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Pioneer Zephyr
Pioneer Zephyr
Resource Typeimage
TitlePioneer Zephyr
Coverage / Year1934
DescriptionA streamlined stainless steel high-speed motor three-car train, powered by a 600 horsepower diesel engine. The train is 197 feet long. It weighs ninety-eight tons.
InterpretationBuilt by the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company for the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), the Pioneer Zephyr was christened on April 18, 1934. The three-car, diesel-powered train immediately produced a profit on short runs, the first diesel locomotive to do so in the world. On May 26, 1934, it left Denver and arrived in Chicago thirteen hours and fifteen minutes later to open A Century of Progress World's Fair. This single non-stop journey of 1, 015 miles at an average speed of 77.6 mph broke the land-speed record. Never before had a train traveled more than 775 miles without stopping for fuel and water. The Pioneer Zephyr's success spawned a whole fleet of Zephyrs at a time when automobiles were beginning to challenge the railroads for passengers. The Pioneer Zephyr was a response to that challenge, offering high-speed transportation in an extremely elegant, streamlined, stainless steel design. The Pioneer Zephyr was one of the first trains shaped to cut through the air as easily and quickly as an airplane. A moving vehicle experiences drag, which is a resisting force caused by friction between the air and the vehicle surface. Square, boxy shapes experience more drag than smooth, rounded shapes. Turbulence also increases drag. Turbulence is caused by features extending out from the surface, such as smokestacks, or openings like windows or doors. Streamlining eliminates the projections and openings that cause turbulence. The streamlined Pioneer Zephyr experienced about one-third less drag than did steam engines of the time. Because of its streamlined shape, the Pioneer Zephyr could reach higher speeds with less power. Steam-powered trains, unable to function profitably, became obsolete. Compared with a steam or gasoline engine, a diesel engine is more efficient, has greater endurance, and its fuel is cheaper. While heavier, noisier and more expensive to build, the diesel engine's efficiency outweighs these drawbacks. The record-breaking run made the Zephyr so famous that its next trip was to Hollywood where it starred in its own movie, The Silver Streak (RKO Pictures, 1934). In the film, the Pioneer Zephyr transports an iron lung across the country to save the polio-stricken son of a railroad president. Though the Zephyr got rave reviews, the movie did not. A unique feature of the Zephyrs was the absence of sleeping berths for passengers. Since Zephyrs operated only on short runs during daylight hours, its passenger cars featured large picture windows that enhanced the passengers' viewing pleasure. A ride on a Zephyr was designed to be more than just a train trip, it was meant to be an aesthetic experience. Instead of painting the train, the Zephyr's designers, Holabird and Root and Paul Phillipe Cret, allowed the corrugated stainless steel exterior to shine through, emphasizing the machine as art. Inside, the passenger compartments were clean and simple as well as efficient and functional as the train's performance was on the rails. As much as the Zephyr was a technological innovation, its appearance set the stage for an entire new era of streamlined design. The shape and design of the Zephyr influenced everything from transportation to toasters. Americans wanted to bring a piece of the modern into their homes, and the kitchen became the perfect place for sleek appliances. Streamlining started in the 1920s and became popular in the 1930s as a driving force in the art moderne movement. The incorporation of streamlining into the design of household products also heralded the birth of the industrial design profession. The Pioneer Zephyr was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1960 and was displayed next to the New York Central 999 Steam Locomotive. In 1994, the Museum hired Northern Rail Car of Milwaukee to restore the Pioneer Zephyr to its 1930s-era glory. The gleaming, refurbished train was returned to the Museum in 1997 to become the centerpiece of the exhibition 'All Aboard the Silver Streak' which opened in July 1998.
Lesson Plans / ThemesAmerican communities in history; Communities and Geography; How we learn about communities;
Learning Standards16 History; 10-12 Science; 13 Science, Technology and Society; 15 Economics; 18 Social Systems; 25-27 Fine Arts;
Author or CreatorEdward G. Budd Manufacturing Company; Holabird & Root, 1928-1945
Other ContributorsCret, Paul Philippe, 1876-1945
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company
SourceRand McNally Encyclopedia of Transportation. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company 1976. Strandh Sigvard. History of the Machine. New York: A&W Publishers, Inc., 1979; Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Accession file #60.14;
Subject / KeywordsRailroads; Rail transportation; Trains; Streamline design; Art Moderne; Art Deco; Diesel locomotives; World's Fair; A Century of Progress; Speed records;
Collection PublisherMuseum of Science and Industry, Chicago;
Further InformationFor any further information related to this record, please contact the Collection Publisher. See for more information about this project.
Rights Management Statement
Resource Identifier60.14
CONTENTdm file name93734151982002_ZEPHERTR.jpg
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