Railroads of the 1920s

Train Stations

Like the shopping malls of today, the train station, whether it was a country depot or a neoclassical palace in a big city, was central to any journey. In most stations of any consequence, you could buy a ticket to anywhere, have lunch, send a message via Western Union (the 1920s version of the Internet), and often get a shave, shower, and shoe shine.

Most stations appeared during the burst of railway construction between 1890 and 1910, but some major examples went up after World War I. Cleveland's impressive Terminal Tower, a combination train station and 52-story office building, took from 1923 to 1930 to complete. In 1925, the new Union Station in Chicago was dedicated; Amtrak and Metra trains use the renovated facility today. The Pennsylvania Railroad commenced building its monumental Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia in 1927. Two years later, work began on Cincinnati Union Terminal, a magnificent Art-Deco palace replacing a half-dozen outmoded passenger facilities. Large and small stations throughout the country received facelifts, reflecting the sincere-but mistaken-conviction that rail travel was a fixture in American life.

In fact, railroading seemed to be everywhere. Railroad advertising had long been a part of the visual culture of the U.S. and Canada, but by the mid-1920s, the railroad industry had something else to celebrate: It was 100 years old.