Cascade Mountains and ensuring dependable schedules year round, the Milwaukee’s electrical operation was highly successful economically and led the way for other similar projects around the globe.
In a span of just a few years, due to the Milwaukee Road’s innovative efforts and electrical expertise, its electrified main line became the “most widely known section of railroad track in the world… beyond question,” according to one observer of the period.
Celebrities frequented the prestigious transcontinental Olympian between Chicago and Seattle, providing pictures and quotes for the news and publicity mills of the time.
Thomas A. Edison marveled at the smooth ride, Babe Ruth posed in the cab with an engineer, and President Warren G. Harding operated an electric locomotive for a stretch, occasioning the installation of a plaque on the side of the cab which read:
Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Ry.
To Puget Sound—Electrified
July 2, 1923
Warren G. Harding
President of the United States
Operated Locomotive No. 10305
Westbound Sappington, Mont.
to Avery, Idaho
More importantly, throughout the 1920s, a steady stream of engineers and railway officials from all over the world came to observe this new American engineering marvel. Representatives from at least 17 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America visited the Milwaukee Road’s western lines. That they were impressed with what they saw was evident, because almost all of those countries built electrified lines soon afterward and several, notably Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Spain and France, adopted many of the Milwaukee’s new techniques.
Although the railroad gained great international fame and publicity for its revolutionary passenger service and technological sophistication, economics remained the primary reason for electrification.
Electrified operation provided great savings over steam operations, and this occurrence came as no surprise to the railroad.
A. J. Earling, president of the railroad from 1899 to 1916, had headed a study group in 1912 which determined that sizeable economies, primarily in the form of greater hauling capacity over the mountains, lower locomotive maintenance costs and better locomotive utilization, would be realized if electrification was undertaken. The 1912 study proved accurate, and by 1927 the electrification had more than repaid the initial investment in operational savings.
Although far-sighted management played an important part, the Milwaukee Road’s role as a leader in electrified railroading was to a large degree determined by historical circumstance.
The Olympian before and after electrification
Images from 1912's
"The Trail of the Olympian"
- Thomas Edison
- Babe Ruth
- President Harding