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Classic Streamliners - TRAIN​CYCLOPEDIA

The Commodore Vanderbilt was the world's first streamlined steam locomotive.
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A 1934 poster advertising the exhibition of the Commodore Vanderbilt.

A 1935 Railway Age advertisement featuring the Commodore Vanderbilt.

The Commodore Vanderbilt was the world's first streamlined steam locomotive.

The Commodore Vanderbilt Streamlined Steam Locomotive

New York Central Hudson locomotive No. 5344 was chosen to be the new Commodore Vanderbilt in 1934. It was the NYC's first streamlined locomotive and was named after the railroad's founder.  The Commodore Vanderbilt pulled the "20th Century Limited" until 1937.


In 1934, three year old New York Central Class J1E Hudson 4-6-4 No. 5344, the last J1E, became the world's first streamlined locomotive. The shovel-nose shroud was designed by the Case School of Science at Cleveland, Ohio. The locomotive featured slightly smaller cylinders but at a higher operating pressure. The railroad's testing showed that streamlining enabled the locomotive to pull 2.5 to 12 percent more weight. The lower number might be more accurate; streamlining was for public relations more than for faster or more efficient locomotives.

First seen by the public in December, 1934, the locomotive entered revenue service pulling the railroad’s prestigious, but still heavyweight, 20th Century Limited between Toledo and Chicago in February, 1935, and remained in this service for some time. During July, 1939, the locomotive was re- streamlined to match the look of the 20th Century J3s. After an October, 1945 grade crossing accident with a sand truck in East Chicago, all the streamlining was removed.

Almost identical streamlining was applied by the New York Central to a 4-8-2 steam locomotive and used to pull a rolling showroom for Rexall Drug Company.

This locomotive was also chosen to be the prototype for the Lionel O-gauge model.

NYC Hudson J1E Overview

Type and origin
Power type: Steam
Builder: Alco-Schenectady
Build date 1927–1931
​ • Whyte 4-6-4
Gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operator: New York Central Railroad
Class: J-1
Number in class: 205
Disposition: All Scrapped by the Late 1950's

See also:

The Rexall Train

Streamlined Steam Locomotives

The New York Central

Steam Locomotives

The 20th Century Limited

A 1935 Railway Age advertisement featuring the Commodore Vanderbilt.
A 1934 poster for the Commodore Vanderbilt.
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