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Trains of Tomorrow, After the War

The wartime inconveniences of traveling by train prompted the promise for "the finest transportation the world has ever seen"

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Illustration from a magazine ad for the Association of American Railroads (1944)

American advertisers made a great number of promises for the future during World War II. The American people were told that if they could just be patient with wartime rationing, or the number of resources being devoted to the war effort, we would all be assured better lives after the war.

The Association of American Railroads was no different, and in the March 18, 1944 issue of Collier’s magazine they ran an ad which promised great things in train travel after World War II was through. It’s interesting for those of us perched from the vantage point of the future to remember that other methods of transportation, such as commercial air travel and even automobiles, weren’t the established forms that they would later become. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 — which, at the time, was the largest public works project in American history and established our interstate highway system — was figuratively light years into the future compared to even the end of the war.

So what does the train of tomorrow look like? It has plush seating, fantastic views, good company and plenty of room to stretch your legs. You can even get some work done at a proper desk if you please. The ad feels like they’re promising you the poshest waiting room at the fanciest dentist in all of 1940s Denver. Or maybe that’s just what I see.

The text from the ad appears below and spells out the Association’s vision for railroads of the future, all the while apologizing for the stresses and inconveniences brought on by operating during wartime, with the movement of huge quantities of freight, civilians and troops across the United States.  It’s understandable that they felt obliged to begin with an apology and a message of appreciation:

Some day this war will be won by America and her Allies.

Our first duty meanwhile is to meet the demands of the war. This we are doing.

The going hasn’t always been easy or comfortable. We believe you understand the reasons, and we appreciate your patience, your good-humored acceptance of inconvenience.

And we’d like you to know our ideas of comfort and style go far beyond what we’re able to offer today. That’s why we print the picture .

It will give you some idea of how we’d like to serve you — how we’re looking and planning ahead right now to make future railroad travel a thrillingly pleasant experience.

It can’t be done all at once. It will take money and time.

But you can be sure of one thing. Our goal is to give future America the finest transportation the world has ever seen.

As we’ve seen, there were skeptics in the popular press who warned that the American people shouldn’t get their hopes up too high about all the promises being made during the war. But I must admit that I’d love to see a train like this built today — vintage dentist office chic or otherwise.

 

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