The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco) was incorporated in Missouri on September 7, 1876 from the Missouri Division and Central Division of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. This was one of only two railroads authorized to build across Native territory, the other being the Missouri-Kansas-Texas. With little competition in the area, the Frisco was able to quickly stretch out along Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas by the end of the 19th century. During this time the Aitchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF) took over the parent railroad, the Atlantic and Pacific, in order to gain track rights across the Mojave Desert into California. The ATSF control only lasted a short time, but they maintained control of the Western routes after separating, leaving the Frisco to the Great Plains. Thus the Saint Louis-San Francisco never reached west of Texas, over 1000 miles from the original destination of San Francisco.
After the ATSF spun off the Frisco, then known as the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad, the Frisco became focused on serving the Midwest. The Frisco struggled during the early 1900s and fell into receivership in 1913, reemerging as the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway. For the next thirty years, the Frisco did well at maintaining and upgrading its equipment and lines. The railroad again fell into bankruptcy during the Great Depression. The Frisco reemerged from its final receivership in 1947, with well-maintained track and motive power. Due to the diligence on keeping its fleet and rails in good shape, the Frisco was ready for the future.
In the 1950s, the Frisco opened a high-tech hump yard in Memphis, where an inclined track and computer-controlled switches guide cars into their correct staging track, thus expediting freight service. Throughout the mid to late 20th century, the Frisco continued to prosper and innovate. They were among the first railroads to offer run-through service with other carriers, thereby pooling their motive power and hauling along previously inaccessible trackage. This expanded their territory, opening new markets to their services. They were also among the first major railroads to shed the money-losing passenger operations prior to Amtrak.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Frisco boomed. During this time, industries were sprouting up in the South, and the Frisco had positioned themselves to profit from this explosive growth. As Frisco became more successful, major railroads began to discuss purchasing the Frisco and their profitable freight service in the South and Midwest. In 1980, Burlington Northern completed their purchase of the Frisco, expanding the BN presence into the South to take advantage of the new, highly lucrative chemical traffic. Much of the Frisco service still remains under BNSF, with the Frisco trackage still providing the main artery into the Gulf Coast and the Southeast.