What Will Replace the Trains?

Though automobiles were already, by the 1920s, becoming the preferred form of transportation for short trips between American cities, trains remained the most convenient and efficient way to cover larger distances. The railroads preserved their competitive advantage in this area in part through the promotion of tourism. The Burlington travel brochure pictured here comes from 1945, when the United States' emergence as a global superpower provided the backdrop for the brochure’s vivid appeal to racial superiority. There is nothing subtle about "From Indian trails to steel rails." Or about an image of a gleaming product of twentieth-century industry roaring through the prairie, disturbing the ghostly presence of American Indians on horseback. The display of ideological certainty, however, obscures a fundamental uncertainty at the heart of the railroad industry itself.

Trains not only overran American Indian communities but disrupted Anglo-American institutions along the frontier as well. The Pony Express, while it "lived to become a symbol of western heroism,” according to the brochure, “operated only 19 months"—a casualty of the railroads' systematic handling of mail sorting and delivery. Steamship travel along the Missouri River floated increasingly toward obsolescence with the Burlington's expansion in the Midwest. As the brochure boasts, "Service, established over this route in 1870, virtually ended the steamboat era along the Missouri." This record of dominance raised the question of the future of the railroads themselves. What technologies, in turn, will replace the trains?

Newberry President Stanley Pargellis secured the deposit, in 1943, of a large collection of corporate records of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad Company. The acquisition was part of an initiative to collect materials attesting to the history of Chicago and the Midwest—and to the influence of corporations on that history. In the ensuing decades, the CB&Q continued to deposit into the Newberry collection materials that included maps, scrapbooks, photographs, and promotional materials like this brochure.

The upcoming Fall issue of the Newberry Magazine will feature a detailed history of the Newberry’s initial acquisition of CB&Q materials.