Crossing the Mississippi: The Quad Cities, the Railroad and Art

January 21, 2011 - April 23, 2011
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Crossing the Mississippi: The Quad Cities, the Railroad and Art



The development of railroads in Iowa and Illinois offered industries and businesses access to broader geographical markets. Coupled with a natural abundance of raw materials, the Quad Cities became the ideal location for large machinery manufacturers that specialized in railroad equipment and materials like the Bettendorf Axle Company and Davenport Besler Company, established in 1895 and 1901 respectively. The Bettendorf Axle Company invented railroad truck side frames that, cast from a single sheet of steel, improved the safety and speed of trains, while the Davenport Besler Corporation (previously called the Davenport Locomotive Works) specialized in locomotives that were transported all around the world. In addition to these railroad manufacturing companies, businesses specializing in agricultural production sprouted along the Rock Island Lines. Railroads allowed industries to ship grains and produce to their processing plants and deliver their finished products to markets outside of the Quad Cities.

The railroad, however, did not only boost the economic growth of communities but also radiated an aura of glamor and romance. Railroad companies offered a variety of amenities to their passengers who sought to travel longer distances. Comfortable sleeping cars featured foldable berths, bathroom facilities and even private sitting rooms while dining cars, first introduced on the CRI & P, offered meals on elegant place settings. Celebrities and political personages often took advantage of trains when appearing to the public. During the movie premiere of the 1950s film about the CRI & P called the Rock Island Trails, Hollywood stars including Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, John Wayne and Rock Island native June Haver made their grand entrance by the train.

The importance of the CRI & P waned increasingly after 1953 when trucks and later airplanes replaced railroads as the primary means of transporting goods. As businesses turned away from railroads, the already precarious finances of the CRI & P became increasingly under pressure and by 1980 the railroad line was shut down.


This exhibition will include works on loan from the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library and the Putnam Museum.

Images on webpage courtesy of the Davenport Public Library.

Learn more about Tracks: The Railroad in Photographs from the George Eastman House Collection

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