Summer on the Railroad

In 1917, as America entered World War I, railroad companies sought to increase tourist travel on their Western routes. Few Americans at that time had visited the western states. Creative advertising images were accompanied by carefully crafted language designed to lure travellers aboard.
          The Great Northern Railway , for example, described the pleasures awaiting travellers in Glacier National Park.

The “refined hotel comforts contrast with Nature’s wildest, most tremendous sights…Last year thousands more tourists than in any previous year scaled its Alpine heights–fished its tumbling streams–rode by launch on its azure lakes–motored through its pine-laden valleys.” Vacation accommodations from “modern hotels-in-the-forest and chalets” to “teepee camps” were available for $1.00 to $5.00 per day.

          Railroads serving the West promoted the comfort and luxury of travel by train. They offered elegant rail cars with attentive service. Rail companies sponsored travel for artists and photographers who produced images used on calendars, timetables, brochures, post cards, posters, menus covers. “In their advertising, the railroads routinely linked the quality of their service with the variety of destinations they served.” Names of the trains “evoked the romance of far-away places such as the ‘Golden State’ or the land of ‘Sunset’.”
          To further their interests in tourist travel, railroad companies put their “financial and political weight” behind legislation that ultimately established the National Park Service. “In 1916 alone, a group of seventeen major railroads contributed $43,000 toward the publication and distribution of The National Parks Portfolio, an attractively illustrated volume intended to build political and popular support for the parks.”
          During the coming summer, this blog will take a nostalgic tour through times past courtesy of 1917 and 1918 railroad and tourist bureau publications. Please come along for the ride.

Information and quoted text fromDefining Uncle Sam’s Playgrounds: Railroad Advertising and the National Parks, 1917-1941by Peter Blodgett.

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History History Collection.


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