How you got between Chicago and New York in the 1930s, if you were a politician, movie star, businessman, or society swell. Commercial aviation wasn't developed yet, and to make the 961 mile trip, if you wanted to go in style (meaning no working class folk, children, or minorities) you took this train. After all, you might want to catch up with J.P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, James Cagney, or Gene Tunney, all noted riders. Paparazzi would wait at the end of the line, in expectation that someone famous would step off the train.

Made its first run out of Grand Central Station in 1902, and featured Pullman cars (no coaches), dining cars, sleepers, valets, barbers, hourly stock market reports, plush carpeting, and electric lights. At the time, it was billed as the "Fastest Long Distance Train in the World". (It cut the 30 hour trip down to 20 in 1902, and later improvements would bring some runs down to a 16 hour trip.) As a commitment to punctuality, passengers received a dollar for each hour the train was late to its final stop. The train ran for nearly 70 years.

The most famous incarnation of the 20th Century Limited was the new streamlined version, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, that debuted on June 15, 1938. This also marked the debut of a red carpet embossed with the train's logo that was literally rolled out on the platform at Grand Central.

However, the complete streamlining didn't last long, with the cowled steam locomotives giving way to diesel power soon after World War II.

New equipment debuted in 1948, but it was only 10 years before the Century lost its all-sleeping car status, with the coach section of the train called the Commodore Vanderbilt (a similar situation to the Illinois Central's Panama Limited/Magnolia Star combination).

Less than 10 years after that, on December 2, 1967, the 20th Century Limited passed into timetable history, replaced by an unnamed train.

Amtrak's equivalent train on the same route was first named the Lake Shore, then the Lake Shore Limited.

In 1956, although now only on a 6-day-a-week schedule (no Saturday departures) and with the red carpet getting a little threadbare, the Century still retained much of its past glory (and was on a 15-3/4-hour schedule, making only two suburban stops, plus Albany westbound only).

READ DOWN                 READ UP
  5:00P Dp New York    Ar  8:30A
  5:46P    Harmon, NY      7:32A
  7:45P    Albany          -----
  7:30A    Hammond, IN     3:59P
  7:45A Ar Chicago     Dp  3:45P

The Amtrak Train Names Project

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