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Our exhibits bring the history of the railroad industry to life for thousands of visitors every year.

The Passenger Experience: 1940 - 1960

On exhibit at the National Railroad Museum through January 3, 2021.

Created by the National Railroad Museum®, The Passenger Experience: 1940 – 1960 highlights many of the innovations railroads made to attract travelers. This exclusive exhibit includes uniforms from railroad service workers such as the Harvey Girls and the Zephyrettes, a replica of a railroad bar, vintage advertisements,  railroad china, and more. Giving Museum patrons a glimpse of what passengers experienced, it also examines how the railroads fought to maintain service during a period of time when the public increasingly began to prefer automobiles and airplanes to traditional train travel.



Jodey Lenfestey Children's Discovery Depot

Housed in the Museum’s Hood Junction, the Jodey Lenfestey Children’s Discovery Depot exposes young Museum visitors to the world of railroading while integrating elements of social studies, math, and science based on Wisconsin Model Academic Standards. Best of all, the depot will communicate its message in a fun, hands-on environment that will engage young imaginations and take them on a family-friendly, educational journey.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Locomotive And Command Cars

The National Railroad Museum is proud to have the only A4 Class locomotive in the United States. This British locomotive was renamed for Dwight D. Eisenhower after World War II. Along with this engine are two London and North Eastern Railroad cars that were converted for Eisenhower’s use during the war.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower locomotive arrived at the museum on Memorial Day in 1964. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself visited the museum in September of that year. Most recently, the locomotive made international news when the National Railroad Museum loaned the piece to the National Railway Museum of York, England for “The Great Gathering” of 2013. As part of the loan agreement, the National Railway Museum performed a cosmetic restoration of the Dwight D. Eisenhower locomotive. The locomotive returned to the National Railroad Museum®in June 2014.

The National Railroad Museum® has completed restoration work on the London and Northeastern Railroad cars #1591 and #1592. These two passenger cars were converted for use on the two trains that were assigned to Eisenhower while in England. The #1591 was restored to look as it did post-war when it was donated to the museum. The #1592 is now complete with armor plating and it looks as it did during the war.

Union Pacific #4017 - Big Boy

Weighing in at 1.1 million pounds and measuring nearly half a football field in length, the Big Boy locomotives were designed to haul heavy freight for the Union Pacific railroad over the mountainous regions of Utah and Wyoming.

Originally 25 of these giants were constructed from 1941-1944. They roamed the rails until 1959. Union Pacific donated eight of them to museums across the U.S. The Big Boy preserved at the National Railroad Museum®is the only one housed inside a climate-controlled facility.

Providing fuel and water to feed Big Boy was a major task. The 14-wheel tender was one of the largest built with a capacity for 32 tons of coal and 24,000 gallons of water.

When it was built, Big Boy’s tender was designed to carry 28 tons of coal. This was enough to fuel the locomotive while pulling a 3,600-ton train between Ogden and Echo, Utah: a distance of 55 mountainous miles. Union Pacific soon added steel coal boards around the top of the coal bunker to prevent spillage and increase capacity. With the boards, the tender could carry 32 tons of coal.

The tenders on the first Big Boys (#4000 – #4019) carried 24,000 gallons of water. On the second-order (#4020 – #4024) water capacity was increased to 25,000 gallons.

In addition to fuel and water, Big Boy’s tender carried other equipment. The stoker motor and firefighting equipment were located in lockers on the fireman’s (left) side. Lockers on the engineer’s (right) side held train signal controls and small tools.

The coaling tower was a busy place during the steam era. On the Union Pacific railroad, some coaling towers—like the one in Cheyenne—held up to a 650-ton supply and spanned four tracks. They also supplied sand to prevent locomotives from slipping on wet rails and when locomotives were getting started.

When a locomotive arrived at a coaling tower, its fire would be cleaned and ash pan emptied. The ashes and cinders fell into pits located between the rails. A conveyor system then loaded the waste into hopper cars. The cinders were dumped along the tracks as ballast.

Pennsylvania RR #4890

The GG-1, America’s most famous electric locomotive, was first built in 1932. It has had its streamlined body featured on a U.S. postage stamp, as a Lionel toy train, and in dozens of paintings over the years.

Designed to move passengers, and eventually freight, along the Pennsylvania’s electrified lines between Washington D.C., New York, and Harrisburg, PA, the locomotive’s streamlining is what brought it fame.

The body was styled by industrial designer Raymond Loewy — the man who designed products and graphics for IBM, Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, and hundreds of other brands. There were 139 GG-1 locomotives built. Only 16 remain and four of them, including the one at the National Railroad Museum, are preserved indoors.

The General Motors Aerotrain

The Aerotrain’s goal was to lure the general public back to the rail and provide an inexpensive solution for railroads to provide a higher-speed public rail service.

In 1955, the railroads were trying to stem the dismal downward spiral they saw in passenger traffic. They were looking for a vehicle that was fast, economical to build and operate, and fashionable in appearance.

General Motors, using existing technology from its many divisions, developed the Aerotrain. With coaches fashioned from bus bodies and appliances by Frigidare, the Aerotrain was designed to travel at over 100 mph.

However, with its rough ride and poorly designed locomotive, the prototypes were disliked by passengers and railroads alike. After testing on three railroads: the Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Union Pacific, the two trains were sold to the Rock Island, who used them in commuter service around Chicago. In this service, the Aerotrain was allowed to travel at only 60 mph.

Bauer Drumhead Collection

Prior to May 1971, when Amtrak® began to operate America’s passenger trains, individual railroads offered their own service. There was considerable competition between railroads with travelers having several trains to choose from between major cities.

The top trains, which often had names, offered by each railroad were heavily promoted. One device used to advertise and identify these trains was the drumhead – a round, illuminated sign bearing the train’s logo attached to the rear of the last car. The first drumheads were large and round, much like a bass drum – hence their name.

Drumheads generated powerful advertising. Celebrities often posed and had pictures taken near the signs. Those pictures promoted that particular train as a celebrity’s favorite train—which was essentially an endorsement of its service. The first drumhead was displayed on the Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited in the early 1900s. The train ran between Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Among railroad memorabilia, drumheads are very rare items. Although hundreds of drumheads were manufactured, as few as a half dozen copies were made of some designs. Additionally, as trains were removed from service, the drumheads were scrapped along with unwanted passenger cars.

The Bauer Drumhead Collection is the largest gathering of such artifacts (40) known to exist. Frederick Bauer presented the collection to the National Railroad Museum®in 1999 to be preserved and displayed for future generations.

Pullman Porters: From Service To Civil Rights

Pullman Porters: From Service to Civil Rights is at the nexus of three central historical narratives: railroads in United States History, and the labor and civil rights movements of the 20th century. It is the story of a group of men who worked America’s rail lines for nearly 100 years.

Using the latest digital technology as well as the most current methods of museum exhibition, the exhibit, Museum staff have developed a compelling exhibit that tells the story of a group of men who worked America’s rail lines for nearly 100 years.
The exhibit features a restored 1920s 10-1-2 Pullman sleeper car: the Lake Mitchell. The exhibit is supported by interpretive elements in and around the car.

Exhibit elements include a computer-generated porter with interactive capabilities inside the car, original artifacts, and a touch screen computer kiosk. The kiosk offers curriculum-relevant materials such as oral histories and period music that illustrate the cultural, political, and racial climate at the time.

Starting in 1909, Pullman porters tried unsuccessfully to organize a labor union. Their break finally came in 1925 when A. Philip Randolph helped form the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). Randolph and the BSCP were met with strong opposition from the Pullman Company, but ultimately succeeded in forming the first all-black labor union in 1937. Soon after winning the labor battle, Randolph and the porters shifted their attention to the struggle for civil rights and remained at the forefront through the 1960s.

The story of the Pullman porters is truly American and it reminds us of the towering efforts of ordinary men and women who helped shape our nation’s history.