John Held Jr. was a well-known cartoonist and illustrator in the 1920s. Born in Salt Lake City in 1889 (the same year, for those who are keeping track, as Maurice Logan), Held claimed he had no art training except from his father and from Mahonri Young, a grandson of Brigham Young. Yet he sold his first illustration to pre-Henry Luce Life magazine at age 15 and claimed to have sold other drawings even earlier.
This 1924 poster is the earliest I could find by Held. Unlike most of the other posters, it is aimed at travelers to the south rather than to the north. Click image to view a 990×1,487 JPG of this poster.
By age 16, he had a job as cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune. He moved to New York in 1912 and soon became nationally famous for his cover art on such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. By the time the New Haven Railroad asked him to illustrate posters and booklets in the mid-1920s, he was well known for both making fun of the prim “Gay Nineties” and for illustrations that effectively defined the “Roaring Twenties.”
In 1926, the Northern Pacific Railway became the first to use a 4-8-4 locomotive, which is why this wheel arrangement is often called a Northern. To publicize this achievement, the railway hired Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann to paint scenes along the railway featuring passenger trains being pulled by Northern locomotives.
Krollman’s most famous poster shows a 4-8-4 locomotive pulling the heavyweight North Coast Limited over Bozeman Pass. Click image to view a 1.5-MB 2,544×3,461 JPG.
Krollmann was born in Vienna in 1888, making him two years younger than Oscar Bryn. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, he moved to the United States and settled in St. Paul, headquarters of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railways.
In addition to his Travel by Train poster, Oscar Bryn did a number of posters and paintings for the Santa Fe Railway. The most famous is his Arizona poster, which looks as if it could have been one of the Travel by Train posters modified for Santa Fe use, but actually dates to 1949, fifteen years after the Travel by Train campaign. Like Bryn’s other Travel by Train poster, this is richly colored but flat, giving a fair representation of the impression people have of the Grand Canyon even if it doesn’t look much like the real thing.
Click to view a 2.1-MB JPG of this poster at 2,500×3,475.
Bryn was born on Honolulu in 1883 but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where he studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute (Hopkins being one of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads). He worked in the San Francisco Chronicle‘s art department and did some illustration for the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Magazine.
Hernando Gonzallo Villa was another in the stable of artists nurtured by the Santa Fe Railway in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in 1881 in Los Angeles to parents who had moved there when California was still a part of Mexico, Villa’s father was also an artist who had a studio on the city’s plaza. Villa studied art in school, then started work for a number of businesses.
A 1926 ad for the Chief designed by Louis Treviso. Click image for a larger view.
The tale of Villa’s artwork for the Santa Fe actually begins with Louis Treviso, an artist who was born in 1889 in a covered wagon in Arizona. He designed posters for the Santa Fe before World War I and, after the war–as art director for a San Francisco advertising firm–coordinated Santa Fe’s advertising campaigns. His ads were the first to illustrate the obvious idea of an Indian in full headdress to advertise the Chief, the first all-Pullman train between Chicago and Los Angeles that Santa Fe inaugurated in 1926. This “extra fine, extra fare” train cost $10 more than a sleeper on the slower California Limited, which, at about $130 in today’s money, is actually quite reasonable for a first-class upgrade.
Though born in England in 1881, Sam Hyde Harris was an artist for the Southwest: though he did not move to the United States until he was 15, he was already drawing scenes of what he imagined the West looked like when he was just 12. When his family did move, they settled in Los Angeles, and for all his life Sam’s art reflected the region’s sun-drenched hues.
Click to download a 1.3-MB, 2,431×3,667 JPG of this poster.
In 1920, the Santa Fe Railway, which was resuming its advertising efforts after World War I, hired Harris to design posters and ads. Harris’ reds, yellows, and blues were perfect for the Santa Fe’s continuing theme of deserts, Indians, and the Grand Canyon.
In 1948, the Union Pacific began a new series of magazine ads that emphasized the trains rather than the destinations. Each ad consisted of a beautifully rendered yellow streamliner and another graphic symbolizing the theme of the ad (“economy,” “charm,” “style,” “pleasure”), on a solid-, usually pastel-colored background.
Click any image to see a larger view; most of the larger views are about 1,000×1,500 and all are less than 1 MB.
In place of the four to six paragraphs of text on the destination-themed ads, the pastel ads had just a few words in large script and less than a paragraph of additional text in a smaller gothic font similar to the one used on Union Pacific streamlined locomotives and passenger cars.
In 1946, Union Pacific ran a series of ads featuring Willmarth water colors of vacation destinations such as Colorado, Yellowstone, and Zion. Other ads in the series include California, dude ranches, and Western Wonderlands, but the cartoonish drawings in these ads aren’t signed Willmarth, so they were probably done by other artists.
Click any image to view a larger JPG.
Each ad in the series had a small image at the bottom of a Union Pacific streamliner next to a steam locomotive, no doubt pulling a “limited or Challenger.” Did the Willmarths paint these little images too?
As World War II was winding down, Union Pacific sponsored a radio show called Your America that was broadcast over 123 stations nationwide. The show featured true stories of Americans at work and at war.
Click any image to view a larger version.
To complement the radio show, Union Pacific commissioned the Willmarths to do eleven paintings, one for each of the states served by the railroad. These paintings were made into posters advertising the radio show and featured in a series of ads in Time and other magazines, mostly appearing in 1945 issues of those publications. This was probably the high point of the Willmarth’s relationship with the Union Pacific, as it allowed the brothers to display a wide range of scenes with some variation in artistic styles.
During World War II, the Union Pacific recruited the Willmarths to create a series of morale-boosting posters. Some on-line sources date a few of these posters as early as 1940, but this seems unlikely as the U.S. did not enter the war until the end of 1941. Other posters are dated 1944 which seems more reasonable.
Click image for a larger view.
This poster is curiously flat compared with the later ones and may indicate that it was published earlier and in some haste.
The Willmarths weren’t the only artists Union Pacific turned to for Sun Valley posters. Another was Dwight Clark Shepler, a Massachusetts artist who studied at Williams College and the Boston Museum of Art. These three posters–unfortunately not available in larger versions–all date from around 1940.
Born in 1902, Shepler went on to a distinguished career as an officer-artist in the Navy, doing more than 300 paintings of sea battles he witnessed in the South Pacific and during the Normandy invasion. After the war he returned to Massachusetts where he painted landscapes and more sports images.