The Canadian National Railway Company was a federal Crown corporation incorporated on June 6, 1919. The company was established through a series of mergers that united several older and financially unstable railway companies (Grand Trunk, Grand Trunk Pacific, Intercolonial, Canadian Northern, Canadian Transcontinental) that built rail lines in Canada as far back as 1850. One of Canada's first Crown corporations, the company established its head office in Montreal, Quebec in 1923. The company was commonly referred to as Canadian National Railways or CNR from its inception until 1960, when it became known as Canadian National or CN.
The company's primary mandate was the operation of an extensive railway system in Canada and the United States. During its existence, the company also operated many subsidiary businesses, including hotels, cruise ships, truck companies, telephone services and telegraph lines. In 1923, the company established the first radio network in North America that later became the foundation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In 1937, the Canadian government established a national airline known as TransCanada Air Lines and made it a subsidiary of the CNR. Several decades later, the airline was renamed Air Canada and in 1977 it became a separate company.
The Canadian National Railway Company was managed by a board of directors, appointed by the Governor in Council, and a president. In 1961, the number of members of the Board of Directors was increased from seven to twelve. The company's daily operations were managed by a variety of personnel, including directors, superintendents, station agents, mechanics, freight, ticket and passenger agents, and engineers.
The company's operations underwent many changes in the latter half of 20th century. Many prairie railway branch lines were closed after 1945 and passenger service was terminated in 1978. Many of the company's subsidiaries were sold in the 1980s. On November 28, 1995, the Government of Canada completed the sale of its remaining shares to the public and CN ceased to be owned by the Government. The company currently (2011) operates as a private-sector freight railway company with no other significant lines of business.