Sneak Peek: The DSS&A’s Flour Slogan Trains

A DSS&A “flour slogan train” March, 1895. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

This week‘s sneak peek from our forthcoming book Twin Ports Trains: The Historic Railroads of Duluth & Superior 1870–1970 features the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic railroad’s efforts to market not only its services, but the products of Duluth as well. In particular, the DSS&A used “flour slogan trains” to get the word out. Enjoy!

The DSS&A’s Flour Slogan Trains

The Twin Ports’ flour mills and the railroads that hauled their products both understood the importance of a good public image, so boxcars used to transport flour were kept especially clean or in new condition. But the railroads and mills wanted to expand their market, so they came up with an idea to help them advertise to virtually anyone along the railroad tracks who might happen to see a unit flour train—a special train carrying nothing but flour cars. They were known as “Slogan Trains” or “Display Trains.”

Standard boxcars of the day were typically painted a drab boxcar red or brown with simple white lettering. Dozens of plain brown freight trains might pass through a community each day. To make flour trains far more eye-catching, unique banners and slogans adorned each car’s exterior sides. When multiple cars were combined into a train, each individual car’s banner made up part of a complete statement. For example, one such special twenty-car Northern Pacific train (pictured above)carrying four-thousand barrels of Duluth Imperial Flour left Rice’s Point for New York City on March 19, 1895, with a complete message reading as follows:

“[car 1] 4,000

[car 2] Barrels

[car 3] Duluth

[car 4] Imperial

[car 5] Flour

[car 6] Sold

[car 7] To The

[car 8] People Of

[car 9] New York City

[car 10] Who

[car 11] Know

[car 12] Good

[car 13] Things

[car 14] When

[car 15] They

[car 16] See Them

[car 17] And

[car 18] Always

[car 19] Get The

[car 20] Best.”

Slogan trains helped usher in a new era of railroad advertising. Soon all manner of goods were identified on the sides of rail cars using bright colors, fancy slogans, and detailed artwork. Breweries and meat packers in particular used this railroad style of “Billboard Advertising” on colorful ice-refrigerator cars that showed off the logos of their beer brands and meat products.

The Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic embraced slogan trains. The photo below shows a four-car DSS&A flour train preparing to leave Duluth from the 1870 LS&M passenger depot ca. 1890. The first and fourth cars carry the railroad name as their slogan. The second says, “THIS TRAIN LOADED WITH FLOUR MANUFACTURED AT IMPERIAL MILLS DULUTH.” The third car says, “BEST WHEAT, BEST MILLS, BEST FLOUR.”

A DSS&A “flour slogan train” in front of the 1870 LS&M Passenger Depot in 1890. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

That train was modest compared to the one that left Duluth on January 30, 1890, consisting of fifteen cars loaded with flour milled from No. 1 hard wheat at the Imperial Mill and headed to Boston—some of it ground that very morning. The Duluth News Tribune also reported that each railroad car, decked out with flags and patriotic bunting, had been manufactured in Duluth by the Minnesota Iron Car Company and proclaimed “That this display train is the best advertisement ever and cannot be denied.” Nine of the cars carried slogans that read as follows:

  • Car 1. “The Duluth Chamber of Commerce to the Commercial Bodies of the East. Greeting.”
  • Car 2. “The Great Unsalted to Salted Sea, Good Morning, Old Neptune.”
  • Car 3. “The Zenith City to the Hub. We offer you the wealth of our Empire, come and take it.”
  • Car 4. “Duluth Board of Trade, Greeting to our Canadian and New England Friends.”
  • Car 5. “Receipts of wheat at Duluth for the last four months, 15,220,417 bushels.”
  • Car 6. “The Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway, over 100 miles shortest line, Duluth to the East.”
  • Car 7. “Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad.”
  • Car 8. “Product of Duluth Hard Wheat, Best in the World.”
  • Car 9. “Best Wheat, Best Mills, Best Flour. This Train is Loaded with Flour Manufactured at Imperial Mills, Duluth.”

A crowd of people turned out in Duluth to see the train before it left for the east, and the train made a special stop in West Superior, backing up to Tower Avenue to be admired by the “large body of citizens” who had gathered to see the train. The trip would take two weeks over the lines of four different railroads to reach Boston, but that wasn’t the end of the line for all the flour: five car’s worth would be loaded onto a ship heading for Scotland. Too bad for Duluth’s boosters that it wouldn’t arrive on a slogan train.

The latest idea for the cover for Twin Ports Trains (like the book itself, it’s a work in progress…).