“Mile for Mile, The Most Highly Developed Railroad in America”
One of the smaller but prominent railroads in the United States was the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western (D L & W) which extended from Hoboken, NJ near the Hudson River to Buffalo, NY, on lake Erie spanning a distance of approximately 396 miles. In the late 19th century the D L & W found themselves to be in direct competition with big name railroads such as the New York Central and the Erie, having the competitive advantage of holding the fastest and most direct route to get from New York City to Buffalo.
At the turn of the 20th century, the main source of long distance travel was by passenger train. Locomotives would often be hot and uncomfortable, forcing passengers to open windows to let the breeze pass though the cars. This often left travelers covered in a layer of black soot at the end of a long trip.
With branch lines extending around Scranton, PA, an area known to have an abundance of anthracite, a hot burning and clean form of coal, the D. L. & W. offered a more enjoyable ride than most other railroads which offered the cheaper but sooty bituminous coal universally used everywhere else. It could legitimately claim that their passengers’ clothes would still look clean after a long trip.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE PHOEBE SNOW
One of the most successful, popular and groundbreaking advertising campaigns for the 20th century was the Lackawanna railroads “Phoebe Snow,” a young Victorian woman dressed in all white, promoting the use of anthracite coal on the railroad. Phoebe Snow was the brainchild of Earnest Elmo Calkins, a partner in a New York City Advertising Agency that the D. L. & W. hired in 1900 to create a campaign promoting travel on its passenger trains. Calkins launched his Phoebe Snow campaign basing it around a young woman from New York City who was a frequent traveler of the railroad. Ms. Snow was cast wearing a long stylish white dress, with matching gloves, shoes and hat. The original artwork was painted from a series of images from a live model. The images of Phoebe Snow were often accompanied by a short rhyme:
Calkins advertising campaign, based off a live model, a fictional character and a jingle was the first of its kind. The D. L. & W. reaped its rewards with a dramatic increase in ridership.
The ad campaign came to a screeching halt with the beginning of World War I. Anthracite coal was greatly needed for the war effort, and the use of it was banned on railroads, abruptly putting a stop to Phoebe’s career. Her farewell was followed by her last 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!”
Phoebe was gone, but certainly not forgotten. On Nov. 15, 1949, the Lackawanna Railroad resurrected her when it inaugurated a new streamlined passenger train named, Phoebe Snow. But, due to mergers and acquisitions and the increasing airline industry, Phoebe made her last run in late 1966.
The Route of Phoebe Snow: A Story of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad by Sheldon S. King