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Ferdinand Magellan

Presidential Rail Car, U.S. Number 1

A National Historic Landmark

Ferdinand Magellan “ U.S. No. 1 Presidential Railcar is available as a guided tour. While the exterior of the car is still available for unscheduled viewing, the interior has been secured due to the preservation needs of the car. The many years of the public passing through the railcar have taken their toll. In order to preserve the car for future generations to study and enjoy, this step has been necessary. Please go to the admissions page, located here: Hours & Admissions Information Page. The admissions page shows the tour information for the Magellan, and times that we conduct the tours.


Right: The Great Seal of the President of the United States as displayed in bronze on the rear gate of the FERDINAND MAGELLAN

The Ferdinand Magellan is unique among Pullman railroad cars in that it is the only car ever custom built for the President of the United States in the 20th century. One other railcar was built for President Lincoln in the early 1860's, however Lincoln refused to ride in it calling it "too fancy and ornate." The car was used to carry the president's body to his burial place after he was assassinated. Originally built in 1928, the Ferdinand Magellan was one of the last cars ever built as a private car and was one of a group of six cars named after famous explorers. The six cars were; Ferdinand Magellan, David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, Marco Polo, Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen. These cars were all placed in the Pullman general service pool at about the same time and were operated by the Pullman Company over many of the nation's railroads.

Until late 1942, the President of the United States rode in a standard, private Pullman car when he traveled by train. He did not use a specific car, although the Roald Amundsen was frequently assigned to him. In early 1942, just after the United States became involved in World War II, white house aids Michael Reilly and Steven Early suggested that the President of the United States should have a custom built railroad car to afford him maximum protection when he traveled by rail. President Franklin Roosevelt approved of the idea after he was told that the car would not only be used for him but for future Presidents as well. After consideration, the Ferdinand Magellan was chosen to be the Presidential car and was withdrawn from general service and returned to the Pullman Company's "Calumet Shops", near Chicago, Illinois, for complete rebuilding.

The car was originally painted "Pullman Green", a color similar to that of this page. This color was chosen for the Pullman fleet for several reasons, not the least of which is it's ability to not show the type of soot and dirt that accumulates on railroad cars painted in a lighter livery! It is 84' - 0" (25.2 m) long, 15' - 0" (4.57 m) high, and 10' -0" (3.05 m) wide. President Roosevelt's only request for the design was to "make it a little more comfortable", so the interior of the car was redesigned. At the Calumet shops, the number of bedrooms was reduced from five to four to create more room for the dining room and the observation lounge. Nickel-steel armor plate 5/8" (15 mm) thick was riveted on to the sides, floor, roof and ends of the car in a manner that made it undetectable when the car was viewed from any distance. 3" (76.2 mm) thick, bullet resisting glass, manufactured by laminating 12 sheets of 1/4" (6 mm) thick glass into one piece, was installed and sealed into the window frames, replacing conventional safety glass in the windows.

Two escape hatches were built into the car, one in the ceiling of the observation lounge and one on the side wall of the shower/bath in the Presidential bathroom, near the center of the car. Special trucks, wheels and roller bearings were installed to support the additional weight. A "standard," heavyweight, Pullman car of the Magellan's era weighed about 160,000 pounds (72,563 kg). The rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan weighed 285,000 (129,252 kg). At 142.5 tons (129.3 metric tons), it is the heaviest, passenger railcar in the United States!

The Ferdinand Magellan is the only passenger railcar ever designated a "National Historic Landmark" by the United States government. This honor was bestowed on the Ferdinand Magellan by the United States, Department of the Interior, National Parks Service in February. 1985.

Self Guided Tour

To enter the car from the rear, one climbs the steps to the open platform enclosed with polished, brass railings. This platform was often used by the President for making speeches, especially when the car was used for "whistle stop" campaign trips. The famous news photo of Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a banner headline stating "Dewey Defeats Truman" was taken on this platform on Wednesday, November 3, 1948, at the St. Louis, Union Station. (The St. Louis Union Station has been preserved and converted to a shopping mall. It's a beautiful facility worthy of a visit!) A copy of this photo is displayed in the car.


Inside (below), through the armored rear door of the car, is the spacious and restful observation lounge. It is decorated using cream colored woodwork, green carpeting and light brown, tufted wall covering resembling leather. All furnishings, fixtures and equipment throughout the car, are the original equipment that was onboard when the car was turned over to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942. Although portions of the interior have been repainted as part of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum's restoration and preservation program, the paint has been carefully matched with the original color so that the decor remains unchanged.

Each room in the car has a telephone. When the presidential train was standing in a station, the telephone system was connected to a trainside telephone outlet provided by the local telephone company. When the train was moving, external communications were handled by Army Signal Corps personnel in communications car number 1401, a converted, Baltimore and Ohio combine car, which was used for the president's communication equipment. In later years, this car was replaced by a converted hospital car renamed the General Albert J. Myer.

Between the observation lounge and the dining room are four bedrooms, lettered "A" through "D". Rooms "A" and "D" are identical guest rooms. Each contains an upper and lower berth, vanity, closet, dresser, wash basin, toilet, and medicine cabinet. The lower berth converts into a double seat with a table, while the upper berth retracts into the ceiling. Rooms "B" and "C", with their connecting bathroom, form the presidential suite. Bedroom "B" is the First Lady's bedroom. It has a single bed, larger than a standard Pullman berth, dresser, closet and wash basin. The connecting bath has a shower, bathtub, toilet, and wash basin. Room "C" is the President's bedroom. It is the largest of the bedrooms and contains, in addition to the standard equipment, a commode chair which was installed for President Roosevelt who was a semi-invalid due to polio. Also exhibited in the room is a special wheelchair built for Mr. Roosevelt's use onboard this railcar. The chair is narrow enough to have adequate clearance through the doors and hallways of this railcar.

The dining/conference room is the largest room in the railroad car. The solid mahogany table is 38" x 72" (96.3 cm x 183 cm) and seats eight. This is where the president entertained official visitors while aboard the Magellan. Among the many world leaders entertained in this room was Sir Winston Churchill, who visited both President Roosevelt and President Trumanaboard the car on different occasions. This room also contains the small writing desk which was used by the president when needed for official business.

Through the door at the front end of the dining room is the hallway and door that divides the presidential area from the staff area of the car. Located here is the pantry and steward's quarters, the latter containing a small upper and lower berth, a lavatory and shower and a small closet. Overhead are hot and cold water storage tanks and ventilation equipment. Next is the galley, containing a charcoal stove and an ice box (not a refrigerator). This where the meals were prepared for the presidential party. Finally on either side of the front entrance aisle are an ice hatch and storage compartments. Air conditioning was provided throughout the car by filling the ice storage bunkers with 12, 500 pound (227 kg) blocks of ice. As the ice melted, the chilled water runoff was pumped through copper coils in the ceiling. The air inside the car was circulated over these coils and the cooled air was used to ventilate the car. The warm water that had flowed through the coils was pumped back to the ice bunkers and sprayed over the blocks of ice. In the 1970's the system was converted to mechanical refrigeration, using some of the original cooling coils as part of the chiller system.

History of the Ferdinand Magellan in Presidential Service

(Or Life Before "Air Force One")

The newly rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan was presented to President Roosevelt on December 18, 1942, exactly 14 years from the day it rolled out of the Pullman Company shops as a new unit. During World War II, for security reason, only the word "Pullman" appeared on the outside of the car so that from a distance, the rolling fortress looked like any other private rail car. Whenever it was part of a train, however, the train moved under the commodity code "POTUS" (the first letters of President OfThe United States.) Every railroad official knew that "POTUS" had the right of way over all other rail traffic. To lessen the chance of sabotage during the war, the car did not have a permanent storage location in Washington, D.C. It was moved around when not in use and stored on various sidings at Washington's Union Station, the Potomac Railroad yards, the Naval Gun Factory at the Navy Yard and in the sub-basement of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. At the Navy Yard, a special elevator was installed on the observation platform at the rear of the car to aid the president in boarding the car while in a wheel chair. This elaborate device was removed from the railroad car after the death of President Roosevelt, however, photos of it are on display in the lounge.

On January 9, 1943, a five car train was quietly assembled in Washington's "Ivy City" yard. The president's Navy stewards were summoned from the presidential yacht to perform the duties ordinarily handled by Pullman porters. Officials preparing this special train were told not to issue any special instructions that might cause suspicion. The train left Washington, D.C. at 10:00 P.M. (22:00) with President Roosevelt aboard the Ferdinand Magellan and headed north. The train, however, only went as far as Fort Meade, Maryland. An hour later, it was headed south, beginning President Roosevelt's journey to the now famous Casablanca summit meeting. Before dawn, on January 11, the train arrived at southwest 27th avenue and south Dixie Highway in Miami, Florida. The president was driven, by automobile to Pan American Airways, Dinner Key terminal (now used as Miami's City Hall) where he boarded a seaplane for the flight to Africa via South America. This was the first time a seated, U.S. president ever flew in an airplane outside U.S. borders. Reports and papers from this trip are also displayed in the car.

Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled about 50,000 miles (81,500 km) in the Ferdinand Magellan during his presidency. He preferred to travel at 35 miles per hour (56 kph). On March 29, 1945, he left Washington, on the Ferdinand Magellan for a trip to the summer whitehouse at Warm Springs, Georgia. He died 14 days later of a stroke. On April 13, the funeral train bearing the President's body left Warm Springs for Hyde Park, New York. Mrs. Roosevelt was riding in the Ferdinand Magellan, which was the second car from the rear for the first time since it was placed in presidential service. The casket containing the President's body, was placed aboard the Conneaut another Pullman car, by removing a window to make an opening, large enough to place the casket inside. This was done since the bullet resistant windows of the Ferdinand Magellan could not be removed. This car was then placed last in the consist for the trip to New York. Reports and photographs of this special train are on display in the car, including a photograph of Southern Railways (now Norfolk Southern Corporation) steam engine number 1401, which pulled the train part way. This engine is now on display in the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.

President Harry S Truman used the car more than any other president. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman preferred to travel at speeds around 80 miles per hour (128 kph). According to a letter to the Gold Coast Museum from then former president Truman (which is on display), the very heavy car "gave nightmares to every railroad engineer who had to pull it on the rear of his train". During Truman's famous whistle stop campaign tour of 1948, he traveled more than 28,000 miles (46,284 km) and made nearly 350 speeches from the rear platform of the Ferdinand Magellan.

The third and last president to utilize the Ferdinand Magellan while it was still the property of the United States Government, was Dwight David Eisenhower , who used the car very little. He would use the car for occasional trips to his farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one time on a trip to upstate New York and on a state visit to Canada in November, 1953 to address the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa. The last trip for the Ferdinand Magellan in government service was in 1954 when Mrs. Eisenhower traveled in it from Washington, D.C. to Groton, Connecticut to christen the world's first nuclear powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. After this trip, the car stood idle for four years. It was declared government surplus in 1958 and was offered to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian, however, did not take the necessary steps to acquire the car. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum, then only one year old, learned of the car's availability through a railroad trade publication and, ultimately, acquired the car through a complicated transaction involving several government agencies. The Ferdinand Magellan arrived at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum on January 15, 1959, where it has been on exhibit with few movements. In 1978 the Ferdinand Magellan was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the next year, the Museum received permission to place the Seal of the President of the United States, back on the rear platform of the car.

In September, 1984, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum decided to take the Ferdinand Magellan to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national convention of railroad enthusiasts and for inspection by the National Park Service to determine it's eligibility as a National Historic Landmark. Since the car was going to be in Washington during the presidential election campaign, the Museum asked the whitehouse staff if President Ronald Reagan would like to make a speech from the rear platform of the famous car. The whitehouse suggested that the President use the car for a one day, whistle stop campaign trip between Dayton and Toledo, Ohio.

The arrangements were made and the trip took place on October 12, 1984, leaving Dayton at 9:00 A.M. (09:00) and traveling 120 miles (197 km) to Toledo, making five stops along the way. At each stop, President Reagan made a speech to a large crowd gathered around the rear platform of the railcar. In each speech, he made reference to the historical significance of the car from which he was speaking. The trip was very complicated from a security standpoint. It involved about 1,000 police and Secret Service agents. An officer was stationed every .25 mile (400 m) in the woods alongside the railroad right of way and heavy equipment blocked every roadway grade crossing. President Reagan said that the trip was the highlight of his campaign and that he would rather travel by train than airplane any day. At the conclusion of the trip, the President met with representatives of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and extended his thanks for the use of the car. The car then returned to Miami and was placed back on public display.

In August, 1992, South Florida was devastated by hurricane ANDREW. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum was severely damaged by the fury of the storm. The train shed collapsed on the museum cars stored inside. All were heavily damaged and two were literally, snapped in two. Although massive steel support beams crashed into the Ferdinand Magellan, the car sustained relatively little structural damage. The roof was dented and the paint was "sandblasted" from the sides, but the massively heavy construction of the car protected it from destruction. After a two and a half year restoration, the car was placed back on public display during October, 1996.



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