There was a time when travelling by train was elegant, with passengers riding in plush seats in sparkling clean cars. Porters would take care of every need.
In the beginning of the railway era, there was no food service on the trains. Passengers were expected to bring their own food. To meet the needs of hungry passengers, many railway stations and water stops had restaurants where passengers could eat when the train stopped. In 1878, Fred Harvey began opening the Harvey Houses which provided quality food, linen tablecloths, fine china, silverware, and outstanding service. The waitresses in the Fred Harvey depot restaurants were called Harvey Girls and they were required to be unmarried and to reside in dorms.
With regard to food service on the trains, Stephanie Butler, in her history Dining Across America in Rail’s Golden Age, writes:
“The dining car was the heart of train life, a place for passengers to relax and enjoy a meal in the company of newfound friends. And the food was, by all accounts, delicious. Far from the reheated, packaged meals of today, train chefs prepared food from scratch, from the turtle soup to the spiced nuts.”
Shown below are some of the exhibits regarding railway food service in the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum. This museum, located in the historic 1918 San Bernardino Depot, highlights the history of San Bernardino, California, and the railroad that built the region.
Even on the trains, dining was done on fine china, often created especially for the train. The china included special plates for each course.
Museums 101 provides photo tours of museum exhibits. More from this series:
Museums 101: Railroad Memorabilia (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: Railroad Handcars and Motorcars (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: Firefighting Memorabilia (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: The San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: Remember Ramps (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: The San Bernardino County Museum (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: California Transportation (Photo Diary)
Museums 101: The Caboose (Photo Diary)