It’s hard to grasp now how much the introduction of railroads and railway services during the late 18th century and early 19th century forever changed the way we commute, travel, and transport our stock and goods.
It was a grand leap of faith into a new future, similarly to how the picture changed decades later with the introduction of commercial flights. In both cases, the world went faster, stronger, better.
Depending on the decade, different combustible resources such as timber, coal, or oil helped power the locomotive machinery. During the 20th century, the appearance of the first streamliner locomotives, which are now the epitomes of the era, was of utmost importance.
Of the thousands of streamliners that entered services across America, only a small fraction were employed for passenger train operations. Their sound boomed from the one end of the continent to the other.
A modern locomotive exhibited for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. This is the Canadian National Railways U-4-a class 4-8-4 Northern 6400.
The modern times: A 4-8-4 steam locomotive manufactured by the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1950. Photo by Hames G Howes
Notice how they are all differently shaped. Photo by William vu CC BY SA 4.0
A newer German model, C & O Class L Stromlinienlok.
C&O No. 490 Hudson Steam Locomotive, painted in vivid yellow.
Canadian National 6400. It can be seen at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. Photo by Michael Barera CC BY SA 4.0
Greetings from the really old days. A card photo of the Burlington Route’s Denver Zephyr at McCook, Nebraska. October 18, 1936.
Streamlined and stunning. Chicago Railroad Fair, 1949. Photo by Joe +Jeanette CC BY 2.0
Artistic depiction of a Dreyfuss styled J-3a Hudson locomotive. It was for a streamlined 20th Century Limited passenger train in 1938.
The sleek Tat 230 800 in Paris Saint-Lazare, 1937. Photo by Unknown CC BY SA 3.0
A classic: the Hudson locomotive for New York Central Railroad.
A picture of the Japanese C55 steam locomotive.
Front view of the JGR C5521 streamliner steam locomotive.
Locomotive type 4-6-0 K of the French railway SNCF.
The new locomotives for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. This is the streamliner NYC Hudson.
It makes you nostalgic for the old days of traveling. New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway streamlined locomotive, Susquehanna Transfer.
Norfolk & Western Railway’s streamliner locomotive #611
The Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific
One more from the New York World’s Fair that took place in 1939. The Pennsylvania Railroad PRR S1 6-4-4-6 steam locomotive.
Fast forward to the future: this is how the streamliner locomotive looked at Santa Fe.
Black and big, the Pennsylvania Railroad TR1 locomotive. Notice how tiny the woman looks on the left.
The classic 4-6-4 Hudson Mercury locomotive for the New York Central Railroad.
Aeolus was a Burlington streamlined locomotive. Steam-driven, it was purposed as a back up for the diesel locomotives of the Denver and Twin Cities Zephyr trains.
This is the Chicago and Eastern Illinois streamliner Dixie Flagler. The photo was featured on the July 1941 edition of The Railroad Trainman.
Looks like a bullet – The New York Central’s Mercury locomotive.
The Congressional. Owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, it commuted between New York and Washington D.C. The train was moved by an electricity-powered locomotive.
The Aeolus, cutting through the plains.
All set for a trial test at the LaSalle Street station in Chicago, June 9, 1938. The iconic 20th Century Limited, the New York Central Railroad streamlined train is just about to leave Chicago.
A picture of the ‘Flying Yankee’ as featured in Popular Mechanics in April 1935.
Photograph of one of the two steam turbine locomotives built by General Electric for the Union Pacific Railroad.
A postcard depicting a 4-6-2 steam locomotive #1123 of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad at Norwich, New York.
Gray and fast, the PO MIDI 231-726 Carenee 1939. Photo by WIlliam vu CC BY SA 4.0
The Hudson 4-6-4 locomotive is now recognized as a classic of the New York Central Railroad. (4-6-4 refers to it’s wheel arrangement of four leading wheels, six driving wheels, and four trailing wheels.) Its design was out there by the mid-1920s but the new machine had to wait at least a decade before it officially started operations.
The Hudson model developed because the New York Central was in dire need of a stronger and more powerful steamliner, one which could more efficiently move the ever-growing number of travelers from the east to the west. Devising the Hudson was no mistake by any means and the company added almost 300 in its inventory. They hauled the railroad’s flagship trains including the 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express.
With the supersonic trains we have today, the Hudson locomotives may seem to be of little use. Except they treat us with their beauty and allow us to muse on everything they symbolized back in the day: progress, faith in technology, civilization, and new journeys.
Postcard from 1939 showing LaSalle Street station in Chicago and one of the Mohawk locomotives owned by the New York Central Railroad.
Some huge dark clouds released by the streamliner steam locomotive of the Baltimore and Ohio train, the Cincinnati.
Looks futuristic: the Jet Rocket train of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
The Super Chief, a luxurious streamliner here pictured in 1938.
The Burlington Pioneer Zephyr at Chicago’s Century of Progress exposition, 1934.
Well-preserved and in all its splendor, a British steam locomotive of the former London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway. Photo by cooldudeandy 01 CC BY 2.0
A PRR K4 3768 & 5495 Doubleheader. Photo by William vu CC BY SA 4.0
The Pennsylvania Railroad: a picture of the streamlined GG1 locomotive
Notice the wheels all cast in steel, this is the Sunbury in 1936. Photo by William u, CC BY SA 4.0
A yellow locomotive from the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Michael Barera
The Iraqi Steamliner used by the British Army in the Middle East in 1943. The locomotive operated on the Baghdad-Mosul line.
A publicity photo from 1937 of the Royal Blue train, taken at the Thomas Viaduct just south of Baltimore. In the ownership of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The first-generation Burlington Zephyr diesel locomotive. The model was probably devised in the latter half of the 1930s and can be seen at the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis. Photo by Roger Wollstadt CC BY SA 2.0
There were other models that were introduced by the New York Central Railroad after the Hudson, such as the 4-8-2 Mohawk steam locomotive. This one looked as if it were a twin of the 4-6-4 type and it was also initiated.
The Milwaukee Railroad was widely praised when they introduced the first Hiawatha streamliner in the spring of 1935. The Hiawatha became the Milwaukee Railroad’s success story, and dozens of these were employed for its services. The machine was able to maintain an average speed of 80 mph.
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The streamliners snaked across the country, fast enough that they are even credited with helping the Allies win World War Two. Their usage continued well after the war.