The Mercury Train

The Mercury was a family of daytime streamliner passenger trains that ran between midwestern cities in the United States. The Mercury train sets are an excellent representative of Streamline Moderne design.

mercury train
Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station in 1936. Patty Allison colorized photo.

After the Depression, the New York Central was hesitant to spend millions on a design that was still in its early phases and untried. The railroad, on the other hand, was not entirely conservative. To give the Mercury its own identity and character, industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss was engaged. With passengers and spectators alike, the train proved to be a great success.

the mercury train
Railway Age article about the New York Central train, The Mercury, which was new at the time. The article contains technical descriptions, descriptions of the train’s interior and exterior, as well as a floor plan for all of its 7 cars.

The first daily service between Cleveland and Detroit was introduced on July 15, 1936. The Chicago Mercury, which linked Chicago and Detroit on a daily roundtrip, was launched later that year.

Mercury ran daily between Detroit, Michigan, and St. Louis, Missouri, via Toledo and across Illinois on the jointly-owned Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad (the “Big Four”). Another train, originally known as the Detroiter, but later changed to Detroitian, operated daily between Detroit and Cleveland via Toledo, Ohio on the three railroads listed above.

The trains were known for their elegant modern bullet-shaped appearance. The cars were air-conditioned and included such amenities as a restaurant car with full menus prepared for each meal by onboard chefs (including New York City’s famed Sealtest ice cream), fresh milk delivered daily to the train by milk trains along its route, and individual Venetian blinds in every compartment.

The Mercury had “parlor car” seating for 24 in the Eastbound and Westbound trains. The parlor car was a lounge during the day with fine linens as well as snacks, cocktails, and some of the best views on the train. Passengers were assigned individual rooms for the first time in sleepers, which was a feature that was soon adopted by other trains.

the mercury train

The Mercury was one of the first trains to be completely streamlined. It was powered by either a diesel or an electric locomotive, depending on availability. The trains were painted in five colors – grey with red trim, silver with blue-green trim, ivory with red trim, crimson with silver, gray with bronze-red trim.

The Mercurys lasted until the mid-1950s, with the final surviving model, the original Cleveland Mercury, operating its last train on July 11, 1959.

More info: The Mercury Train
Cleveland Mercury ticket New York Central 1938
Cleveland Mercury ticket New York Central 1938

mercury train

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