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Historical Footnote: The Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948

Railroads were so important in the early part of the last century that Railroad Fairs were held to celebrate the important role of the railway in society.  The Chicago Railroad Fair was organized to celebrate and commemorate 100 years of railroad history west of Chicago, Illinois. It was held in Chicago in 1948 and 1949 along the shore of Lake Michigan, and is often referred to as "the last great railroad fair" with 39 railroad companies participating.

The Chicago and North Western Railway (CNW), who were seeking a way to commemorate 100 years of railroading in Chicago, promoted the show in the early months of 1948, beginning with a series of photographs made by company photographer of people in 19th century costumes posing with the locomotive Pioneer (see image below), which had pulled the first train out of Chicago in 1848.

The fair, erected on 50 acres of Burnham Park in Chicago, opened after only six months of planning. A grand opening for the fair featured a parade that featured such spectacles as a military marching band, a replica of a troop train, a contingent of cowboys and Native Americans, a replica of the Tom Thumb (the first American locomotive), and the spry, octogenarian widow of Casey Jones, who served as honorary Grand Master of the parade. One dollar was the price of admission, and, except for food, all the attractions, displays, exhibits and shows were free.

38 railroads and more than 20 railroad equipment manufacturers participated in the Chicago Railroad Fair exhibiting equipment and interpretive displays around the fair's theme of 100 years of railroad history.

The highlight of the Chicago Railroad Fair was the "Wheels A-Rolling" pageant. This was a dramatic and musical presentation intended to showcase the development of transportation and the railroads across the country beginning with trails and waterways. The pageant included a recreation of the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah, and various historic rolling stock and replicas of equipment in operation. The 35 minute YouTube video of the pageant at the end of this news posting was made in 1948 as an educational movie.

Read the more extensive Wikipedia entry on the fair by clicking here.  There is a also a fine collection of high resolution images of the fair viewable by clicking here.

Posting By Russ Milland

Click on each image for a closer look!

DeWitt Clinton replica trainset
Pioneer steam loomotive

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