The Century in the Highlands of the Hudson
In the early twentieth century, railroad posters tempted travelers with colorful and dynamic compositions of idyllic landscapes, featuring powerful locomotives. This poster, which offers a dramatic perspective of sun gleaming on the streamlined form of a steam engine, is an excellent example of the machine-age aesthetic of the Art Deco period.
Leslie Ragan was born in Iowa, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and went on to become one of the most celebrated commercial artists of the twentieth century, creating more than one hundred posters for the New York Central Railway alone. The 20th Century Limited was one of the most famous passenger trains in America at the time, offering luxury accommodations and express travel between New York and Chicago. The first Century train ran in 1902, taking passengers to their destination within twenty hours. In 1939, the Century received a massive makeover by Henry Dreyfuss (1904–1972), a theatrical designer turned industrial designer, who modernized the appearance of vacuum cleaners, telephones, and dozens of other household items. The Century’s renovation included everything from the exterior of the locomotive to the dinnerware.
The appeal of Ragan’s design aesthetic was so great that when the New York Central Railroad was met with Depression-era financial challenges, its managers opted to continue his poster series. Throughout the 1930s, Ragan also painted other types of poster images, turning the banal into the dramatic with his industrial city scenes of St. Louis’ Eads Bridge, Boston’s Old North Church, and Cleveland’s steel mills. During World War II, he designed war recruitment and propaganda posters.