it occurred to Louis Liggett, founder of the United Drug Company
(Rexall), that rather than asking thousands of cash-strapped Rexall
druggists to come to a national convention -- he could simply take
the national convention to them!
From that, the
Rexall Train was born.
With the US
economy far from recovered, finding surplus railroad equipment was
a snap. Twelve heavyweight Pullman cars were found that could quickly
be converted to exhibition cars, lecture cars, and support cars.
Each car received a new roof and diaphragms that made the train
the longest 'streamlined' train yet fielded. The locomotive was
leased from the New York Central. Their decidedly UN-streamlined
locomotive was given a thorough makeover based on the styling of
the railroad's own Commodore Vanderbilt, the first streamlined steam
locomotive in America. The entire train was painted Rexall blue
and white (orange didn't come into the corporate palette until years
later) with black roofs.
The front half
of the train was planned for public exhibition. To that end, four
Pullman cars were outfitted with displays of virtually every product
Rexall offered. The hottest products lent their names to the cars
of the train. Kantleek, Firstaid, Ad-Vantages, Research, Bisma-Rex,
Cara Nome, and six other star-product names adorned on the sides
of the cars.
days of public display, the train left Boston on March 29, 1936.
The staff soon settled into a routine.
To the public
it looked like this:
When the Rexall
Train came to town, people would stop by their local Rexall store
to get free tickets before heading down to the station. When the
train arrived, a big 'Rexall Drug' sign was hoisted on the side
of the Ad-Vantages -- and the entrance doors flung open on the Research.
Some display cities saw over 2500 people per hour pass through the
four exhibit cars! Good thing the entire train had the newest of
luxuries -- air conditioning.
In 109 cities
the train was scheduled to host druggists' conventions. This is
where the next four Pullmans came in handy. The Klenzo, Symphony,
Adrienne, and Mi-31 were all converted to the standards of a topnotch
convention hotel. Klenzo and Adrienne were lecture cars connected
by a PA system. Between them was the dining car Symphony -- suited
for serving hundreds of conventioneers a mouthwatering buffet lunch
or dinner anytime, anywhere. (Pullman had provided three master
chefs.) After a day of seminars, the Mi-31 offered two bars and
a lounge area for relaxation. Taking the folding chairs out of the
lecture cars, conventioneers had room to mingle and dance the night
away -- to the tunes of the train's 4-piece orchestra.
the rear of the train were the cars Joan Manning (staff sleeper)
and Puretest -- Mr. Liggett's private Pullman observation car. (You
didn't think he was going to stay back at headquarters, did you?
As the train
made its way from east to west, its popularity with the public grew.
Large newspaper ads announcing the train's visit became the norm.
What started out as mostly a convention train became a PR tour de
force. As the train moved into its third month, Rexall druggists
along the train's path began to angle of attention. With enough
pull, Liggett could be persuaded to stop the train for a morning
or afternoon display in the hometown of an impassioned Rexallite
(as they were called).
also be persuaded to stop the train in a town where a local druggist
was on the verge of "going Rexall". Contract in hand,
Liggett would show the prospect the wonders of Rexall -- as thousands
of potential customers surged toward the exhibit cars. For many,
it was an irresistible proposition.
The tour made
its way from Boston through the Midwest, Southwest, and north up
the Pacific coast. Zigzagging across Canada and the US Northwest,
the train descended into Chicago for a 3-week refurbishment half
way through its tour. Back to the east coast it went before heading
south, west, southeast, and north again -- finishing up on November
24, 1936 in Atlanta, GA. In the end, the train visited every state
29,000 miles, 47 states and Canada, 2.3 million visitors for the
Million Dollar Rexall Streamlined Train.
It was the United
Drug Company's finest hour.