Why Was Train Travel So Popular in the 1920s Era?

Even though the first train was invented in 1804, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that trains were launched as a locomotive. The speed of this first train was less than 10mph, which is 30 times less than the trains we travel in today.

Even before the 1920s, people had been traveling in trains regularly; during the 20s, almost a hundred trains were operated on a daily basis by the Southern Railway throughout the state. This was the time when train travel became the most popular mode of traveling, and the reasons were the development and the new programs that railways introduced for train travelers.

The Development in Train Travel during the 1920s 

The Development in Train Travel during the 1920s 

During the 20s, trains had already become a century old, and now cars were being introduced in the market. The truth is that there hasn’t been a decade like the 20s; the political shenanigans, social upheaval, and the uncertainty of the economy had already rattled up the American people. The early 20s were actually the time when the stage was being set for the 1929 stock market crash that would result in the Great Depression.

Just like the country was confused about whether women should be given full citizenship or not, it wasn’t sure about their transportation system either. The public spending on aviation, roads, and waterways was closing the doors for the railway industry that had already been battered by the war. But after the strikes by the railway employees, it was time to improve the railways as well.

By the mid-20s, the railway had become distinctly modern. The train designs from 1918 became the designs for trains until the 1960s. Even today, the 1920s are considered the “classic railroading era.” With improved facilities and speed, more and more people were traveling by trains every day.

The railroads, such as New York Central, also brought the passengers back to train travel using new and unique advertising techniques. Advertisements for trains were everywhere; posters, magazines, and even calendars had railroad advertisements all over them. Train travel was being romanticized by the beautiful images of destinations and routes.

New York Central didn’t stop here; they also hired Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial designer, who changed the design of everything from the locomotives to the tableware used in the trains.

For a demonstration of how train travel boomed in the 1920s in the UK, let’s have a look at this data chart:

From this chart, we can clearly see that as the trend started in 1830, only a few people were excited about train travel. But with the passage of time, the trend of train travel boomed, and people started enjoying train travel for the convenience it provided. The UK’s railway system is one of the oldest in the world, and the data shows that train travel was on peak in the 1910s to 1920s. From the 1930s to 1980s, the trend line shows a decrease, but it again started to rise in the 2000s.

Reasons Why People Preferred Train Travel in the 20s 

Grayscale photo of train

During the 1920s, trains had already completed a century of existence, which was one of the reasons why the majority of the population was familiar with train travel and preferred it as the only traveling mode. Following are some factors that played a major role in keeping the popularity of train traveling in the 1920s intact.

1. The Special Programs for Vacation Travelers 

Pullman car exterior

By the mid-20s, several railroads around the state were offering special programs for vacation travelers. The railroad cars like the Pullman car were made available for comfortable traveling; the travelers would sleep in these railroads cars. Moreover, high-quality food was provided to the vacation travelers. These programs were the reason why people mostly preferred train travel for long journeys.

Some cities, especially vacation sites, introduced the service for transferring vacation travelers to a resort or hotel. This service was cheap, and many people found it convenient.

These vacation trains gained popularity for another reason; before trains, cruise ships were used by most vacation travelers; however, after the Titanic incident. People were scared of going on cruise ship vacations, and they were now taking trains to reach their vacation destinations.

2. The Lack of Proper Roads 

The 1920s was also a very important era for cars as the car manufacturers were launching the latest models that were better than the earlier ones. Among these cars, the Ford Model T became the most popular. By 1921, around 136,000 cars were sold, as the prices were reasonable and allowed people to travel freely.

However, it wasn’t until 1929 that roads and highways were good enough for driving cars efficiently. This issue of not having access to properly-made mud-free roads was also a reason why train travel was still popular for long journeys.

3. Airplanes Were Not Powerful Enough to be a Competition 

Boeing GA-1 on ground

Nowadays, airplanes are considered the fastest locomotives; however, during the 1920s, it was different. Trains were known as the fastest locomotives as airplane technology had not developed as much yet. It was impossible to use planes for traveling for longer times, and train travel was normally considered when one had to travel from one city or state to another. It was also the rich only who could travel by air as airplane traveling was quite expensive.

How is Traveling Different Today? 

While train travel was considered a daily thing in the 20s, it’s the cars that have taken their place. During the 20s, cars were not so popular, yet many people owned a car. However, the lack of facilities such as perfect highways and roads didn’t allow people to car travel towards the faraway destinations.

The bullet trains have been transferring people from one place to another in the least time possible, which was only a dream during the 20s. Moreover, in 2019, Qantas airlines made a record of the longest flight ever; a 19-hour flight from New York to Sydney. It’s not only the longest flight but also the longest distance covered by a plane in a time of less than a day. Only black magic could’ve possibly helped anyone with such fast traveling in the 1920s.


Today, people are not as fond of trains as they were in the 20s; however, the fondness of traveling the world is still the same, or maybe it’s even more than before. Today, people still travel through trains, but it’s not as vintage as it was in the 1920s. The 20s were the times when locomotive technology was advancing, and at the same time, trains were advancing too.

If it wasn’t for the competition between cars, airplanes, and trains, we wouldn’t have been able to travel so comfortably in the latest fast-paced trains and bullet trains. If someone from the 20s gets to see the trains we use today, we believe they will not just be amazed but would also love to travel in them.