1999 All Aboard First Day Postal Card Set of 5
The All Aboard stamps feature five luxury trains from America's past: the Southern Pacific Railroad Daylight; the Pennsylvania Railroad Congressional; the New York Central 20th Century Limited; the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Hiawatha; and the Santa Fe Super Chief. During the 1930s and 1940s, before automobiles and airplanes dominated travel in the United States, these trains and others like them carried passengers in great luxury.
The best-known passenger train in the Southern Pacific fleet was the Daylight. The million-dollar steam-powered locomotive was used for routes that traveled along the west coast. This legendary train was renamed the Morning Daylight and later the Coast Daylight to set it off from others in the group, like the Sacramento Daylight and Shasta Daylight.
Actress Olivia de Havilland christened the redesigned Daylight before it made its first run from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 1937. NBC Radio broadcast the ceremony nationwide. The train traveled the 471 miles between the two cities in nine hours and 45 minutes.
In its first year of operation, 250,000 passengers rode the Daylight. The train was so popular that people had to be turned away. A large number of riders were recorded in 1938 and 1939 as well. The Daylight was named America’s most popular train service in 1940.
The U.S. Government restricted all non-essential travel during World War II. The Daylight and other trains were used mostly by the military during those years. After the war, Southern Pacific claimed the various Daylight runs and carried 833,510 people in 1942, 1.15 million in 1943, and 1.27 million in 1944. When passengers dwindled, the Daylights became San Francisco commuter trains.
The Pennsylvania Railroad, called the “Pennsy,” was one of the largest transportation providers in the U.S. At its peak, the company served nearly one half of the nation’s population. It owned foundries, coal mines, power plants, grain elevators, hotels, boats, as well as a telephone and telegraph shop. This was all in addition to what one would imagine a railway would own, like land, stations, and locomotives. The Pennsy was so influential it was referred to as the state’s 51st senator.
The Pennsylvania Railroad’s best-known trains were the Broadway Limited, Spirit of St. Louis, and Congressional, which traveled between New York City and Washington, D.C. PRR converted from steam to electric power on the Congressional route and other select routes after it built Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Much of the track leading in and out of Penn Station was underground, so steam power was impractical. The Public Works Administration helped convert the tracks to electricity in the 1930s.
The Congressional was streamlined by industrial designer Raymond Loewy in 1935. He improved the look of the Pennsy’s GG-1 locomotives and redesigned the interiors of the cars. The “G’s” continued to haul passenger and freight for almost 50 years.
20th Century Limited
The New York Central (NYC) was one of the most powerful railroad companies in America during the 20th century. Rail baron Cornelius Vanderbilt took control of the NYC during the mid-1800s, and built and acquired rail lines across the country. The railroad company became known for its reliable, quality service, and the 20th Century Limited was its flagship train.
The 20th Century Limited was considered the ultimate passenger train of its time. Starting in 1902, it sped travelers the 961 miles between New York City and Chicago in just 15 1/2 hours. Americans remarked that a stay in the United States wasn’t complete until the tourist had the opportunity of “riding the Century.” The art deco styling of the 20th Century Limited changed the way trains were designed for years to come.
There was a time when only famous people could reserve seats on the 20th Century Limited. Service on board the train catered to high society. Each day, a red carpet was rolled out along the platform to greet new passengers. The train followed the “water level route” along the Hudson River, so passengers traveling at 100 miles and hour could sip their drinks in comfort. A secretary made theater reservations for those on board. The NYC discontinued the Century in 1967.
In 1935, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (called the “Milwaukee Road”) introduced the Hiawatha, one of the first streamlined passenger trains. Owners considered calling the train “Flash” or “A-1,” but eventually named it for writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s legendary Indian who was fleet of foot.
The first run the Hiawatha made was between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota (St. Paul and Minneapolis). The start of this route made Milwaukee Road one of the first railroads in the nation to offer regularly streamlined passenger train service.
The Hiawatha transported about 200 people a day in its first year of service. By 1936, the number of daily passengers had increased to over 700. On some routes, the train had to be loaded to 15 coaches in order to transport the huge number of travelers and baggage. In 1952, the Milwaukee Road added “Skytop” glass-roofed observation cars to the Hiawatha trains.
By the early 1940s, diesel power had replaced steam as fuel for locomotives. This allowed trains to travel faster and more efficiently. Soon, Americans began relying on the automobile for transportation, and demand on the railroads declined. The various Hiawatha models began to disappear after this time.
The Super Chief
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway System may be the best-known railroad in the U.S. The Santa Fe inspired its own movie and popular song. The red, silver, black, and yellow “warbonnet” design of its famous passenger train, the Super Chief, has appeared on thousands of toy and model trains. All Santa Fe passenger trains featured these colors for over 40 years.
The Super Chief, the first diesel-powered train, was introduced in 1937. Its route was not only the shortest between Chicago and Los Angeles, but it was also the fastest. The locomotive cruised for long stretches at 90 miles per hour, traveling the 2,224 miles separating the two cities in less than 40 hours, including stops.
In 1951, the Pleasure Dome lounge was added to the Super Chief. The elegantly decorated lounge was on the main level. The upstairs dome selection contained fully rotating seats for panoramic viewing of the southwestern scenery. Beneath the dome was the Turquoise Room dining area, which was a private dining room.
The Super Chief was the flagship of the AT&SF run to the west coast. The preferred train among members of the Hollywood elite, distinguished businesss leaders, and prominent politicians, the Super Chief was often referred to as the world’s best passenger locomotive.