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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Salisbury Depot What Happened to Plessy? A Way of Travel Railroad Conductor Pullman Porter Carrying Everything Into Town--and Out Locomotive Engineer & Fireman Railroaders behind the Scenes Promoting Good Roads Spencer, an Industrial Community What Happened to the Railroads?
9: Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927

Carrying Everything Into Town—and Out

Communities in the 1920s relied on trains for transporting goods. Some 75 to 80 percent of all U.S. intercity freight went by rail. Salisbury, in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, was the commercial center of a large agricultural area dominated by cotton. Salisbury and surrounding Rowan County were home to 15 textile mills employing more than 1,700 people.

Salisbury’s other businesses produced lumber, building stone, flour, cottonseed oil, furniture, mattresses, candy, and turpentine. Laundries, bakeries, soft-drink bottlers, dairies, and retail shops contributed to the economy. A local druggist who invented a headache powder became a big manufacturer because he could distribute his product nationally by rail. And a large tire company opened to support the growing number of automobiles on the road.

Coal for factory furnaces and home heating, bales of cotton for the mills, machinery, hardware, dry goods for stores, food products for groceries, mail, express packages, and new automobiles all came into Salisbury by railroad.

Salisbury/Spencer freight sheds
Salisbury/Spencer freight sheds
The Southern Railway’s transfer sheds in nearby Spencer served the city of Salisbury and surrounding counties as a major freight hub.

The Wonder of Mail Order: “Delivery Right to Your Door”

Ordering goods by mail from a catalog became increasingly popular in the 1880s. The Chicago firms of Sears, Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward and Company were mail-order giants. Through their catalogs, retail marketing became truly national, reaching customers in tiny rural communities as well as in cities. The catalogs included almost any product imaginable, from a toy to a plow to a dress to an entire house in kit form. Delivery was by mail or by the Railway Express Agency. In either case, the product came by train.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, 1921
Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, 1921
Ad in the Sears catalog, 1924-25
Ad in the Sears catalog, 1924-25
Ad in the Sears catalog, 1925-26
Ad in the Sears catalog, 1925-26
Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog, 1927-28
Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog, 1927-28

The South Connected to the Nation

In the 1920s, southern states promised cheap land and labor for new factories. The nationwide rail system gave the South ready access to national markets and tied it into the national economy.

Southern Railway ads in national magazines at this time promoted development along the company’s rail lines and touted the South’s importance in the national economy. The railroad hoped to profit from hauling raw materials into the region, and finished products out. Most “exports” from the South, however, were from mills, farms and forests.

"Under the Southern Sun," 1927

The Southern Railway carried fruit and vegetables to national markets. The ad noted that a quarter of the U.S. vegetable and fruit crop came from the South.

"Eggs in Many Baskets," 1927
Agricultural diversity is the keynote here. Cotton-the South's largest crop and the source of much of the nation's textiles-is complemented by grain, tobacco, dairy production, and poultry.
"Woodland Wealth," 1927
The South exported large quantities of timber and finished lumber. Because southern forests had been depleted, this ad stressed conservation.
"To Shape and Use," 1927
The Southern Railway transported Alabama's iron and steel. Southern businessmen hoped to use the convenient supply of steel as a means to attract more manufacturing into the region.
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