The American Dream Retold Through Mid-century Railroad Graphics

Posted: December 3 2020 by

Ian Logan originally became known for producing textiles and prints for British designers Mary Quant and Jeff Banks. However, his new book with Jonathan Glancey looks to the other side of the Atlantic, in particular the graphics seen across the mid-century railroad network in the US.

Upon his visit to the US in the late 60s, Logan was inspired by the designs he encountered on freight cars, and made repeat visits throughout the 60s and 70s to gather items such as timetables from antique shops and take his own photographs of logos on the side of trains.

Logomotive American Railroad Graphics
Leslie Ragan’s artwork of New York Harbor in 1935, created for New York Central System

Logan’s niche interest subsequently evolved into a historical archive of magazines and newspapers, engineering drawings, posters, menus, brochures, tickets, mascots and more, as well as hundreds of 35mm slides that he shot.

These photographs and ephemera have been gathered to form Logomotive: Railroad Graphics and the American Dream, which looks at the idea of the American dream through the lens of graphic design. The book features a foreword written by Norman Foster, who notes that “the ultimate marriage of machinery, branding, graphics, colour, and lifestyle found its apex in American railroad systems”.

Logomotive American Railroad Graphics
From 1939 to 1953, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s Orange Blossom Special locomotives were painted in bright citrus colours to emphasise the subtropical allure of Florida

The book shows typographic trends, brand elements, and art styles that were around at the time, and is rich with detail. Elsewhere are sections on the emblems that were adopted to varying degrees across the networks, from the more regional commodification of Native American culture to the widespread use of the eagle – arguably the most recognisable US symbol second to the flag.

Yet more fascinating is the documentation of how graphic design was used to paint the US as both an industrial powerhouse and the home of adventure, ideas that take on a new kind of poignancy when held up against the present-day realities of the nation.

Logomotive American Railroad Graphics
Santa Fe stencils used to apply graphics
The Missouri Pacific’s eagle was designed to be a powerful symbol of dynamism and speed
Logomotive American Railroad Graphics
Poster for Chessie, derived from the kitten mascot adopted by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway
Logomotive American Railroad Graphics
Grif Teller’s 1935 Pennsylvania Railroad poster of Washington featuring the GG1-class electric locomotive in the foreground, deemed the height of modern transportation

Logomotive: Railroad Graphics and the American Dream is published by Sheldrake Press on December 10;

The post The American Dream retold through mid-century railroad graphics appeared first on Creative Review.

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