George Henry Daniels, The Advertising “Prophet” of the New York Central

These days, it seems like social media “experts” are a dime a dozen. Tasked with promoting a service or a brand in the “social” world where sites like Facebook and Twitter reign, the social media guru uses a varied bag of tricks to get people to look their way. Though the medium has certainly changed, and the communication is now instantaneous, creative promoters are hardly a new invention. And although the term “going viral” was only recently coined, one could argue that promoters of yesterday experienced a similar phenomenon. Today’s post is about a talented man who was employed by the New York Central at the turn of the 20th century. Described by fellow advertisers as the railroad’s “prophet,” George H. Daniels was endlessly creative in attracting attention to one of the world’s greatest railroads. He was a writer, editor, travel agent, promoter, negotiator, and showman all wrapped into one package, but he went by the title of General Passenger Agent.

Much of Daniels’ promoting came down to a persistent tagline – “Send a stamp to George H. Daniels.” Any soul that would send off a letter to the man in Grand Central, and enclosing a two-cent stamp – of any country, in fact – would be returned travel-related literature pertaining to their specific interests. Perhaps a businessman would get a map of global trade lines, undoubtedly featuring the fine rails of the New York Central and its connections stretching across the United States. A science-minded fellow would find descriptions and diagrams of mighty steam locomotives in use by the railroad, or the newest technology found in use on the road. And a sportsman might find a guide to fishing in upstate New York, complete with photos of the varied fish found within each body of water. Daniels and his team created a litany of brochures for just about any interest, railroad or not. For the more philosophical, there was the reprint of Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia” – of no relation to the railroad, yet complete with a map of the line as a reference point. Certainly one of his most prolific publications, it can only be argued that after being printed by the railroad the story went “viral” – and Daniels promised to print as many copies of it as were desired, even if it took a century to do so. The story was subsequently made into two different motion pictures, sold over 40 million copies, and was translated into 37 languages, largely due to Daniels’ influence.

(more…)

Read More

Winter at the Strasburg Railroad

I swear to you all, I really hate winter. And the cold. Sure, we may have checked out the Harlem Line and the Hudson Line in the snow, but I’d so much rather be somewhere warm… Instead of being at some tropical location this past weekend, you would have found me at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. Despite being assured that it “never snows” for these winter photo specials, Saturday’s weather brought more snow in addition to the already deep snow blanketing the ground. The majority of the day was grey, with the sun only appearing for approximately three seconds at the very end of the journey.

Although the day was very monochromatic, the black and white views of the railroad – with the occasional splash of color – turned out alright. Amtrak made a very quick appearance, as did a fluffy farm dog, quite puzzled by the crowd of photographers wading in knee-deep snow just outside her backyard. Anyway, here is what the Strasburg Railroad looks like in the snow…

 
  
   
  
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 
  

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: New Rochelle

Welcome to New Rochelle, our next stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. Located about 17 miles from Grand Central, a train ride to the city takes about 35 minutes – leaving plenty of time to get to Broadway in 45. The station services both Metro-North passengers, as well as Amtrak passengers on the Northeast Regional. The station is part of New Rochelle’s “transportation center” with connections available to taxis and Bee-Line buses, and a large parking garage available for commuters.

 
 
Postcard views of New Rochelle

The very first scheduled train from New Rochelle to the city ran on December 28th, 1848. At that time there was only a single track here. A second track was later added in 1853. By 1869 there were 6 trains daily that ran to and from New Rochelle and the city.

One of the most historically significant trains to ever depart New Rochelle, however, was on the day of January 8th, 1902. The usual New Rochelle commuters boarded their 7:48 train to the city. The train was a local that originated in South Norwalk, but the rear car was called the New Rochelle car – it was kept locked and was only opened for passengers upon arrival at that station. Everything played out as normal that day, until the train reached the Park Avenue Tunnel and paused on track 2 at about 55th Street to allow a Croton local train to pass. A White Plains local, also arriving in the tunnel and on track 2, ran through a red signal at about 59th Street and plowed directly into the back of the South Norwalk local – the New Rochelle car. Fifteen residents of that city were killed on scene and many other passengers on the train were injured. Newspaper headlines ranged from the relatively gruesome: “Trapped Under Engine and Roasted by Steam” to the more sympathetic: “New Rochelle Grief-Stricken.”


Rescue operations after the Park Avenue Tunnel crash in 1902. All of those killed boarded at New Rochelle.

At the time of the crash, steam trains were allowed in the tunnel, which made visibility very poor. The incident significantly swayed public opinion against steam in the city, and ultimately led to their banning in Manhattan. The railroads were left to find an alternate method of powering their trains into the city. Frank Sprague and William Wilgus invented the “third rail” method of powering new electric trains – technology that is still in use today on the Harlem and Hudson Lines. The most important change the crash brought about was the new Grand Central Terminal – a station built to accommodate these new electric trains.

   

Photos of various trains at New Rochelle in the 1970’s

New Rochelle has come a long way since the railroad first came to town in 1848. Back then the city had only about 2,000 inhabitants. By the 1900’s, however, that number had grown to 15,000, as New Rochelle became a desirable suburb for commuters (today the population is around 77,000). While the original roundhouse for steam engines and a yard for freight are no longer in existence, the historic station building remains and has been restored. Like many old stations, the 1887 building had fallen into disrepair, it was also burned by fire in 1988. Commuters had described the station as dank, dirty, and derelict.

Thankfully, instead of tearing down the station, it went through a process of restoration starting in 1990. The city of New Rochelle, which had purchased the station property in 1982, agreed to share the cost of the restoration with Amtrak. The fully restored station was reopened on March 1st, 1990. The one-and-a-half story building is again beautiful – the brick exterior was cleaned, and the inner plaster walls and wood ceiling were repaired. The terrazzo tile flooring was in poor condition and had to be completely replaced. Additional changes made during the renovations included new lighting, bathrooms, and windows. The station was nominated, and is now a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

 
  
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
   
 
  
   

Read More