Leslie Darrell Ragan is probably the best-known railroad poster artist of the twentieth century. His only competition would be Grif Teller, who mainly did calendars but also a few posters for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Howard Fogg, who mainly did paintings that were sometimes reprinted as posters for sale, but not for posting in train stations.
Ragan’s first poster for the New York Central was this 1929 image of Chicago. Click image to download a larger view.
Ragan studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and served as a fighter pilot in World War I. At some point, he moved to New York. It is tempting to think it must have been in 1928, as that was the year of his last poster for the South Shore while his first poster for the New York Central was in 1929, but some on-line bios suggest it was before that time.
Ragan followed-up Chicago with this 1930 poster of the Cleveland Union Terminal. Click image to download a 1.8-MB, 2,412×3661 JPG.
Ragan’s New York studio was just a few blocks from Sascha Maurer‘s, and the two were friends or at least well-acquainted with one another.
Most sources date this poster “circa 1935,” but I suspect it is older. Click image to download a 1.1-MB, 2,362×3614 JPG.
Though Ragan’s train images made him famous, his first works for the New York Central, featured here today, were of cities and other sights served by and seen from the railroad.
In 1934, Ragan did a series of scenic posters starting with West Point as it would be seen from the side of the river where the New York Central’s main line was located. Click image to download a 1.8-MG, 2,401×3,651 JPG.
This 1934 poster is the oldest poster I have found that Ragan did for the New York Central that actually has a train in it. Click image to download a 1.1-MB, 1,709×3,915 JPG.
Ragan’s “use of color, atmospheric perspective, shadows, and heroic images are the ingredients that make his imagery memorable,” says artist Mitch Markovitz in How to Draw and Paint Trains Like a Pro. “Even without actual trains in the image, I can feel their presence.”
The Adirondacks are in upstate New York and were once easily reached on New York Central trains. Click image to download a 1.0-MB, 1,731×3,907 JPG.
At the same time, unlike other artists such as Sam Hyde Harris, Ragan painted from photographs or even did tracings of other artists’ work. This gave his work an air of authenticity, but also limited his perspective in many ways.
Niagara Falls, of course, is a classic destination reached by New York Central trains. Click image to download a 0.8-MB, 1,747×3,935 JPG.
This 1935 poster shows the Wall Street District and Battery Park–which were about five miles away from New York Central’s Grand Central Terminal. Click image to view a 1.2-MB, 2,401×3,664 JPG.
Rockefeller Center, on the other hand, is just ten short blocks away from Grand Central. Click image to view a 1.1-MB, 2,419×3,669 JPG.