Phoebe Snow (character)
Phoebe Snow was a fictional character created by Earnest Elmo Calkins to promote the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The advertising campaign was one of the first to present a fictional character based on a live model amid impressionistic techniques.
The advertising campaign
Rail travel around 1900 was tough on the clothing of passengers. After a long trip on a coal-powered train, travellers frequently would disembark covered with black soot, unless the locomotives were powered by anthracite, a clean-burning form of coal. The Lackawanna owned vast anthracite mines in Pennsylvania, and could legitimately claim that the clothes of their passengers would remain clean after a long trip.
To promote this, the Calkins advertising department created, "Phoebe Snow", a young New York socialite, and a frequent passenger of the Lackawanna.:9 The advertising campaign presented Miss Snow as often traveling to Buffalo, New York and always wearing a white dress.:9 Calkins said he based the campaign on an earlier series of Lackawanna car cards - All in Lawn - created by DL&W advertising manager, Wendell P. Colton. They had been built on a rather limiting nursery rhyme, The House That Jack Built, and featured a nameless heroine dressed in white. For his new campaign, Calkins adopted a form of verse inspired by an onomatopoetic rhyme, Riding on the Rail, that he felt offered endless possibilities.
The first advertisement featured the image of Phoebe and a short poem:
- Says Phoebe Snow
- about to go
- upon a trip to Buffalo
- "My gown stays white
- from morn till night
- Upon the Road of Anthracite"
Phoebe soon became one of the most recognized advertising mascots in the United States, and she began to enjoy all the benefits offered by DL&W: gourmet food, courteous attendants, an observation deck, even onboard electric lights:
- Now Phoebe may
- by night or day
- enjoy her book upon the way
- Electric light
- dispels the night
- Upon the Road of Anthracite
"Phoebe Snow" was the only name Calkins ever used in the advertisements, and he laughed at later claims by Lackawanna officials that the name was selected only after lengthy scientific experimentation. The original artwork was painted by Henry Stacy Benton, who worked from a series of images of a model, Mrs. Murray. Later, she was photographed in a variety of railroad activities while dressed in a white gown. Standing in for the cool, violet-corsaged Phoebe character of the paintings, Mrs. Murray was one of the first models to be used in advertising.:9
During World War I, anthracite was needed for the war effort and its use on railroads was prohibited, thus ending the career of Phoebe Snow. As she passed into legend, the Calkins heroine said farewell with the following jingle:
- Miss Phoebe's trip
- without a slip
- is almost o'er
- Her trunk and grip
- are right and tight
- without a slight
- "Good bye, old Road of Anthracite!"
Revival of the name
On November 15, 1949, the Lackawanna Railroad inaugurated a new streamlined passenger train named after its long-dormant promotional symbol. The new Phoebe Snow represented the modernization of the Lackawanna passenger train fleet, and its image. The new train became Train No. 3 (westbound) and No. 6 (eastbound), which previously had been assigned to the railroad's formerly premier train, the Lackawanna Limited.
- Young, Margaret (2006). On the Go with Phoebe Snow: Origins of an Advertising Icon 7 (2). doi:10.1353/asr.2006.0029. ISSN 1534-7311.
- Watkins, Julian (June 1, 1959). The 100 Greatest Advertisements (second ed.). Dover Publications. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-486-20540-3.
- "Manuscript Collections: Earnest Elmo Calkins/Willis E. Terry Letters". Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad in the Twentieth Century, Part I, Thomas T. Taber III, Lycoming Printing Company, 1980, p. 169-176.
- Watkins, Julian (1959). The One Hundred Greatest Advertisements, 1852-1958. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-20540-1.
- Sanders, Craig (2003). Limiteds, locals, and expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34216-3. OCLC 50598164.
- Fowler, Gene (1949). Beau James: The Life and Times of Jimmy Walker. Viking Press. p. 35.