Arago: Railway


Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model


In 1993 the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Exhibits Central built this railroad car model, representing the famous 'Lake Shore and Michigan Fast Mail' trains of the Southern Railway company. It was part of the National Postal Museum's inaugural exhibit, "Binding the Nation," which opened on July 30, 1993. The model remains on display in the museum atrium.

The opened side of the model is placed to show what the side of the car would have looked like from the outside.

One side of the model opens to reveal the interior of a working Railway Post Office (RPO) train car. Inside the car to one end are sorting tables with pigeon hole containers above them. Tables with larger containers are opposite the opened side of the model. RPO clerks sorted mail inside these cars while traveling between stops, helping to speed-up mail delivery. Not all mail was sorted by clerks. Mail pouches that would be opened during the journey were placed near sorting tables, and the mail dumped onto the table for processing. Mail pouches that contained 'through' mail were stacked together, usually held steady by rows of floor-to-ceiling metal poles.

George S. Bangs, Railway Mail Service General Superintendent (1871-1876), proposed the need for fast and exclusive mail trains between the nation’s two commercial centers, New York and Chicago. According to Bangs, the service would “expedite the movement of mail from the east to the west and cover the distance in about twenty-four hours,” a dramatic savings in time (Annual Report, 1874). The first Fast Mail train carried over thirty tons of mail from New York to Chicago on September 16, 1875, traveling at an average speed of 50 miles per hour.

The first Fast Mail five-car train traveled from New York City to Chicago via Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Toledo over the New York Central plus Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroads. The Fast Mail never missed a connection from September 16, 1875, to July 22, 1876. It failed to arrive in Chicago on time only three times and was delayed traveling to New York only once. Although the Fast Mail was successful and a remarkable break-through, this first Fast Mail was discontinued in July 1876 when Congress instituted a 10-percent reduction in service.

late 19th century
wood; metal
Height x Width x Depth: 8 x 31 1/2 x 10 in. (20.32 x 80.01 x 25.4 cm)
Museum ID:

  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
  • Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model
Additional Records

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