The Olympian Hiawatha

On the heels of the streamlined Empire Builder, the Milwaukee Road introduced the Olympian Hiawatha to its Seattle-Chicago run on June 29, 1947. Yet only some of the cars were streamlined on that date, as the Milwaukee had not yet taken delivery of the entire train. Unusually, for the railroad, it had elected to have the train built by Pullman instead of in its own shops as was the case for the pre-war Hiawathas.

Click to download an 18.6-MB PDF of this 20-page brochure about the Olympian Hiawatha.

This brochure, which is dated May, 1947, is filled with images of what the train would be like when it was finally delivered in full, which would not be until January, 1949. Unlike the Great Northern, the Milwaukee splurged on full four-color pictures of its train. Yet, after seeing the bright, Hudson-Bay-blanket colors of the Empire Builder lounges, the wood-tones and institutional greens illustrated in the Olympian Hiawatha brochure seem dated.

Externally, the Milwaukee made every effort to distinguish itself from its competition. While both Milwaukee and Great Northern decorated their cars in orange, the Milwaukee’s choice of maroon rather than Pullman green as the complementary color, plus its innovative use of those colors (not just simple stripes); porthole and oval windows; not to mention the unusual locomotives and (eventual) observation cars made the Olympian Hiawatha one of the most distinguishable trains in the country.

The Olympian Hiawatha in with Mt. Rainier in the background. Click image to see a larger view.

Despite the incomplete nature of the train, the Milwaukee made the most of its inaugural run, even dressing up the engineer, fireman, and conductor in tuxedos and top hats. Early press reports called the train the “papoose,” an apparent reference to the infant nature of a train that would not be grown up for another 18 months or so.

Engineer R. V. Hanicker, fireman J. A. Johnson, and conductor R. A. Craig dress up in “monkey suits” for the inaugural run of the Olympian Hiawatha on June 29, 1947. Click image to download a PDF of this photo with a related newspaper article taped to the back.


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