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Museum Of Science And Industry Reopens Pioneer Zephyr Train After Sweeping Renovations To Historic “Silver Streak”

Zephyr set 1934 speed record, reinventing train travel and design 

CHICAGO (March 4, 2021)—The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) is reopening one of its most recognizable and largest artifacts, the Pioneer Zephyr. After a year of renovation and conservation work, this boldly reimagined exhibition invites guests to explore the train that reinvented travel and design. 

The record-setting diesel passenger train stretches 60 meters (about one-third of a city block), welcoming guests as they enter the Museum. It has been part of MSI’s collection since 1960. 

“The Pioneer Zephyr is a beloved piece of transportation and Museum history that has wowed guests for generations,” said John Llewellyn, creative lead at MSI. “We are thrilled to reopen this Museum icon for guests to experience up close its beautiful design and incredible story which sets the stage for what to expect as they explore the rest of MSI.” 

The Museum has updated the exhibition to bring the Zephyr to life for new generations. Highlights include:  

  • Stunning setting: The existing gallery was modified to show off the train in a dramatically visual way, with new lighting, gigantic media and period-accurate finishes and fabrics. A 170-foot-long projected media piece alongside the train captures the future of aerodynamics and makes it feel like you’re in motion when you’re on board the train. 
  • Greater accessibility: Guests can explore the entire train at their own pace. Improved ramps, a wheelchair lift, tactile map and other enhancements make the Zephyr’s story available to more guests.  
  • Real stories: Peek into the lives of the people who worked and traveled aboard the train. Reflect on innovation and heroism as well as racial and gender inequality on the railroad as you listen to oral histories unearthed from the vaults of the MSI Collection.  
  • Interactive fun: Learn about streamlining in a virtual wind tunnel and try your hand at shot welding, the revolutionary material-science breakthrough that allowed the Zephyr to be built. Media pieces detail the drama of the Zephyr’s historic 1934 “Dawn to Dusk” run from Denver to Chicago. At the far end of the gallery find an animated cyclorama about the fleet of Zephyrs that came after the Pioneer Zephyr. 

The Pioneer Zephyr—named for the Greek god of the west wind—is renowned for being one of the most futuristic machines ever to ride the rails. Built in 1934 to boost spirits (and save a railroad) during the Great Depression, it was an engineering marvel. On May 26, 1934 the Zephyr began a nonstop "Dawn to Dusk" speed run from Denver to Chicago, completing the trip in just over 13 hours and ushering in a new height of train travel and style. 

Sporting a streamlined stainless-steel body and a cutting-edge diesel-electric engine, the Zephyr revolutionized the look of rail travel, while reducing fuel and maintenance costs. Shocked at first, the public eventually fell in love with all things “streamlined” and the Zephyr’s sleek form was soon mirrored in everyday items from transportation to toasters.

The renovation of the Pioneer Zephyr was made possible through the generous support of The Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Ill.  

About the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) offers world-class and uniquely interactive experiences that support the Museum’s mission: to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. As one of the largest science museums in the world featuring award-winning exhibits and hands-on activities, a visit to MSI is guaranteed to connect fun and learning. MSI is committed to offering comprehensive educational programs—for students, administrators, teachers and families—that make a difference in local communities and contribute to MSI’s goal to transform and illuminate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) pathways for people of all ages. The Museum is grateful for the support of its generous donors and guests, who make its work possible. MSI is also supported in part by the people of Chicago through the Chicago Park District. For more information, visit msichicago.org or call (773) 684-1414.

Press Photos

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The record-setting diesel passenger train stretches 60 meters (about one-third of a city block).

 [Heidi Peters/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

 

Behind the shiny surface of the train, you can peek into the lives of those who worked and traveled aboard the train in its heyday from 1934 to 1960. 

 [Heidi Peters/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

 

Improved ramps, a wheelchair lift, tactile map and other enhancements make the Zephyr’s story available to more guests.  

 [Heidi Peters/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

 

Reflect on innovation and heroism as well as racial and gender inequality on the railroad as you listen to oral histories unearthed from the vaults of the MSI Collection.

 [Heidi Peters/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

 

Media pieces detail the drama of the Zephyr’s historic 1934 “Dawn to Dusk” run from Denver to Chicago.

 [Heidi Peters/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

 

Images presented here are for the express use for promoting the Museum of Science and Industry. All images must be properly credited. Images may not be reproduced by third parties without express written permission from the Museum of Science and Industry.