The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago is selling five large artifacts at auction, and is returning a world-famous car to the driver who set land-speed records in it. Thursday, as Steve Johnson revealed in the Chicago Tribune’s Arts & Entertainment section, M.S.I. is selling at auction one real locomotive and four replicas “as part of an effort to present a wider range of transportation in its galleries.”
He quoted Kathleen McCarthy, Director of Collections (and this writer’s former boss) as saying the Transportation Gallery “is narrowly focused on train technology, and what we are hoping to do is… be able to broaden the story.”
Bonhams, the San Francisco-based auction house, will be holding the auction in Philadelphia on Monday, October 5, 2015. The real locomotive M.S.I. will be offering for sale is the Mississippi, which Bonhams stated is “believed to be the first locomotive in the South.”
The Mississippi is a wood-burning steam locomotive with a smokestack twelve feet high, seven feet high, and eight feet long. Behind the engine is a flatcar that is seven feet wide and eight feet long.
It was built in England, possibly by Braithwaite & Milner, in 1834, and assembled in New York by Dunham & Company in 1836. From there, it traveled to Natchez, Mississippi, a port city on the Mississippi River becoming the first locomotive to operate in the state of Mississippi.
After the original owners ran into financial difficulties, a second railroad company bought it for use delivering cotton on a line near Vicksburg. It was present at the American Civil War’s Battle of Vicksburg, during which it ferried
Confederate troops and war supplies into the city as the Union’s Army of the Tennessee invested the city at the beginning of a six-week siege ending in the victory of Major General Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-1885) over Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton (1814-1881).
The triumphant Army of the Tennessee then used the locomotive. During the Reconstruction era, the train ran between two Mississippi cities, Vicksburg and Warrenton.
After it derailed near Warrenton in 1874, it was left submerged in mud until J.A. Hoskins bought both it and the railroad it served in 1880. Having repaired the vessel, he and his son operated it out of Brookhaven, Illinois.
The Illinois Central Railroad purchased his company by in 1891. The locomotive traveled over 800 miles to Chicago under its own power in 1893 to be part of Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition.
It sat in the Transportation Building of the White City fairgrounds in Jackson Park. Then, it was displayed with other trains in the Columbian Museum (which was housed in the Palace of Fine Arts leftover from the World’s Columbian Exposition, later evolved into the Field Museum, and moved to Burnham Park in 1920).
The Illinois Central Railroad refurbished the Mississippi before placing it on display at Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress (1933-34). In 1938, the Mississippi went on display in the Palace of Fine Arts again when the Illinois Central Railroad donated the locomotive to M.S.I.
The four replicas will be a facsimile of the steam engine John Stevens built in 1825, a facsimile of the York coal-burning engine from 1831, a facsimile of an Archer Avenue horse-drawn street car from 1859, and a 1920 steam locomotive cab that the Pennsylvania Railroad Company displayed at A Century of Progress.
America’s first steam railway locomotive to run on rails was the “steam wagon” built by Colonel John Stevens (1749-1838), a wealthy lawyer, veteran of the American War of Independence, as well as a promoter of steam power, on his estate at Hoboken, New Jersey in 1825. A full-sized replica of the John Stevens steam locomotive was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Altoona shops in 1928.
M.S.I.’s replica is a duplicate of the one made in Altoona. It appeared at A Century of Progress.
The horsecar was of the type pulled by a single horse, the car being called a “bobtail,” so-called because it had no rear platform. A bobtail would be twelve feet long and seven feet wide.
A driver operated the vehicle without aid of a conductor. The bobtail traveled around three miles per hour with seating capacity for eighteen passengers who would drop their fare coins into a slot at the back of the vehicle, leading to a box at the driver’s end.
Passengers used hay or straw on the vehicle’s floor to keep their feet warm. In 1929, Chicago Surface Lines presented it to Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) for his planned science museum.
“This is one [project] I’ve been wanting to do for many years,” Ms. McCarthy told Mr. Johnson. “We have had four locomotives, taking up a significant amount of space, that represent nine years of development in the history of trains, 1825 to 1834.”
M.S.I. will retain the 999 locomotive, Rocket locomotive, and Pioneer Zephyr passenger train. The 999 was built in-house by the New York Central Railroad to pull a passenger train, the Empire State Express, and on May 10, 1893, became the first vehicle ever known to have achieved a speed of over 100 miles per hour, when it reached a speed of 112.5 miles per hour.
Robert Stephenson & Co. Limited in Darlington, England built M.S.I.’s replica of the Rocket, the steam locomotive George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son, Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) built and introduced in the Liverpool & Manchester Railway’s Rainhill Locomotive Trials on Thursday, October 8, 1829.
The Pioneer Zephyr, originally known as the Burlington Zephyr, is a streamlined, diesel-electric articulated stainless-steel train. It was the first American diesel-electric passenger train; the first in a fleet of nine shovelnose diesel-electric trains built by the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company (CB&Q) between 1934 and ‘39; and it is a speed-record holder. It went 104 miles per hour on a test run on April 9, 1934.
The Chicago architectural firm of Holabird & Root and the noted Philadelphia architect Paul Phillipe Cret chose not to paint the train’s body, deciding instead to leave the stainless steel construction material naked to the eye. Stainless steel is an alloy of steel and nickel that resembles silver, which is what led to the fast-moving train being nicknamed the “Silver Streak.” Cret designed the train’s interior, which had a stark appearance compared to Pullman Palace sleeping cars, but was nevertheless soothing due to indirect lighting and light colors.
On Thursday, May 10, 1934, Rufus Cutler Dawes (1867-1940), President of A Century of Progress Corporation (1928-1940) and the Museum of Science & Industry (1934-1940), dared CB&Q President Ralph Budd to send the Zephyr from Denver to Chicago on an express (non-stop) run, as a result of which it ran between the two cities in a little over thirteen hours, roughly half the time a steam train would have required to cover the same distance.
On Saturday, May 26, 1934, the Burlington Zephyr went from Denver to Chicago’s Halstead Street in 13 hours and 5 minutes.
After breaking timing tape on Halstead Street at 7:09:44 p.m. Central Standard Time, the train continued on to the fairgrounds of A Century of Progress, where it rolled out onto stage an hour later at 8:09 joining Edward Hungerford’s Wings of A Century pageant. In 1960, the CB&Q lent the Pioneer Zephyr to M.S.I., and ten years later, donated it outright. For thirty-four years, the Pioneer Zephyr stood outside.
M.S.I. paid to have Northern Railcar Corporation restore the Zephyr to 1934 conditions for a cost of $1,500,000, much of the funding coming from The Grainger Foundation, as David Grainger was a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. The process took about three years, and the train was brought back to Chicago via truck in 1997. The 31,000-square-foot Great Hall (now called the Entry Hall) and new Zephyr exhibit All Aboard the Silver Streak opened on July 16, 1998.
The space freed up in the Transportation Gallery will be filled with other artifacts. Johnson wrote, “Expected to join them on display are something from the museum’s motorcycle collection as well as some more contemporary and urban items.”
Ms. McCarthy also revealed The Spirit of America rocket-car will also leave the Transportation Gallery as M.S.I. will return it to its driver Craig Breedlove. He built the thirty-eight-and-a-half-foot-long, three-wheeled rocket-car with sponsorship from the Shell Oil Company and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
On Monday, August 5, 1963, Mr. Breedlove set a new land speed record by driving The Spirit of America 407.45 miles per hour, breaking Englishman John Cobb’s land speed record of 394 miles per hour (set in 1949). Subsequently, Breedlove set a new land speed record by driving The Spirit of America 468.72 miles per hour on Sunday, October 13, 1963.
Breedlove set yet another land speed record by driving The Spirit of America 513.33 miles per hour on Tuesday, October 15, 1963. Then he broke his own record (again) by driving 539.89 miles per hour on the way back, for an average speed of 526.28 mph. On Thursday, June 3, 1965 The Spirit of America went on display at M.S.I.
 Chicago Surface Lines was one of the privately-owned mass transit companies that went bankrupt during the Great Depression, over which the Chicago Transit Authority assumed control.