Construction is Completed on a Trailblazing Streamliner

April 9, 1934

At its manufacturing plant in Philadelphia, the Budd Company finished work on a streamliner (a high-speed trainset) for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. (That railroad, which operated in the midwestern United States from 1855 to 1970, was also known as both the CB&Q and the Burlington Route.) The exterior of the new trainset was built entirely of welded stainless steel. This unibody construction helped lower the overall weight of the trainset to 195,000 pounds (88,451 kilograms) and thereby enhance its faster-than-average performance.

This fluted trainset consisted of three cars that collectively measured 197 feet (60.1 meters). The lead vehicle contained both the power supply and a railway post office; the second vehicle functioned as a baggage/buffet/coach car; and the final vehicle served as a coach/observation car. Ten days after the trainset had been rolled out of the Budd Company’s Philadelphia-based plant, it was formally christened at Broad Street Station in the City of Brotherly Love. As part of that ceremony, the trainset was named the Burlington Zephyr. Marguerite Cotsworth, a student at Swarthmore College and daughter of CB&Q passenger traffic manager Albert Cotsworth, Jr., performed the christening duties. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that she “launched [the] ship-on-tracks by breaking a champagne bottle over its silver nose.”

The Burlington Zephyr was subsequently characterized by Albert Cotsworth, Jr., as the new “speed king of the rails” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. This newspaper also noted, “The train is the last word in comfort beauty, quietness and economy.” The Associated Press reported that the trainset “accommodates 72 passengers in de luxe style and is capable of more than 100 miles [160.9 kilometers] an hour.”

At the time of its debut, the Burlington Zephyr also had several other claims to fame. It was only the second internal combustion-powered streamliner that had been built for mainline service in the United States. In addition, it was the first American streamliner to be specifically powered by a diesel engine and used for revenue service.  

The Burlington Zephyr would also be widely hailed as the first successful streamliner to operate in the United States. An early milestone for this trainset took place less than two month after it was completed. On May 26, 1934, the Burlington Zephyr set a speed record for travel from Denver to Chicago by finishing a nonstop run of 1,015.4 miles (1,633 kilometers) between those cities in 13 hours and five minutes. During that run, the Burlington Zephyr attained a top speed of 112.5 miles (181 kilometers) per hour.

A couple of years after it officially went into service, the Burlington Zephyr was renamed the Pioneer Zephyr to set it apart from the other Zephyr trainsets that were steadily being added to the fleet of CB&Q by that time. The Pioneer Zephyr remained in operation until 1960, when it was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago after having logged more than 3.2 million miles (5.2 million kilometers) of service. The Pioneer Zephyr is still on public display at that museum today.

For more information on the Pioneer Zephyr (originally called the Burlington Zephyr), please check out Pioneer Zephyr – Wikipedia

3 thoughts on “Construction is Completed on a Trailblazing Streamliner

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    1. I am not certain whether my previous message was successfully transmitted, so I want to take this opportunity to thankyou for bringing both of those errors in metric measurements to my attention. Evidently, kilometers were very much on my mind while I was preparing that post last week! Please accept my sincerest apologies for each of those mistakes. I appreciate your diligence in contacting me about both, and I also want to express my gratitude for your longtime support for and interest in the Transportation History blog posts.

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