20th Century Limited

N.Y.C. Streamliner - First Run

20th Century Streamlined

The 1930's was an era of 'modern' design. The poor ugly steam locomotive had to go and so the idea of streamlining the engine with a set of matching passenger cars was born. The first 'Streamliner' was built by the Pullman Company and exhibited at the second opening of Chicago's "Century of Progress".
The New York Central's 20th Century Limited, in service since June 1902, was the second N.Y.C. 'named' train to get this modernization. The first was the "Mercury", which ran between Chicago and Detroit. With that success behind him, Henry Dreyfus was commissioned by the Railroad to redesign their fast Hudson Class (4-6-4) Locomotives. The work was done at Alco's Schenectady, N.Y. facility and the N.Y.C. bought 10 of the new engines. Numbering was in the 545x series.

20th Century Hudson

In addition, the N.Y.C. ordered 62 new pullman cars for the 20th Century Limited. The consist would be up to 16 cars, with 4 sets planned. Each set would be a mixture of roomettes, compartments, bedrooms and drawing rooms, plus plenty of dining and lounging space. There were no 'regular' coaches and the passenger's ticket was subjected to special service charges.
The initial run was scheduled on June 15th, 1938, with the run to be done in 16 hours, cutting 4 hours off the original 1902 schedule. As with most 'events' of the day, special advertising and promotions were prepared concerning this inaugural run.
Postcards were printed showing an artist's conception of the new locomotive at speed and were made available for carriage on the maiden run. Each item mailed for/on the initial run received a special cachet, hand stamped with a rubber stamp. The 'regular' RMS duplex with the train number was used as the obliterator. After the initial run the RPO adopted a special "20th Century Limited" cancellation. This postcard is from the inaugural run of Train 26 - Chicago to New York City.

Postcard Illustration Postcard Address & Cachet

Other letters and postal items were also permitted to be prepared for on-board R.P.O. cancellations. One such item is the "airmail" letter below, somehow the preparer was able to have the cover signed by the engineer! After carriage aboard the 20th to New York and receipt of the cachet and RMS cancel, it was placed into the mail service to return back to him in Chicago, via the airplane.
The schedule for Mr. Wilson's run was to leave Chicago at 4:00 PM Central, and with but 4 stops, was to arrive in New York at 9:00 AM Eastern. Speed was to be an average of 80+ M.P.H.

Airmail (!) Cover


Click on the Postcard or the Letter to see larger versions.

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12/20/2002