Railroad Postcards in the Age of Steam

Railroad Postcards in the Age of Steam

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217 pp, 162 photos
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“In the early 1900s, with the relaxation of certain postal regulations that had restricted their use, postcards reached a fever pitch of popularity. Because railroads, too, peaked in terms of track-miles and importance to daily life about the same time, it's not surprising that many postcards featured rail subjects. This little book, delightfully sized to evoke its subject, is the first of its kind devoted to the railroad picture postcard…a valuable and important piece in the puzzle of rail history.”—Trains

“I will meet you at one o'clock Thursday at the Galion station,” a traveler from down the line would scrawl on a railroad postcard, and, effectively handled by the Post Office, likely through its Railroad Postal Service, the message could bring people together. But beyond this, if individuals wanted to convey an image of a community to a distant friend, they commonly selected views of depots or trains of the railroad corridor.

Out of the tradition of those long-gone days of great, heaving steam locomotives and endless rail lines comes this remarkable selection of vintage cards, a treasure trove selected from John Vander Maas' consummate collection at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This lavish volume is the first general book-length work devoted to the once-ubiquitous railroad picture postcard. It comprises an introductory essay and an album of cards. The former fully examines the nature of the postcard craze, which reached its zenith about 1910, and discusses why images of American railroads played such an important part in the card phenomenon. The album divides an engaging assortment of more than 150 representative views into five sections: “Trains and Rolling Stock,” “Depots and Railway Structures,” “The Railroad Corridor,” “People and Railroads,” and “The Lighter Side of Railroading.”

Railroad historians, train enthusiasts, postcard collectors, and all other readers will find much to interest them in this selection of images. Not only are the cards themselves visually striking, but they convey a sense of how important railroads once were to the nation's citizenry. The sight of steaming locomotives and the hustle and bustle associated with “train time” caused hearts to quicken. These feelings made views of railroad scenes popular with buyers of postcards and now with latter-day railroad fans and card collectors.

Table of contents: 



About the Postcards

The Picture Postcard Phenomenon

Trains and Rolling Stock

Depots and Railway Structures

The Railroad Corridor

People and Railroads

The Lighter Side of Railroading