Phoebe Snow Rode the Rails in a White Dress

One of the more inventive advertising campaigns at the beginning of the 1900s was the Phoebe Snow promotion by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad to promote its use of anthracite coal. This is top grade coal and burnt cleaner in steam locomotices than bituminous coal. In the days of steam locomotives, one problem was the cinders that trailed behind the locomotive and flowed in through passenger car windows soiling clothes and sometimes starting fires.

This happened less often with anthracite coal. The railroad, which ran in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania until Conrail absorbed it in 1976, had a nearby source of anthracite coal. This meant that using a campaign character who rode the rails in a white dress was made to order.

Elmo Calkins created the campaign and its fictional character who was portrayed as a socialite who frequently rode between New York and Buffalo in a white dress and a violet corsage became, according to Wikipedia, “one of the most recognized advertising mascots in the United States, and in further campaigns she began to enjoy all the benefits offered by DL&W: gourmet food, courteous attendants, an observation deck, even onboard electric lights”

Says Phoebe Snow
about to go
upon a trip to Buffalo
“My gown stays white
from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite”

Now Phoebe may
by night or day
enjoy her book upon the way
Electric light
dispels the night
Upon the Road of Anthracite

Later the railroad would bestow the name Phoebe Snow on one of its trains, and the singer Phoebe Snow would take her her stage name from the railroad’s advertising character. 

A glance through railroad history books shows that during the days of privately owned (pre-AMTRAK) passenger service, advertising was a competitive art.


In the 1990s, Campbell served as the collections manager, researcher, and grant writer for a railroad museum in Georgia. Unsurprisingngly, his fiction–such as “At Sea” often includes railroads.