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How the Fricks Traveled: The Westmoreland

How the Fricks Traveled: The <i>Westmoreland</i>
January 9, 2020

How the Fricks Traveled: The Westmoreland

“A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.”
Eleanor Robson Belmont, actress and heiress

Railroads were the quickest way to travel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and while most Americans traveled on public rail cars, many wealthy families like the Fricks purchased or rented private cars for a more comfortable experience.

After years of renting private rail cars, the Fricks purchased their own in 1911, christening it the Westmoreland after the county where Mr. Frick was born. Similar to owning a private jet today, ownership of a luxury rail car was as much a Gilded Age status symbol as it was a means for comfortable travel.

Members of the Frick family and friends on the observation deck at the back of the Westmoreland.
Photo courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Mrs. Frick helped to design the car, which was outfitted with a luxurious seating area, a dining room, a kitchen, four individual sleeping chambers for the family, toilet facilities with showers, an observation room and deck, and quarters for the crew. The car had running water, electricity, heating, and refrigeration. A full service of Mintons china, a fine British porcelain that Mrs. Frick favored, was emblazoned with "Westmoreland" in gold script for use on the car. The Fricks hired a full-time chef, James Smart, as well as a steward, L. Perkins, to staff the car. Both men worked on the crew for the Westmoreland for several years. 


Mintons china, originally commissioned for and used aboard the Westmoreland, now on view at Clayton.

Mr. Frick purchased the 82-foot private train car from the Pullman Company, based in Chicago. Its founder, George Pullman, leveraging capital from his home-moving business, found success with his early sleeper car designs and quickly became a railcar magnate. The first railways and passenger cars were built in England, where distances were relatively small. In the United States, distances were much longer, and needs such as restrooms, dining facilities, and sleeping spaces had to be addressed. Pullman’s sleeper and dining cars were leased to railway companies, and luxury cars were sold to the wealthy families of industrial America. Pullman cars had a reputation for high quality, from décor to clean sheets to luxury restaurants. The familiar accordioned connector between cars, designed to keep dirt and noise out, was a Pullman creation. In addition to the Fricks’ Westmoreland, Pullman built cars for the likes of Charles Schwab and William H. Vanderbilt.

Frick family members and friends standing in front of the Westmoreland c. 1915.
Photo courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

The Westmoreland was priced at a relatively modest $39,656.16, costing an additional $108.90 to move from Chicago to New York City. It was used to transport the Frick family between their homes in New York, Pittsburgh, and Prides Crossing, MA, and for trips to Florida, California, and other locations out west.

A letter to Mr. Frick from Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln and president of the Pullman Company, concerning construction delays.
Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Mr. Frick's response to Mr. Lincoln, including an invitation to pay him a visit.
Courtesy of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

The car, inherited by Helen Clay Frick upon Mr. Frick’s death, was completely rebuilt in 1926. She used it only once, on a trip to the Pacific Coast. It was then placed on view at Pride’s Crossing, where it remained until 1940. At this time, Helen made plans to convert the Westmoreland into a mobile White House for presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie. When he was defeated in the election by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the car was instead offered to and used by Charles J. Graham, president of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway Co. The Westmoreland came back to Helen after Graham’s retirement and was ultimately dismantled in the 1950s.

You can learn more about Gilded Age culture, technology, and transportation, as well as the Frick Family, on a Life in the Gilded Age tour of Clayton or a visit to our Car and Carriage Museum.
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