20th Century Limited
The 20th Century Limited was an express passenger train operated by the New York Central Railroad from 1902 to 1967, during which time it would become known as a "National Institution" and the "Most Famous Train in the World". In the year of its last run, The New York Times said that it "...was known to railroad buffs for 65 years as the world's greatest train". The train traveled between Grand Central Terminal in New York City and LaSalle Street Station in Chicago, Illinois along the railroad's famed "Water Level Route".
The NYC inaugurated this train as direct competition to the Pennsylvania Railroad, aimed at upper class as well as business travelers between the two cities. It made few station stops along the way and used track pans en route to take water at speed. Beginning on June 15, 1938, when it got streamlined equipment, it made the 960.7-mile journey in 16 hours, departing New York City westbound at 6:00 P.M. Eastern Time and arriving at Chicago's LaSalle St. Station the following morning at 9:00 A.M. Central Time, averaging 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). For a brief period after World War II, the eastward schedule was shortened to 15½ hours.
Equal with the 20th Century's reputation for speed was its style, described as "spectacularly understated ... suggesting exclusivity and sophistication". Passengers walked to and from the train on a plush, crimson carpet which was rolled out in New York and Chicago and was specially designed for the 20th Century Limited. "Getting the red carpet treatment" passed into the language from this memorable practice. "Transportation historians", said the writers of The Art of the Streamliner, "consistently rate the 1938 edition of the Century to be the world's ultimate passenger conveyance—at least on the ground".
Inaugurated on June 17, 1902 by patent medicine salesman turned passenger agent George Henry Daniels, the train offered a barbershop and secretarial services. The train arrived in Chicago at Union Station three minutes ahead of schedule. At that time, the trip took twenty hours, cutting four hours off the time previously required. The New York Times report laid great stress on the routine nature of the trip, with no special procedures being followed and no extra efforts being made to break records. It stated that there "...was no excitement along the way," and quoted a railroad official's claim "...it is a perfectly practical run and will be continued," and engineer William Gates maintaining "This schedule can be made without any difficulty. I can do it every time, barring accidents."
The schedule dropped to 18 hours in June 1905, the same month that the train wrecked (June 21, 1905) on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern R.R. line at Mentor, Ohio. After more changes it reverted to 20 hours in 1912 and was unchanged until 1932. In 1935 it dropped to 16 hours 30 min each way, and to 16 hours flat on June 15, 1938, when lightweight cars took over.
In the 1920s the New York to Chicago fare was $32.70 plus the extra fare of $9.60, plus the Pullman charge (e.g. $9 for a lower berth), for a total charge of $51.30, equal to $700 today. For that, one received a bed closed off from the aisle by curtains; a compartment to oneself would cost more. In 1928, the peak year, the train earned revenue of $10 million and was believed to be the most profitable train in the world.
In 1938 industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss was commissioned by the New York Central to design streamlined train sets in Art Deco style, with the locomotive and passenger cars rendered in blues and grays (the colors of the New York Central). The streamlined sets were inaugurated on June 15, 1938. His design was probably the most famous American passenger train. Like many express passenger trains through the mid-1960s, the "20th Century Ltd" carried an East Division (E.D.) Railway Post Office (R.P.O.) car operated by the Railway Mail Service (RMS) of the United States Post Office Department which was staffed by USPOD clerks as a "fast mail" on each of its daily runs. The mails received by, postmarked, processed, sorted, and dispatched from the "20th Century Ltd's" RPOs were either canceled or backstamped (as appropriate) during the trip by hand applied circular date stamps (CDS) reading "N.Y. & CHI. R.P.O. E.D. 20TH CEN.LTD." and the train's number: "25" (NY-CHI) or "26" (CHI-NY).
In 1945, EMD diesel-electric power replaced steam power, and a new diesel-electric-powered trainset was commissioned. The replacement train set was inaugurated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in September, 1948. It was this set that was featured in postwar films such as North by Northwest and The Band Wagon.
For much of its history before 1957 the all-Pullman train made station stops only at Grand Central Terminal and Harmon for New York–area passengers and LaSalle Street Station and Englewood for Chicago-area passengers. These traveled in as many as seven sections, of which the first was named The Advance 20th Century Limited. If trains ran on schedule they would pass halfway not far west of Buffalo Central Terminal. Trains left Grand Central on the New York and Harlem Railroad tracks, then took the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad to reach the New York Central's main Water Level Route. It passed north along the Hudson River and west to Buffalo, then southwest and west on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway along the south shore of Lake Erie, and north into Chicago, merging with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad at Englewood. In case of track closures, alternate routes such as the New York and Harlem Railroad from New York to Chatham, NY and Boston & Albany Railroad from there to Albany, NY, or the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railroad between Schenectady and Buffalo, could be used.
By the late 1950s the train was in decline. On December 2, 1967, at 6:00 P.M., the half-full train left Grand Central Terminal track 34 for the last time. As always, carnations were given to men and perfume and flowers to women boarding the train. The next day it straggled into LaSalle Street Station in Chicago 9 hours 50 minutes late due to a freight derailment near Conneaut, Ohio, necessitating a detour over the Nickel Plate (New York, Chicago and St. Louis) Railroad.
Today Amtrak operates the Lake Shore Limited between New York's Penn Station and Union Station in Chicago. Otherwise it follows a route similar to the 20th Century's, except west of Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago), where it switches to the former Pennsylvania Railroad's Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway.
- June 15, 1902: The 20th Century Limited is inaugurated.
- 1913: The line is electrified south of Croton-Harmon, and the engine change point is moved there.
- 1937: Recipe for the 20th Century cocktail is published in the Cafe Royal Bar Book.
- June 15, 1938: The Dreyfuss Hudson is introduced to pull the new, streamlined 20th Century Limited.
- 1957: The 20th Century Limited is combined with the Commodore Vanderbilt, adding more station stops to the original four (two terminals and two suburban stops).
- July 1959: The 20th Century Limited is prominently featured in the MGM film North by Northwest starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason.
- December 3, 1967: The 20th Century Limited is discontinued just before the merger of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad that forms the Penn Central.
- August 26, 1999: The United States Postal Service issues 33-cent All Aboard! 20th Century American Trains commemorative stamps featuring five celebrated American passenger trains from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the five stamps features an image of a streamlined J-3a steam locomotive leading the 20th Century Limited out of the Chicago railyards on its way to New York, with the Board of Trade Building in the background.
Sample Consists 
- Locomotive: Class T3A Electric Locomotive.
- Class MP Postal Car: NYC #4857.
- Class CS Baggage-Club Car: NYC VAN TWILLER.
- Class PS Sleeper (8 Sections; 1 Drawing Room; 2 Compartments) CENTACORRA.
- Class PS Sleepers (6 Sections; 6 Double Bedrooms) POPLAR PARK; POPLAR HIGHLANDS.
- Class PS Sleeper (6 Compartment; 3 Drawing Rooms) GLEN ANNA.
- Class DA Diners; NYC 654; NYC 655.
- Class PS Sleeper (6 Sections; 6 Double Bedrooms); POPLAR GROVE.
- Class PS Sleepers (13 Double Bedrooms); MACOMB HOUSE; PRINGLE HOUSE.
- Class PSO Sleeper-Buffet-Lounge-Observation (1 Drawing Room; 1 Single Bedroom); ELKHART VALLEY.
- Locomotive: E-7A Diesel # NYC 4025
- Locomotive: E-8A Diesel # NYC 4080
- Locomotive: E-7A Diesel # NYC 4007
- Class MB Baggage-Mail Car: NYC #5018
- Class CSB Baggage-Dormitory Car: NYC 8979
- Class PB Coach NYC 2942
- Class DG Grill Diner; NYC 450.
- Class PAS Sleepercoaches (16 Single Rooms; 10 Double Rooms) NYC 10811; 10817
- Class PS Sleeper (22 Roomettes) NYC 10355 BOSTON HARBOR.
- Class DKP Kitchen-Lounge Car: NYC 477.
- Class DE Dining Room Car; NYC 406.
- Class PS Sleeper (10 Roomettes; 6 Double Bedrooms); NYC 10171 CURRENT RIVER.
- Class PS Sleepers (12 Double Bedrooms); NYC 10511 PORT OF DETROIT; 10501 PORT BYRON.
- Class PSO Sleeper-Buffet-Lounge-Observation (5 Double Bedrooms); NYC 10633 HICKORY CREEK
- Locomotive: Class J3a (4-6-4 HUDSON) Steam Locomotive NYC 5450.
- Class MB Baggage-Mail Car: NYC #5017.
- Class DDL Dormitory-Buffet-Lounge Car: NYC CENTURY CLUB.
- Class PS Sleeper (10 Roomettes; 5 Double Bedrooms) CASCADE WONDER.
- Class PS Sleepers (17 Roomettes) CITY OF CLEVELAND; CITY OF DAYTON.
- Class PS Sleepers (10 Roomettes; 5 Double Bedrooms) CASCADE GLORY; CASCADE WHIRL.
- Class PS Sleeper (4 Double Bedrooms; 4 Compartments; 2 Drawing Rooms); IMPERIAL FOUNTAIN
- Class DA Diners; NYC 680; NYC 684.
- Class PS Sleeper (4 Double Bedrooms; 4 Compartments; 2 Drawing Rooms); IMPERIAL DOME; IMPERIAL CITY.
- Class PS Sleepers (13 Double Bedrooms); ONONDAGA COUNTY; HAMPDEN COUNTY; ASHTABULA COUNTY.
- Class PSO Sleeper-Buffet-Lounge-Observation (2 Double Bedrooms; 1 Compartment; 1 Drawing Room); MAUMEE RIVER.
- Locomotive: J-1 Class (4-6-4 HUDSON) Steam Locomotive; NYC #5270
- Class CS Baggage-Club Car: NYC EAGLE HEIGHTS.
- Class PS Sleeper (14 Sections) STAR VIEW.
- Class PS Sleeper (8 Sections; 1 Drawing Room; 2 Compartments) SPRING GAP.
- Class PS Sleeper (6 Compartment; 3 Drawing Rooms) GLEN ALICE.
- Class DA Diners; NYC 387.
- Class PS Sleeper (14 Sections) STAR SPUR.
- Class PS Sleeper (10 Sections; 2 Double Bedrooms); GANNETT PEAK.
- Class PS Sleeper (8 Sections; 1 Drawing Room; 2 Compartments) GLOVER GAP.
- Class PSO Sleeper-Buffet-Lounge-Observation (1 Drawing Room; 1 Single Bedroom); MOHAWK VALLEY.
In fiction 
The 20th Century Limited was the setting for a Broadway musical composed by Cy Coleman and written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green entitled On the Twentieth Century, about the romantic complications of a beautiful actress and an egocentric producer/director. Madeline Kahn and John Cullum starred in the short-running production, whose spectacular production design featured both the lavish Art Deco details of the time period as well innovative staging to open up what could be cramped quarters inside a train car. The musical was based on the 1932 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur stage play of the same subject, which in 1934 they adapted as a film entitled Twentieth Century, directed by Howard Hawks, with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in the lead roles. The train also figured prominently as a setting for major scenes in both Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and George Roy Hill's The Sting. While doing research for her book Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand learned the operation of the train and subsequently devised a fictional company - the "Twentieth Century Motor Company" - which would be important to the novel's plot.
See also 
- Empire State Express
- Super Chief
- Ohio State Limited
- Dreyfuss Hudson
- Lake Shore Limited
- Broadway Limited
- Beebe, Lucius (1962). The Twentieth Century Limited. Berkeley, California: Howell-North Publishing.
- Cook, Sr., Richard J. (1993). The Twentieth Century Limited. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing.
- 20th Century Limited Karl Zimmerman
- Browne, Malcolm W. (December 3, 1967). "The 20th Century Makes Final Run" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- Official Guide of the Railways. New York: National Railway Publication Co., February 1956, pp. 214–216.
- Johnston, Bob and Welsh, Joe (2001). The Art of the Streamliner. New York: MetroBooks. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1-58663-146-2.
- Claiborne, Robert. (1988). Loose Cannons and Red Herrings. A Book of Lost Metaphors. New York.: Norton. p. 193. ISBN 0-393-02578-0.
- Johnston, p. 46.
- Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City, The New York Historical Society, Yale University Press; 1995, p. 1207.
- New York Times December 3, 1967 p. 31
- Riding the Fast Mail. Popular Mechanics, February, 1943 p. 56 et seq.
- Wayner, Robert J. Passenger Train Consists; 1923–1973, Wayner Publications, p. 18.
- Wayner, p. 86.
- Wayner, p. 27.
- Wayner, p. 14.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: 20th Century Limited|
- 20th Century Limited
- Greatest Highway in the World Gutenberg.org e-book version of The Greatest Highway in the World: Historical, Industrial and Descriptive Information of the Towns, Cities and Country passed through between New York and Chicago via The New York Central Lines (c. 1921)
- Hickory Creek observation car - still in service as a private rail car for charters: one of only two remaining Amtrak-certified cars that were used on the New York Central's 20th Century Limited. The other is the former Sandy Creek, now owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz and named New York. Both were built by Pullman-Standard as large-windowed observation cars for the September, 1948 re-equipping of the train.