The Little Engine That Could
The Little Engine that Could is an illustrated children's book that was first published in the United States of America in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."
A 2011 reading of "Story of the Engine that Thought It Could" (1906, Rev. Charles S. Wing) (2 min 23 sec)
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The story's "signature phrases" such as "I think I can" first occurred in print in a 1902 article in a Swedish journal. An early published version of the story, "Story of the Engine that Thought It Could", appeared in the New York Tribune, 8 April 1906, as part of a sermon by the Rev. Charles S. Wing.
A 2011 reading of "Thinking One Can" (1906, unattributed) (1 min 37 sec)
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A brief version of the tale appeared under the title Thinking One Can in 1906, in Wellspring for Young People, a Sunday school publication. This version reappeared in a 1910 book, Foundation Stones of Success.
A 2011 reading of "The Pony Engine" (1910, Mary C. Jacobs) (2 min 45 sec)
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Another version was published under the name The Pony Engine in the Kindergarten Review in 1910, written by Mary C. Jacobs. A different version with the same title The Pony Engine appeared in a magazine for children in 1916 under the name of Mabel C. Bragg, a teacher, but she "took no credit for originating the story."
The first time the story appeared in print with the title The Little Engine that Could was in 1920 in a set of books entitled My Book House that was sold in the U.S. via door-to-door salespersons. The My Book House version began "Once there was a Train-of-Cars; she was flying across the country with a load of Christmas toys for the children who lived on the other side of the mountain." The story was labeled "As told by Olive Beaupré Miller"; the first edition gave credit to Bragg, but subsequent editions did not as Miller subsequently concluded that "the story belonged to the realm of folk literature."
The best known incarnation of the story The Little Engine That Could was written by "Watty Piper", a pen name of Arnold Munk, who was the owner of the publishing firm Platt & Munk. Arnold Munk was born in Hungary, and as a child, moved with his family to the United States, settling in Chicago. Later he moved to New York. Platt & Munk's offices were at 200 Fifth Avenue until 1957 when Arnold Munk died. Arnold Munk used the name Watty Piper as both an author of children's books and as the editor of many of the books that Platt & Munk published. He personally hired Lois Lenski to illustrate the book. This retelling of the tale The Pony Engine appeared in 1930, with a title page that stated "“Retold by Watty Piper from The Pony Engine by Mabel C. Bragg’s copyrighted by George H. Doran and Co.”
In 1954, Platt & Munk published another version of The Little Engine That Could, with slightly revised language and new, more colorful illustrations by George and Doris Hauman. Although there had been many previous editions of this classic story, "It was the work of George and Doris Hauman that earned The Little Engine the title of being worthy to sit on the same shelf as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". A 1976 rework featured art by Ruth Sanderson received a lot of attention at the time of its release, in part because the art reflected "the stereotypes of masculine strength and feminine weakness in vogue when it was written."
In the tale, a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Larger engines, treated anthropomorphically, are asked to pull the train; for various reasons they refuse. The request is sent to a small engine, who agrees to try. The engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: "I-think-I-can".
The story of the little engine has been told and retold many times. The underlying theme is the same — a stranded train is unable to find an engine willing to take it on over difficult terrain to its destination. Only the little blue engine is willing to try and, while repeating the mantra "I think I can, I think I can," overcomes a seemingly impossible task.
An early version goes as follows:
A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. "I can't; that is too much a pull for me," said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. "I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."
As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, "I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can." It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, "I thought I could, I thought I could."
Later versions would revamp the story to have a more specific appeal for children — the stranded train is recast as a train of good food and anthropomorphic toys for the children across the mountain, thus in saving the train the little engine seems to be working for the benefit of the child reader, making the successful deed all the more triumphant.
In these versions another character appeared and remained a key part of the story hereafter — the clown ringleader of the toys who attempts to find help with several locomotives but is rebuffed. The number of engines in the story also eventually became standard across the tellings: The happy locomotive on the toy train who breaks down and cannot go on, the pompous passenger engine who considers himself too grand for the task, the powerful freight engine who views himself as too important, and the elderly engine who lacks either the strength or determination to help the toys. The little blue engine always appears last and, although perhaps reluctant (some editions have the engine clarify her role as a switcher not suited for road-work), always rises to the occasion and saves the day for the children over the mountain.
Each engine is defined by its appearance or function and is not given a name or personality beyond its role on the railroad. It is only in the 1991 film adaption that the engines' personalities are expanded on, including the granting of names: Farnsworth (the express engine), Pete (the freight engine), Georgia (the friendly engine of the toy train), Jebediah (the elderly engine) and Tillie, the titular "little engine that could". The clown was also named "Rollo" and a sixth engine character, "Doc", appeared briefly to recover the broken-down Georgia and thus tie up the hanging story-thread of what happened to the failed engine of the toy train, which all other versions leave unaddressed.
The tale with its easy-to-grasp moral has become a classic children's story and was adapted in 1991 as a 30-minute animated film produced in Wales and co-financed in Wales and the United States. The film named the famous little engine "Tillie" and expanded the narrative into a larger story of self-discovery.
In March 2011, the story was adapted as a 3-D film named The Little Engine That Could, produced by Universal Studios and featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alyson Stoner, and Corbin Bleu.
"Little Engine" toys and Rail Tours 
A full-size replica of the Little Engine That Could makes an annual circuit around the United States. Arranged through Rail Events, Inc., a number of tourist and museum railroad operations host the "I Think I Can" Rail Tour. The replica was constructed in 2005 by the Strasburg Railroad. Strasburg also constructed the Thomas The Tank Engine replicas that tour throughout the United States.
American toy company Whittle Shortline produces wooden toy trains of The Little Engine That Could as a domestic alternative to Thomas the Tank Engine. Maxim Enterprise held the license prior to 2006. The toys have proven to be popular, with the recent (as of June 2007) announcement of Thomas the Tank Engine toys containing lead. Many parents have expressed outrage at the news of the lead-tainted toys and have bought "Little Engine" toys as an alternative.
In popular culture 
- In the 1941 Disney movie "Dumbo", Casey Jr., the work train, taking the circus animals to their destination pulls its cargo up a hill repeating the well known saying "I-Think-I-Can-I-Think-I-Can" and rolls down the hill saying "I-Thought-I-Could-I-Thought-I-Could"
- International champion vintage motorcycle racer Todd Henning's motto was "I Think I Can, I Think I Can," and he named his racing team I Think I Can Racing after the book.
- The story was made into a song by Burl Ives, eliminating two of the engines who refuse to help the stuck train and ending with a more optimistic variation of the congratulatory mantra: "I knew I could."
- The story was referenced extensively as a fictionalised or theoretical film pitch to illustrate the Hollywood system of meetings in the William Goldman book Adventures in the Screen Trade.
- The story was read in MTV's Beavis and Butt-head[episode needed] when principal McVicker went into a psychiatric hospital and was reading part of the story.
- The story was made into a skit on The Electric Company, with Hattie Winston narrating, "I think I can!" and portraying the engineer driving a train up a steep hill. The train makes it over and Hattie keeps repeating "I thought I could!" until the train ends up going right into a lake at the bottom of the hill.
- This book was chosen by "Jumpstart Read for the Record" to be read worldwide to tens of thousands of children on August 24, 2006.
- In the Watty Piper retelling, the engine that breaks down and Little Engine That Could are female, while all of the engines that refuse to help are male (this was the same in the 1991 movie).
- The Little Engine is based on the C. P. Huntington locomotive with a 4-2-4T wheel arrangement.
- Shel Silverstein wrote a poem called "The Little Blue Engine" that referenced this story, except in the end the engine almost reached the top of the hill but then very quickly slid back down and crashed on the rocks below. The poem ended with the memorable line "If the track is tough and the hill is rough, THINKING you can just ain't enough!"
- Mickey's Young Readers Library had an adaptation titled Goofy Goes to the Fair, in which Goofy's friends have to ride with him in his car Old Faithful, in the role of the engine, to the fair.
- In The End, by Lemony Snicket, the Little Engine That Could is mentioned, described as "one of the most tedious stories on Earth".
- One comic of The Far Side features a down-on-his-luck Little Engine sitting at the side of a building with a sign that reads "I thought I could, I thought I could."
- The Little Engine that Could was mentioned in the 1993 film adaption of Dennis the Menace.
- The song "C'mon 'n' Ride It (The Train)" by Quad City DJs includes the famous lines "I think I can, I think I can."
- The first episode of the third season of Fox's sit-com Married... With Children, "He Thought He Could", Al Bundy has forgotten to return the book to the library for 21 years.
- In the comedy movie Major Payne, the title character tells an incarnation of what starts out as what seems like a legit version of the story, then into a particularly gory version of one of his war stories, to his youngest cadet.
- In a commercial for Jolly Rancher, the Little Engine That Could is seen in the background climbing the mountain. However, just before he reaches the top, the woman in the foreground eats an apple Jolly Rancher, causing a large apple to appear on top of the mountain, preventing the engine from reaching the top and making it slide back down the track and crash into the rocks below he can be heard saying Ow!.
- President Clinton mentioned the book at his speech to the Democratic National Committee in 1996.
- In the Hey Arnold! episode "Stoop Kid", the book is used as an inspiration for the character Stoop Kid.
- The story was made into a song by John Denver with the title of the same name. It was featured on his final album All Aboard!.
- Captain Kangaroo, played by Bob Keeshan, read this story on his TV show.
- In an episode[which?] of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, a book named "The Little Engineer that Could" is read, a reference to the title of this book.[original research?]
- In the "Bedtime Stories" episode of season one of the UK TV series The Book Group, the book the group read was The Little Engine that Could.
- In an episode[which?] of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Ned finds Gordy reading the book in the school library.
- West End and Broadway musical Starlight Express was loosely based on the book.
- In the seventh episode of the first season of The Big Bang Theory, "The Dumpling Paradox," Christy tells Howard: "There's my little engine that could" to which he replies "Chugga-chugga-chugga..." and Sheldon says: "There's another beloved children's book I can never read again."
- Former Syracuse University football head coach Greg Robinson directly quoted this Wikipedia page in his farewell speech in December 2008.
- The explanation of the internals of regular expressions (regexes) in Perl in The Camel book is titled "The little engine that /Could(n\'t)?/."
- In the Barney & Friends episode "Who's Who On the Choo-Choo?" Stella the Storyteller recites The Little Engine That Could.
- In an episode[which?] of Family Ties, two people read The Little Engine That Could.
- In a Hallmark commercial, they[who?] read The Little Engine That Could. When they see a Hallmark card, they stop reading the book and mom reads the card.
- In a J. Cole song, Who Dat, rapper J. Cole mentions the book by saying "The little engine that could, this little nigga is good."
- In "No Hands", a 2010 song by rapper Waka Flocka Flame, guest star Wale says at the end of his verse "I put her on the train little engine could, bitch."
- In the Jake and the Never Land Pirates episode Jake Saves Bucky Hook mentions The Little Pirate Ship That Could a parody of the title.
- National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 22, 2012.
- Plotnick, Roy E. (2012). "In Search of Watty Piper: The History of the 'Little Engine' Story". New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship 18 (1): 11–26. doi:10.1080/13614541.2012.650957. ISSN 1361-4541.
- Bernice E. Cullinan, Diane Goetz Person. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. Continuum International Publishing Group, Aug 1, 2003. Pg. 634
- "I Think I Can Rail Tour". Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- "Whittle Shortline Railroad". Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Gil McClanahan (2007-06-19). "Recall on Thomas the Tank Engine Toys". WOWK-TV. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- "Jumpstart's Read for the Record Event Highlights". Retrieved 2008-06-19.[dead link]
- "Storytime with Greg Robinson". Retrieved 2010-12-09.
- Plotnick, Roy E. "In Search of Watty Piper: A Brief History of the "Little Engine" Story". University of Illinois at Chicago. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- The Little Engine That Could (10-min film) at Internet Archive, by Coronet Films