Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 Streamlined Electric Locomotive Number 4859

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For years, admirers have proclaimed Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) to be the quintessential twentieth-century designei? anointing him “the man who shaped America.” Adherents cite a Litany of “everyday” articles that bear his imprint, among them automobiles, refrigerators, buses, furniture, fountain pens, cigarette packages, soft drink bottles, pencil sharpeners, and railroad locomotives (see “The Big Engines That Could” by John Wall, Spring 2004). Loewy originated an enduring concept of “beauty through function and simplicity,” and his formidable contributions helped legitimize industrial design as a profession. He summarized his philosophy with the acronym MAYA, “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable,” reminding his designers to not push clients and consumers beyond their threshold of comfort for the modern.

One of his most famous designs – and one of which he was most pleased – was the streamlined shell for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s electric locomotive, the GG1, which made its debut in 1935. Loewy’s association with the Pennsy commenced with the design of a trash receptacle the year before, a commission that convinced the line’s president, Martin W. Oement, that the designer was capable of redesigning the GG1.

When PRR officials showed him the design of the prototype of the GG1, Loewy – in his inimitable style – pronounced it “ugly, disconnected, and full of rivets.” He recommend welding the locomotive’ shell, rather than riveting it, and lowering it onto the chassis , similar to the manufacturing of automobiles. He also added the engine’s famous speed lines, called “cat whiskers” by railroad¬≠ers, to suggest motion. With a many a twenty-two passenger coaches in tow, the GG1 was capable of speeds of more than one hundred miles per hour!

Of the fleet of 139 GG1s built between 1935 and 1943, all were retired by 1983 and only sixteen survive. Built in 1937, Number 4859 pulled troop train during World War II and remained in service powering freight and passenger cars until 1979. In 1987, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania designated umber 4859 the Commonwealth’s official electric locomotive. The locomotive is on view at the Harrisburg Transportation Center in downtown Harrisburg. For information about this locomotive, and GG1 Number 4800 (the prototype known as “Old Riv¬≠ets” criticized by Loewy) and GGl Number 4935, built in 1943 and nicknamed “Blackjack,” both in the collections of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, Lancaster County, visit the museum on the Web at www.rrmueumpa.org.

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