Teach PA History
Railroad Advertising: Let's Go For a Ride!
Background Information for Teachers

Phoebe Snow was the invention of the advertising department of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, which has long since been merged into Conrail. She was created in 1900 by artist Penrhyn Stanlaus, and her name and garb–always white from head to foot–were chosen to symbolize the cleanliness of D L and W trains, which burned ‘smokeless" anthracite coal instead of the soft bituminous coal used by most other roads at the time. The ad campaign–a very famous one–also employed actresses who appeared as Phoebe at special events and civic celebrations (a la Ronald McDonald), as well as jingles that eventually became so popular they were sung from the Broadway stage:

Says Phoebe Snow about to go
Upon a trip to Buffalo
My gown stays white from morn 'til night
Upon the road of anthracite.

When the government prohibited the use of anthracite coal in steam locomotives during World War I, Phoebe was retired, but she reappeared in white military garb during World War II to dramatize the Lackawanna's contributions to the effort. In 1949 the D L and W inaugurated its first streamliner passenger run–Hoboken, N.J. to Buffalo, N.Y.–and the train was named the ‘Phoebe Snow‘. Additional postcards are available online here and here.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, a mighty empire with a four-track east-west mainline across the Commonwealth and branch lines probing virtually everywhere in the state, commissioned artist Grif Teller to paint the scenes for 27 of its 33 calendars issued from 1928 until 1958. Teller's striking paintings typify in ways the "Soviet realism" style so common to that era, not unlike that found on Federal Artists Project post office murals of the 1930‘s. Framed by PRR's stately maroon and gold and with the year's calendar beneath the image, these works were highly prized at the time. Today they are cherished collector's items both here and abroad. Published by the Osborne Calendar Company, it is believed that roughly 300,000 of these large calendars were issued annually by the PRR for its offices and as gifts to its most highly courted customers. Students will view the Pennsylvania Railroad's remarkable calendar art. Additional background information may be obtained from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

Also refer to the sub-story Traveling by Rail–the Passenger Story.

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