranda and typewritten notes. These memoranda come from different departments within WMATA and some from outside sources, so both the style and format vary. The collection also has bound reports, oversize magazines and maps, oversize timeline projections, and original newspaper.

The breakdown of series and subseries within the collection reflects many broad yet distinct categories of documents. As Director of Public Relations for WMATA, Cody Pfanstiehl had access to much information, the better to inform the public. Because of this, the collection has documents from many and varied sources, ranging from internal correspondence and newsletters to technical progress reports and engineering specifications.

The information contained in the collection was accumulated to facilitate the dissemination of Metro-related facts to the public. Because of this, there is a broad range of public information: newsletters, press releases, fact sheets and biographical sketches. In addition, the collection has a significant bulk of fascinating in-house correspondence documenting important events, from the first day of train service to arbitration and employee strikes. Pfanstiehl's own informal weekly notes to his staff add a human -- and often humorous -- dimension to the events in which he participated.

However, there are gaps in the material. There are no annual reports after 1977; there is a run of quarterly reports from different departments for the years 1971 through 1979, but none before or after; for a month or two there are agendas for every weekly meeting of the Board of Directors, followed by months with only one or two agendas saved. There is a general increase in the quantity of correspondence and press-related material beginning in 1972, as funding for Metrorail increased and WMATA began building the first underground rail lines. After 1980, the quantity of correspondence, press releases, speeches, and other documents diminishes rapidly.


  • 1967-1982


Restrictions on Access

Some records may be restricted.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

Cody Pfanstiehl (1917- 2007) headed the Community Services office of The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) from the Authority's inception in 1967 until his retirement in 1982. Pfanstiehl brought to his position a long career in public relations. Pfanstiehl briefly attended the University of Chicago, (1934-1937), until he was hired by the University to work in the public relations office. During World War II Pfanstiehl joined the United States Army Air Force, where he worked as an instructor in intelligence from 1941 through 1944. After the war he worked for CBS in their promotions and public relations department. Relocating to Washington, DC, in 1947, Pfanstiehl worked in the same capacity for WTOP radio and television in the District. From 1958 to 1961, he worked for the Washington (DC) Evening and Sunday Star newspaper. He also let publicity operations for the Community Chest charity, which was the precursor to the United Way organization.

In 1961, he became director of community services for the National Capital Transportation Agency (NCTA), the interim federal agency established to outline mass-transit and highway systems for the District of Columbia. When the NCTA became the WMATA in 1967, Pfanstiehl remained director of community services of the new agency. A year after his retirement in 1982, the Downtown Jaycees named him one of its Washingtonians of the Year.

WMATA, located in Washington, DC, had as its primary job the coordination of planned mass transit projects in the metropolitan Washington area. This included the establishment of a single bus system, Metrobus, in place of several private competing companies, and the creation of an under- and above-ground mass-transit rail system, Metrorail, in the metropolitan area. This latter project was popularly known, as was WMATA, as "Metro."

Metro was WMATA's most high-profile project, an ambitious 100-mile network of rail upon which modern, quiet, and clean electric trains would speed commuters from suburbs in Maryland and Virginia to the District. At the time, it was one of the largest projects of its kind in the world, and the largest public-works project undertaken in the District. The project was the source of heated debate among the public and Congress. It took may years and many changes of plan to get the extensive project underway, and it was among Pfanstiehl's duties to drum up support for the project among the commuting public.

In his capacity as chief public relations officer of WMATA, Pfanstiehl had at his fingertips hundreds of documents containing information general and specific about Metro, much of which survives in this collection. He collected speeches and transcripts of radio and television broadcasts, newspaper articles, brochures, and pamphlets, anything that could explain Metro and its rich technological and personal history.

Cody Pfanstiehl died at the age of 90 on February 1st, 2007 in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Historical Background

Concerns about commuter traffic conditions in the Metropolitan Washington area go back to at least 1925, when a local commission ordered a transportation survey to study current conditions and predict future trends. In 1938, the District was for the first time included in the ongoing Federal-Aid Highway Program. This program, begun in 1916, allotted Federal money to assist state roadbuilding efforts; DC, however, would be exempted from a seven percent mileage restriction placed on other states. This encouraged the construction of roads leading from DC to the surrounding areas, as well as the modification and expansion of roads within the District.

Following the increase in roadbuilding came the first serious efforts to study and plan future road growth. In 1942 the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (NCPPC) proposed a Mass Transit Survey to determine whether a subway system would be feasible in the District and, if so, when. Two years later, the engineering firm of DeLeuw, Greiner issued their report. Their proposal called only for 7.1-miles of underground tunnel for streetcars. The engineering firm believed a subway system would not be feasible; forecasted population density would not be enough to support such a system economically. Instead, attention turned to the development of urban highways. That same year, the Senate received a report entitled "The Role of the Federal Government in Highway Development." The report, the result of a study undertaken for the Senate, specifically urged funding for urban-area highways, exclusive of Federal-Aid Highway funds.

In July 1952 Congress passed into law a House-sponsored bill, HR07502, which specifically addressed the future planning needs of the District. Called the National Capital Planning Act of 1952, the new law split the NCPPC into two separate organizations. The first, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), became the central planning agency for all development in the District, made up of appointed Commissioners. The second, the National Capital Regional Planning Council (NCRPC), was made up of representatives from the major regional planning agencies and companies, and was charged with working with these different organizations in an advisory capacity.

The NCPC acted to undertake an authoritative transportation study, and in 1957 hired the firm of DeLeuw, Cather (the current evolution of the company that had written the 1945 report) as engineering consultants. Two years later the NCPC issued its report, The 1959 Transportation Plan, also known as the Mass Transportation Survey or MTS. The plan called for a balanced development of urban highways, buses, and subway rapid rail transit. The MTS called for the creation of a regional agency for bus and rail line development, an interim agency to develop such lines, and the eventual takeover of bus and rail operations by a privately-owned organization empowered by interstate charter. Freeways, which would be urban interstate routes, would also serve to alleviate rush-hour congestion. The plan, issued by the agency charged with writing the area's urban development policy, was considered authoritative by many and served as the basis for all future area transit studies.

The National Capital Transit Agency

The Federal government did not keep intact the NCPC's 1959 transit-development recommendations upon completion of the study. Instead, Congress passed the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960, law 86-669, which called for the creation of a Federal agency to oversee transportation development in the District area. The Act of 1960 was written for three purposes: first, to further the "continued and effective performance of the functions of government"; second, to control growth in the Capital; third, to preserve the "beauty and dignity" of the region. Effective and well-designed transportation systems were essential in this plan.

The Eisenhower Administration therefore created the National Capital Transportation Agency (NCTA) in 1960, following broadly the basic guidelines of the MTS recommendations. The NCTA's Presidentially-appointed staff were charged with studying the transportation situation in the region and proposing a rapid-rail system. Eisenhower privately insisted that interstate highways not be built with the purpose to relieve rush-hour congestion; the NCTA's edict to support rail development fit this nicely. Eisenhower appointed H. Holmes Vogel as first Administrator of the NCTA. However, the NCTA seemed to consider highways were in its purview as well.

In 1961, C. Darwin Stolzenbach was named by the new President, Kennedy, to replace Vogel as NCTA Administrator. Until his resignation in 1965, Stolzenbach oversaw the development and application of the NCTA's own comprehensive highway and mass transit plan for the National Capital region. By 1965, the NCTA had laid the foundations for a subway system and drafted plans for the proposed Inner Loop, I-266, and Three Sisters Bridge projects. As an advisory agency, the NCTA did not actually implement the plans that it proposed. That job fell to the then-new Department of Transportation. However, the Agency did conduct extensive research and studies to determine the feasibility of subways and inner-city expressways. It sponsored public hearings for proposed routes and studies of population distribution and commuter reactions to subways.

The Agency's "November Report," the 1962 report to the President outlining a rail system and highway plan for the region, was never adopted. It was defeated in the House on December 9, 1963. Not for another two years would rail transit be granted formal attention in Congress. The Agency was forced to concentrate on freeways.

The Agency, however, was accused by the NCPC of overstepping its bounds in proposing freeway designs. Limits of jurisdiction between these two agencies and the Department of Transportation were blurred. Most of the highway proposals submitted by the NCTA were eventually abandoned; controversy and lawsuits slowed their development for over ten years. Stolzenbach himself was bitterly resented by many as "anti-highway." Citizen groups banded together to prevent freeway construction from consuming parklands and homes. As historian Elizabeth Durham wrote (in a Metro History Monograph contained in the WMATA Metro History Project Collection), "Everybody wanted the road to go somewhere else, so it went nowhere at all."

By 1965 negotiations had commenced between Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia, for an interstate transit compact. The organization that would come from this would assume control over development of a rapid-rail and bus system to serve those areas. As called for in the 1960 Transportation Act, a privately-run organization would indeed succeed the NCTA.

Stolzenbach resigned from the NCTA in 1965, as preparations were well underway for the successor agency. He was succeeded by Walter McCarter. McCarter oversaw the dissolution of the NCTA and its transformation into the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

The new agency grew from the older one. The subway system proposed by the NCTA served as the basis for WMATA's rail system. WMATA absorbed much of the staff of the NCTA. However, whereas the NCTA was an advisory body, WMATA was designed to be an operating agency, supporting itself with revenue generated from sales of tickets to commuters.

The Interim Board of Directors of WMATA first met in mid-October, 1966, chaired by Brig. Gen. Jackson Graham, formerly Engineering Commissioner for the District. WMATA was formally established on February 20, 1967. WMATA's authority overlapped that of the NCTA until the end of September 1967, at which time the NCTA was completely dissolved.

WMATA formally received its charter in September 1967. The Authority's mission was to "plan, finance, and develop a regional rapid transit system." Highways were not in its domain of authority. Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy was named Chairman of the Board and James Gleason Vice-Chairman.

For bus operations, WMATA bought out the routes from the private bus companies operating within its purview (with the exception of Montgomery County's "Ride-On" system) and established a single operation, Metrobus, to serve in their place. In this way, routes and fares were standardized. Work on the subway component began at once. DeLeuw, Cather were retained as chief engineering consultants. The firm of Harry Weese and Associates were named chief architectural consultants. Weese was sent on a worldwide tour of subway systems, in order to draw inspiration and ideas for possible station architecture. The final design, agreed upon by a special committee that included the District of Columbia Board of Fine Arts and several artists and architects, was proposed in 1968.

WMATA -- like the subway itself, shortened to "Metro" -- also began a public relations campaign designed to generate enthusiasm and support for the system. From the start, unemployed and minorities were given opportunity to work in the construction and staffing. The Authority tried to construct their tunnels with a minimum of street closures. For the most part, despite rumblings, most people accepted the Metro with enthusiasm.

First ground was broken for the subway above the future Judiciary Square station on December 9, 1969 -- six years to the day after the defeat of the NCTA's comprehensive "November Report" on the floor of the House. The first contracts for sections of underground railway tunnel were let that same day.

Originally, WMATA scheduled the Metro to begin operations in 1972 and be completed by 1980. Construction delays and withheld funding caused these dates to be set back ever further. Finally, ending forever the subway-highway controversy, President Nixon in 1972 ordered the release of Federal funds being withheld for highway construction in the District, and called for their distribution to WMATA.

The Metro ran its first day of revenue service, on the abbreviated Red Line beginning at Dupont Circle, in June 1976. Public response was enthusiastic. The system was a highlight of the Bicentennial celebrations one month later, during which it transported thousands of visitors. From the late 1970s Metrorail continued to expand, and sections reaching their farthest termini in Maryland and Virginia were completed by the mid-1980s. As of this writing (November 1993) only the northern and southern extensions of the Green Line and one extension of the Blue Line remain to be completed.


15 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Collection consists primarily of photocopied multiple-page letter-size documents. The bulk of the collection is memoranda and typewritten notes. These memoranda come from different departments within WMATA and some from outside sources, so both the style and format vary. The collection also has bound reports, oversize magazines and maps, oversize timeline projections, and original newspaper.

Collection Organization

Organized into five series: Administrative records, Financial records, Public relations files, Subject files and Miscellaneous.

Acquisition Information

Pfanstiehl retired from WMATA in 1982, and in 1989 donated his papers to The Gelman Library Department of Special Collections of the George Washington University.

Related Materials

In The Metro Oral History collection is an interview with Cody Pfanstiehl conducted by Dr. Zachary Schrag. The recording and transcript of that interview has been uploaded to Internet Archive. This link will take you to all the MS2214 interviews and transcripts.[]=subject%3A%22MS2214%22

Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in 2022 to address outdated and harmful descriptive language. During that revision staff edited the description in the Collection Scope and Content, as well as the Scope notes for Series 4 and 5. To see the description prior to revisions, please view the previous version of Cody Pfanstiehl papers finding aid.

Guide to the Cody Pfanstiehl papers, 1967-1982
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America