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Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection

 Collection
Identifier: TL003

  • Staff Only
This collection has been digitized and can be viewed here: Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection, 1943-1993.

In the last decade of the privately operated passenger train (1960-1971) over half of the passenger trains east of the Mississippi had a terminus in New York City. Historic Penn Station was on a death watch to be replaced by an anonymous office building and sports arena. But trains of the Pennsylvania, Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Airline, Southern, Norfolk and Western, Chesapeake and Ohio and New Haven could all be found on the tracks in the bowels of the station. Across town Grand Central Terminal hosted the remains of the New York Central’s fleet including the 20th Century Limited as well as the New Haven’s trains to New England such as the Merchant’s Limited. Hidden across the Hudson in Hoboken were the Erie and Lackawanna.

Dining car service in the 20th Century was one of the primary methods of competition among the railroads for passenger business. Railroads often had special dishes that they were known for, like the Northern Pacific’s Great Baked Potato and the Baltimore and Ohio’s "help yourself" salad bowl. Dining car service always lost prodigious amounts of money which was considered a cost of the business. By the 1960’s the Pennsylvania, New York Central and New Haven were staggering under large passenger deficits and declines in freight traffic. But even those two railroads maintained a measure of luxury on their two famous streamliners to Chicago, the Central’s 20th Century and the Pennsy’s Broadway Limited (one of the last all sleeping car trains in the US). The two railroads serving Florida (the Coast Line and the Seaboard) and the Santa Fe still believed that their major streamliners could make money and were considered the champions of the passenger train. Depending upon their financial condition and type of passenger service levels ran the gamut in between. Some carriers like the Lehigh Valley had already abandoned all service with more to follow. Unfortunately the decision of the Post Office to remove mail from the railroad in 1967 was the kiss of death for many trains.

Most menus could be found reflecting the traditional values but also slimmed down to a more basic menu to serve the discretionary travelers who represented the bulk of the passengers. Inevitably a steak, fish and chicken entrée were standard with less adventuresome appetizers and desserts. Interestingly an omelet often showed up on the evening bill of fare. The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio offered the GM & O special sandwich, a gargantuan club sandwich complete with caviar. Rocky mountain trout could be found on the Denver and Rio Grande and fried apples on the Norfolk and Western. The Illinois Central offered a five course Kings Dinner. With Amtrak taking over all of the long distance passenger trains starting in May 1971 (the Rio Grande, Rock Island and Southern initially held out) the day of regional variety was largely dead. Amtrak would take one step forward and then inevitably two steps back in their dining car menus. As of 2011, twelve Amtrak long-distance trains still offer dining car service.

Dates

  • 1943-1993
  • Other: Date acquired: 09/09/2009

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Researchers wishing to review the physical collection must contact the Transportation Library at (847) 491-5273 for appointment.

Extent

238.00 items

Abstract

The Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection consists of 238 items: 227 menus and eleven pamphlets. 35 United States and Canadian railroads are represented in the collection. All menus were issued by their respective railroad.

Arrangement Note

Items are arranged by associated corporate body. This collection has been digitized--see below for a link to the digitized menus for this collection. Item-level links for each menu are forthcoming.
Title
Guide to the Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection
Author
Alexander Tapling, Paul R. Burley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Repository Details

Part of the Northwestern University Transportation Library Repository

Contact:
Northwestern University Library (Level 5, North tower)
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208- US
847-491-5273