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The First Streamlined Train in Bismarck, 1936


Streamlined design was fashionable in the later 1920s and throughout the ‘30s. This modern style came to North Dakota in a dramatic way in the summer of 1936.

Americans seemed to be captivated by speed and efficiency, and the streamline-style movement began in the transportation industry, as designers experimented with making airplanes, dirigibles, and locomotives that could operate with the least-possible air resistance. The resulting vehicles had a distinctive teardrop or bullet-shaped aerodynamic design for maximum efficiency.

On this date in 1936, Bismarck was in the middle of its second-annual “Railroad Week,” celebrating the Capital City’s longtime connections with the Northern Pacific Railway. There were a host of events sponsored by the Western Railroads and the city’s railway boosters.

Just a few days earlier, excitement for the event was bolstered by the first streamlined train to visit Bismarck. Known as the “Million Dollar Streamlined Rexall Train,” it was said to be the “Wonder Train of the Century.”

Speeding across the country to visit 147 cities on a “history-making tour,” the drug company’s promotional train was said to be the “longest streamlined train in the world.” It train consisted of four exhibition cars, two lecture cars for business training sessions, a diner car, an executive office car, a lounge, baggage car, and two cars for dancing to the music of the ‘Rexall Ramblers’ string quartette. It was a stylish spectacle with hundreds of exhibits that people just had to visit.

What Bismarck people most wanted to see was the magnificent streamlined locomotive. Weighing 350 tons, measuring 100-feet-long, and painted royal-blue and white, its stylish curves and sculpted nose made it look like it was fast. In fact, its aerodynamic shape made it look fast even while it was standing still.

The sleek Rexall train stopped in Bismarck for just one day, but the style returned to the city in a multitude of products. Streamlined design appeared in automobiles, bicycles and boats, and also in household items that had no reason to appear fast, like radios, toasters, electric mixers, steam irons, clocks, vacuum-cleaners, and even pencil-sharpeners. Designers had readily adopted the dramatic, up-to-date style.

Today we remember the thrills of American modern streamlining and the summer when the first streamlined locomotive zoomed into Bismarck in 1936.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “Second Annual Railroad Week, July 13-18,” Bismarck Tribune, July 7, 1936, p. 5; “Streamlined Train Stirs Imagination: Its Hold on Youth of Country Is Recalled During Railroad Week,” Hope Star [Hope, Arkansas], July 14, 1936, p. 1.

“American Modern Streamlining,” xroads.virginia.edu, accessed on May 21, 2016; “American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow,” "http://www.bgc.bard.edu" www.bgc.bard.edu , accessed on May 21, 2016.

“Stream-Lined Train Of 12 Cars To Visit Bismarck On Friday,” Bismarck Tribune, June 22, 1936, p. 8.

“The Million Dollar Streamlined Rexall Train In Bismarck All Day Friday,” advertisement, Bismarck Tribune, June 25, 1936, p. 4.

“Huge Streamlined Rexall Train To Visit Bismarck,” Bismarck Tribune, June 19, 1936, p. 5.

“Transcript: Streamliners,” PBS American Experience, "http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/transcript/streamliners-transcript/" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/transcript/streamliners-transcript/ , accessed on May 21, 2016.

“Biography: Industrial Designers and Streamliners,” PBS American Experience, "http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/biography/streamliners-designers/" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/biography/streamliners-designers/ , accessed on May 21, 2016.