Welcome to Vintage Railroad Postcards!

Thank you for stopping by! This is the blog for the Russell P. Panecki Collection of vintage railroad-related postcards. The entire collection consists of nearly one thousand so far with images dating from circa 1904 to the 1950s. To leave a comment, ask a question, to contribute or correct historical information, a comment box is located to the left for your convenience.

Each page, including this homepage, has an index located in the lower portion of the page. In addition to the index, posts were updated with historical information, new postcards added from storage files, while some posts were completely rewritten or edited for corrections. Three articles have been added and are worth reading. They include how vintage postcards were made, the history of Pennsylvania Station, and the history of Grand Central Terminal.

My apologies, but the postcards in my collection and on this blog are not available for sale, copying, or for contribution to projects. Please keep in mind that I reserve all rights to the images and content of this blog.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Grand Central Terminal in History, Photographs, and Postcards


 At the turn of the Twentieth Century, America's railroads stood behind the social and financial growth of the country because they were part of the very center of the economy. The small network of tracks in place after the Civil War grew with increasing speed and by 1871 approximately 45,000 miles of track had been constructed. With the expansion of industrial power and the push westward towards California, that figure stood at 170,000 miles by 1900.  At the dawn of the new century much of the nation's railroad system was already in place. Five transcontinental railroads had been built over rivers, canyons, and desert land. Through mountains with track ledges and tunnels blasted out of solid rock, railroads navigated some of the highest passes and roughest terrain in the country. Once thought as being impossible fifty years earlier, it was engineering on a scale like no other. The American railroads opened the door for the settlement of the nation's heartland by offering new economic opportunities and established new towns, caused existing ones to grow, and connected cities together. It was as if a never ending cycle had been established: with the expansion of the railroads came a corresponding growth of manufacturing and commerce including the population of the empty spaces between the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The nation had become tied together with railroad tracks.

By 1900 important railroads such as the Pennsylvania and the New York Central saw themselves as being giants in the center of the  industry. The Central billed itself as "The Greatest Railroad in the World" while the Pennsylvania referred to itself as "The Standard Railroad of the World", a standard that all other railroads were to be compared. Competition was fierce and bare-knuckled between the two railroads as they fought hard in order to grab the most market share possible of the growing freight and passenger service extending from the mid-Atlantic to the mid-western states. Executing strategies that included buying and merging smaller railroads with important routes, they played on a territorial chess board involving billions of dollars, thousands of miles of track, and many thousands of employees. The Twentieth Century also began a struggle that focused on the all-important, booming, and very lucrative passenger travel market between Chicago and Manhattan. The Central had the upper hand in this match with an already existing terminal located on Forty-Second Street that provided long-distance passengers with access to the heart of New York City; the Pennsylvania, however, had been seeking for ways to cross the Hudson to bring its own trains into Manhattan for years. 

The Beginning of Grandeur

Not to be outdone by its rival, it was no small coincidence then, on the very same year the Pennsylvania initiated its solution to the problem of getting passenger trains into Manhattan with the start of construction on the new Pennsylvania Station, the New York Central made an announcement to construct a new terminal of its own. Not surprisingly, it too would be a large Beaux Arts structure like the Pennsylvania's and would replace the current Victorian building erected in 1871 and was rebuilt again in 1898. Manhattan was to become the home of two great palatial structures built and owned by the largest and most powerful railroads in the country. The new Grand Central Terminal would be a truly grand entrance for both the Central and the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroads. The New Haven would continue to share the terminal and tracks as was the arrangement at the old station. Ironically, Pennsylvania Station would host the New Haven Railroad as well.

The original building on the location was constructed in 1871 by Cornelius Vanderbilt and named "Grand Central Depot". Adequate for its time, it became outgrown by the snowballing demands of passenger traffic in the city. In order to meet those needs, the building had to undergo a complete reconstruction in 1899 and went from being a three storied structure into a six story, expansive, and rather ornate Victorian terminal that was renamed "Grand Central Station". Soon, it too was outgrown and, again, another new building became a main issue in the city. The station at the time was approached by four main tracks that ran straight down Park Avenue, then just another city street, and ended at a large storage yard for coaches and assembling trains. The railroad was constantly being criticized about the choking smoke, cinders, stench, and safety hazards posed by both the city and residents living along the open tracks. People were clearly fed up by that time. Grand Central Terminal, then, was to be designed to surpass all future rail transportation needs of the city and was to properly be named "Grand Central Terminal". The original building was technically a terminal as well where trains completed their runs, but was called a "depot" at first and then a "station" after the reconstruction, references to a building where trains simply stopped on the their way to another destination. The use of "terminal" never really caught on, however, and it is still popularly known as "Grand Central Station". 

The completely new Grand Central Station of 1899 is pictured below in this period public domain photograph. 

But on January 8, 1902, the year prior to the terminal's ground-breaking, two New Haven and New York Central trains collided inside one of the approach tunnels to the old structure that resulted in the death of fifteen passengers. An official investigation uncovered evidence that clouds of thick, blinding smoke had filled one of the approach tunnels that made it impossible for the locomotive's engineer to see the track and signals ahead. In response to this horrible accident, a smoke abatement law was enacted in 1903 by the City of New York banning steam locomotives within its limits. Any new plans for a railroad terminal would have to use electric-powered locomotives. By that time, however, all three railroads in New York, the Central, the New Haven, and the Pennsylvania, were already experimenting with and using their own new electric traction engines that were found to combine both low maintenance costs and efficiency with more powerful pulling power and speed.

 The Plan That Changed Park Avenue 

A complete, detailed plan for the new terminal project was first presented to the railroad's president at the time, W.H. Newman, by the company's brilliant chief engineer, William J. Wilgus. His proposal was not only sweeping, it was totally different from anything ever presented to the railroad. Instead of the terminal having above ground tracks and storage yard, they were to be built below street level in a subsurface structure. The old problems that were posed by using steam engines were eliminated through using an electrically powered third-rail system for the tracks and locomotives. The track complex would be operated beneath new terminal building and constructed on two different levels for both commuter and long distance trains. In addition, turning loops did away with the need for complicated switching moves that allowed newly-arrived passenger cars to be returned to the coach yard for cleaning and maintenance. The bold plan also tripled the usable capacity for the underground yard and approach tracks within the same amount of land. 

Wilgus’s cost estimate for the project was $43 million and, knowing the company’s total annual revenue was $80 million, it included an ingenious financial plan to cover the huge capital expense. With all of the approach tracks, the two turning loops, the storage yard, and the passenger platforms placed underground, the forty-eight acres taken up by the old yard and approach tracks would be made available at the street level. Air rights to build on the site would be sold for the development of large hotels, apartment buildings, office buildings, and other commercial use space. It was to be one of the railroad's largest construction projects ever in terms of scale, scope, time, and cost. Park Avenue would be transformed into some of the most expensive real estate in the world. 

Architects for the "Terminal City"

After the plan was approved by the board of directors, a selection committee was formed for an architectural contract competition and invitations were sent out for proposals. One famous architect that made a presentation was Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago, the designer of New York's landmark Flat Iron Building and architect for the new Washington, D.C. Union Station. According to his 1977 book, "Grand Central" by railroad historian and author William D. Middleton, another firm that submitted a proposal was that of McKim, Mead, & White, also the contracted architects for the new Pennsylvania Station with construction already beginning at the time. Presented by the famous firm's equally famous architect Stanford White, Middleton wrote that his design "featured a great 700-foot tower, from the top of which he proposed a 300-foot jet stream of steam which would be illuminated at night by red lights to serve as both a beacon to ships at sea and an advertisement for the railroad." 

In the end it wasn't one of the nationally recognized firms that won the contract. Instead it was Reed & Stem of St. Paul, Minnesota, a company not known to the general public, but known very well to the railroad industry. The firm had a history of station design and had previously been contracted by the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railways. They were also known to the Central through a current project at the time: the on-going construction of the railroad's new facility in Troy, New York, disigned by Reed & Stem and directed by William Wilgus. But right after the award of the contract and with preparations of the initial drawings underway, Reed & Stem were shocked by a last-minute request with no disclosed reason. They were asked to include as associate architects the Manhattan-based firm of Warren & Wetmore. Charles A. Reed and Allen H. Stem must have strongly objected because, as Middleton pointed out, because they had to be "persuaded" into agreeing to the arrangement. The partners of the firm, Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, had one of the most extensive practices in New York with a portfolio that included large, posh hotels and the new, well-appointed clubhouse at the New York Yacht Club. Apparently, there were also some family ties involved that needed to be taken into consideration so that the peace would be kept. Whitney Warren, a cousin of New York Central's chairman William Vanderbilt, turned out to be successful in an appeal to his cousin for his firm's inclusion in the design work. Interestingly, William A. Reed's sister was married to William Wilgus, recently made the new vice-president for the construction of the Central's new terminal project. The two firms finally came to an agreement and, from then on, would act as the combined associated architects to enjoy a decade-long and rather stormy relationship together right from the very start. 

The following are some of the initial architectural drawings for the terminal. Image references courtesy wikiarquitectura and the New York Public Library. The third drawing refers to the area as "The Terminal City".

This circa 1905 construction photograph shows some of the steel framing being erected. Image reference courtesy Museum of the City of New York.

The three photographs below were taken on glass negatives in 1905 and 1908 by the Detroit Publishing Company, a large and famous postcard publishing house. Showing the magnitude of the construction and excavation work, we can gain a better understanding of the overall scope of the project and why it took ten years to complete. Image reference courtesy the Library of Congress archives.

In this photograph, we see tracks used for construction in Vanderbilt Avenue for the work on the north-facing facade. 

The excavation work in this photograph facing north up Park Avenue shows the tunnel work dug to a fifty to sixty foot depth with the terminal's upper-level passenger tracks were located on the right. Just above the coaches is one of the street's new steel overpasses; the tracks below would eventually be enclosed. 

The plans were changed a number of times incorporating and combining details from both architectural firms. As Middleton wrote, "It is not easy to establish with any certainty the specific contributions of each of the principle architects to the final design of the terminal. Clearly, Charles Reed may be credited with the conception of Grand Central's innovative functional features. And just as clearly at least a large share of the credit for the details and refinement of the terminal's architectural treatment must go to the flamboyant and artistically brilliant Beaux Arts scholar, Whitney Warren." 

Upon opening day on February 2, 1913, a crowd of 150,000 visitors entered through the doors of the new terminal to behold the many wonders within. The large main hall alone measured two hundred and seventy-five feet long by one hundred and twenty feet wide. The beautifully painted ceiling was one hundred and twenty feet in height from the gleaming floor. Bedford limestone was quarried and brought in from Indiana; granite was quarried from Stony Creek, Connecticut, the same source used for the Statue of Liberty pedestal. Three sixty-foot tall arched windows on the front facade allowed light to pour down into the space. Cast bronze and stone carvings served as decorative elements, the smooth, reflective polished floors were cut from Tennessee travertine, the imitation Caen limestone interior walls were quarried from Normandy and accented by Botticino marble trim, and large bronze chandeliers lit up the hall adding to the overall and very palpable sense of grandeur. 

The breath-taking ceiling was designed by French painter Paul Helleu. It was a soft blue that included two thousand five hundred gold painted stars with sixty them illuminated depicting the night sky of the Mediterranean Sea; one could stand in the center of the floor below and look up in awe to gaze upon the night sky and the constellations of Aquarius and Cancer high above. The building itself was not only large above ground, it was large underground as well. The sub-levels for the tracks, platforms, tunnels, and various power, equipment, and storage rooms formed a vast space of its own below. 

Baggage elevators connected both the taxi entrance and the two passenger platform levels. Deluxe long-distance trains were accessed via entrances that opened onto the terminal's main hall with commuter trains located on the second level. Ramps were designed by Charles Reed that replaced the inconvenience of staircases and connected the main floor with the platforms thereby creating a smoother flow of passenger traffic. Passageways containing retail shops were used to connect areas of the terminal to adjacent hotels, office buildings, and the subways. There was so much fanfare in the city, including awe-inspired articles in the press and the railroad industry's own journals that, apparently, everyone seemed to forget that the same sentiments were showered upon the Pennsylvania Railroad's new station when it first opened three years earlier. 

The ceiling's Cancer crab, pictured here in this modern photograph as viewed from the floor, is one of the great constellations designed by HelleuImage reference courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The entrance facade was based on a Roman triumphal arch celebrating the railroad's own triumph with a sculptural grouping designed by the famous French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan. It depicted and paid tribute to Mercury, the god of commerce, and was joined by Minerva and Hercules, the gods of morality, strength, and intellect, all presiding over the passing of Time symbolized by a clock beneath Mercury's feet. Made by the city's own and world-renowned Tiffany & Company, the clock was made from beautiful stained-glass and accented with gold-colored numerals and hands. It was the largest clock ever produced by the company with a diameter of thirteen feet. Carved from Bedford limestone, the dominating sculptural composition measured sixty feet wide, fifty feet high, and weighed 1,500 tons when completed. The imposing statuary of course, being in New York, wasn't without its critics. Middleton notes that one writer referred to it as "Kolossal" in a letter to The New York Times some years later and the architectural historian Talbot F. Hamlin used the term "vulgar grandiose". One writer said that at least it couldn't be mistaken for being someplace else.

Below are modern photographs of the clock and sculptural group. Image references courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The 1939 floor plan shown below has some interesting details. We can see the various vendor locations at the time that included a lunch room, drug store, and florist shop with the track gates located to the right. The "men's smoking room" was adjacent to a section where men had their own private dressing rooms and baths and could rent a valet that would help them in looking their very best for travel or for a business appointment. The barber shop had thirty barbers that, reportedly, were bi-lingual and in total spoke up to thirty different languages. Note the division of the women's rest room into two sections: the "pay toilets" probably were a bit larger and more private and the "free toilets" being less so. There were amenities such as a private shoe polishing room and a hair dressing parlor. For twenty-five cents women could rent private dressing rooms with maids that would help them in looking their own very best, too, for travel, an appointment, or for visiting the city. Image reference courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The completed terminal building was a spectacular outcome. The main hall alone must have been a stunning sight for its first visitors. Image reference courtesy the New York Public Library.

Grand Central Terminal in Postcard Views

The set of views below, circa 1913, show the terminal right after completion. The first postcard is of the beau-arts exterior while the second card is a view of the main concourse looking toward the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance. Note that both cards refer to the terminal as 'terminal station' and 'depot' probably because of the publisher's misunderstanding of the difference between a railroad station or depot and a railroad terminal. Another explanation would be the use of both "station" and "depot" as part of the names of the earlier buildings that Grand Central Terminal replaced. The only stations in the immediate vicinity were the new adjacent U.S. Post Office's Grand Central mail station and the Lexington Avenue subway station below the terminal. 

A viaduct was constructed around the terminal in 1919 that allowed for Park Avenue traffic to flow over 42nd Street without involving and further crowding nearby streets as seen below in this circa 1920s card. Note the addition of the flags and the rather improbable colors of the surrounding buildings and viaduct that further accent the terminal.

The following circa 1915 interior views are from a series published shortly after  the completion of the terminal. Published by the Detroit Publishing Company, the original photographs that were used for the postcards can be seen at the following Library of Congress website. To view, click Here.

The arched ceilings with cream-colored tiles of both the restaurant and the famous Oyster bar were crafted and installed by the Spanish artist Raphael Guastavino that created a grotto-like appearance. The restaurant is seen below.

Ramps made walking faster and less tiresome for passengers. Note the early side-opening elevator doors on either side of the ramp.

For more information on Grand Central Terminal, click Here.

The Motive Power

Power for the locomotives was supplied by a third-rail source with pick-up shoes mounted on the locomotive's trucks (wheel assemblies) for all NYC&HR and NYNH&H electric passenger motors coming in and out of the terminal. The Central extended third-rail power to Harmon, thirty three miles outside of the city on the Hudson River, where the electric locomotives were exchanged for steam power in a matter of minutes. Harmon was also the site of the railroad's repair and maintenance shop for its fleet of electric "S- Motors". On the New Haven Railroad, however, the third rail system was found to be responsible for a number of accidents in Connecticut and, on June 13, 1906, the state's supreme court outlawed third-rail use within its borders. The New Haven was subsequently forced to design a main line electrification system using overhead catenary wire from the state line to Stamford, the end of the electrified zone at the time. By 1915 the railroad extended its catenary system from Stamford to New Haven, where the new extension of the electrified ended and the boxcab electrics were exchanged for steam. 

In 1905 the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia was chosen to build new electric engines with the frames, bodies and other main components were built by Baldwin and, through a joint venture with the Westinghouse Company, they manufactured the electric motors, controls, and hardware. Because the Central's old terminal would later include the use of direct current, third-rail power and the New Haven's overhead system of catenary wires were powered by alternating current, Baldwin-Westinghouse built the class EP-1 locomotives to run on both types of power; at first to operate over the 12 miles of New York Central third-rail track from Grand Central Terminal to Woodlawn in the Bronx, and then from Woodlawn to "under the wire" where power was changed over to its electrified catenary for the mainline operations. This worked out well for the railroad in light of the 1906 ban on third-rail operations in Connecticut. They were also designed to operate as multiple-units consisting of two and sometimes three units coupled together with the first one having control of the others. 

This circa 1907 photograph shows an EP-1 with pantographs in the raised position to take power from the overhead catenary wires. Attached to the wheel frame are the third-rail pick up shoes. Note the small pantograph located between the larger ones; this was necessary to run in the terminal area where there were gaps in the third-rails at switches. Image reference courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In the card below, circa 1910, we see one of the Central's S-Motors that was used for service between the terminal and Harmon. First built in 1904 through a joint venture between the American Locomotive Works and the General Electric Company with both having plants in Schenectady, New York. The arrangement was exactly like that of the Baldwin-Westinghouse partnership. Alco made the body, frame, and other components and GE manufactured the motors, controls, and hardware. It was the first mass-produced electric locomotive. The S-Motors were used until 1913 when they were replaced by the more powerful T-Motors. 

For its commuter service, the New York Central’s electrification plan also called for the use of multiple-unit (MU) trains, first pioneered by the electrical engineer Frank Sprague in 1897, and powered by third-rails. Each MU Train consisted of only self-contained units with control cabs in each. The MU cars had their own independent electric traction motor and the length of the train was adjusted to meet the needs of passenger traffic. The leading car was used to control the entire train. The first cars were built in 1906–1907 by both the American Car & Foundry and St. Louis Car companies for use on the Hudson and the Harlem divisions. They featured arched stained glass windows above each set of clear glass windows, and were the first all-steel cars ever built. Altogether, an initial total of 182 all-steel MU cars were built for the railroad. An additional order of cars was recieved in 1913 for the new service and the opening of Grand Central Terminal. All of the 1906 MUs were retired by 1963. In the card below is one of the first MU cars built by American Car & Foundry in their Berwick, Pennsylvania shops. They came equipped with "automatic ventilators" and were the "first steel passenger cars in the world".

The Home of "The Most Famous Train in the World"

The terminal was also the home of famous trains such as the Central's "Empire State Express" that ran over 620 miles of track to Cleveland, Ohio. The Central's flagship was, of course, the "20th Century Limited". The legendary deluxe train cruised the railroad's "Water Level Route" from New York to Chicago. First christened on June 17, 1902, it navigated over 958 miles of track to Chicago's LaSalle Street Terminal. In 1902 the running time between the cities was twenty hours. In 1905 it was cut to eighteen hours and then had to be set back to twenty hours after several accidents. Through the years and, just like its famous competitor the Broadway Limited sailing over the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Century listed such passengers as presidents, visiting dignitaries, heads of state, important, wealthy, and influential women, powerful businessmen and financiers, famous artists, well-published writers, and movie stars. In the 1962 book titled "20th Century" by the railroad historian and journalist Lucius Beebe, well-published himself, the author wrote "Showpiece, legend, article of railroad faith, The Twentieth Century Limited is a national institution, moving with the exactitude of sidereal time, as Fate" and that "riding the The Century became one of the recognized status symbols in the American scheme of things." 

The Century was managed by the railroad's own promotional genius and general passenger agent, George Henry Daniels. Daniels was known for innovations, one being the famous red-capped baggage porters and the other was a system of supplying water to the locomotive. Making it unnecessary for the train to stop in order to fill the locomotive's tender from water tanks, Daniels devised a way for locomotives to take water "on the fly". The railroad installed long "track pans", metal water-filled troughs, along the route. Water was then forced into the tender's water tank by a scoop lowered by the engineer that also resulted in a spray of water blowing into the air and then back onto the rest of the train as well.

Author Karl R. Zimmermann, in his 2002 book "20th Century Limited", shows a 1902 time schedule that lists the train's daily departure from New York at 2:45 pm and arrival in Chicago at 9:45 am. The train's original consist, according to the schedule, was a combination baggage, buffet, smoking, and library car, two Pullman "drawing room and stateroom" sleeping cars, a dining car, and an open-platform observation car with an additional eight staterooms, a short haul when compared to later versions. Each car was built with an all-wood body and polished, plush interior mounted to a steel under-frame. He wrote "The cars were opulent and elegant with oval windows of stained glass. The train's electric lights glowed with power from axle generators, an innovation at the time, with the Century among the first trains to embrace it." Later years would see such a growth of passengers that separate and identical trains had to be run in multiple "sections" following each other, under the same 20th Century Limited name with the first section called the "Advance 20th Century Limited". Stripped of the glory and service of the past that made it world-renowned and in a great and tragic loss to American railroading culture, Amtrak finally removed it from the schedule in 1967. The train that needed no other name or explanation other than "The Century" had become history.

This railroad-issued card shows the Century being pulled by an early passenger- use K3 class Pacific-type locomotive with its 4-6-2 wheel arrangement. According to volume eighty-five of the railroad industry publication "American Engineer and Railroad Journal", the locomotives were built by the American Locomotive Works and were in service by 1911, dating the card's publication to around that time. It also gives us an idea of the many amenities to be found on-board the "fastest long distance train in the world."  

In this period photograph, we see the Century posing for its portrait. Image reference courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Below is an advertisement for the tenth anniversary of the Century featuring the "Water Level Route" and that "You Can Sleep". These phrases, seen on the Central's promotional materials, are actually a jab taken at the Pennsylvania Railroad. The route of the Broadway Limited, took the train over the mountains of Pennsylvania after leaving Paoli, Pennsylvania. The Central's route though took the Century up the Hudson River and then turned west along the northern portion of the Great Lakes states to Chicago; the route was advertised as offering a much smoother ride so that passengers could have a good night's sleep without experiencing the implied bumpy disturbances along the route of the Broadway Limited. Image reference courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The first two circa 1910 views show the earlier train, constructed of all-wood bodies with steel frames, that made up The Century, being pulled by S-Motors. By 1914 the newly outfitted Century began using cars made of all-steel construction. The third card, published in 1925, is well-known railroad-issued view showing the train "at-speed" while under steam power. 

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