Never mind guns, Railroad Ad Campaigns Won the West

Everyone knows the driving of the Golden Spike in 1869 transformed the American West, but a lot of folks don’t realize how hard railroads had to work to keep that transformation going.


Then, as now, railroads needed to make money. Passenger trains were labor-intensive and expensive, so it was in railroads’ interest to encourage people to go by rail.


To that end, railroads went out of their way, and spent a lot of money, to give people somewhere to go and make them want to go there. A lot of the west’s most valuable tourist attractions today would not be as big if it were not for efforts by railroad companies to attract business. The Old Faithful Inn by Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park was built by an affiliate of the Great Northern Railway. So were lodges on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park and more.


The railroads publicized those attractions with large travel posters, brochures, pictures and fancy ad campaigns.


Locally, Utah wouldn’t have Lagoon amusement park if not for the Bamberger Railroad. The rails for that line were heading north from Salt Lake in the early part of the last century and the owners needed to generate passenger revenue to help break even.


Nobody was excited about taking the train north to look at fields in Davis County, so the company bought, moved and expanded a small lakeside resort called Lagoon to its present location and folks flocked up. Within another year the train had reached Ogden, but the amusement park stuck.


In that light, my sincere thanks, here, to North Ogdenite Bill Bernard, who last week brought Union Station Archives this little item — a booklet titled “A Glimpse of Utah.”


What a gem.


The booklet was published in 1911 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Bernard said he got it from his grandfather, Henry Bremer, who was a traveling salesman. Back then railroads competed for passengers just as airlines do today, so the D&RG put this booklet out to show people how lovely the state of Utah was.


The 58-page booklet is packed with really lovely pictures, lots of informative text, and this really fun poem at the front, which I am happy to transcribe.


A Glimpse of Utah

A passing view —

Of a land that was old,

When the west was new;

Of happy hours,

in shaded dells;

Where all is peace,

And plenty dwells;

Of mountains high —

Whose wavering lines,

Are marked with the shafts,

Of a thousand mines;

Of a city beautiful,

Historic and quaint,

Where a sinner may live,

And yet be a “saint,”

Of a salty sea —

Weird, dead and still —

Where the bathers float,

On the waves at will.

All this and more —

The traveler will see,

When he journeys through Utah,

By the “D and RG.”


This little booklet is a valuable addition to our archive because it is part of the history of railroading and how it built Utah. Union Station’s 90 years is only a small part of all that, but if you followed the D&RG’s siren call and came to Utah, Ogden is very likely where you came first.