The United States was recovering from the Great Depression
in the 1930's and the railroads decided that it was time to create a new
impetus to increase travel. Streamlining was the latest advent in
industrial design and plans were made in 1934 by the New York Central
System to produce their first streamlined locomotive, which would be named
after the founder of the railroad, Commodore Vanderbilt. It is an
ironic fact that Vanderbilt, who had been seriously injured in a train
wreck, disliked railroads intensely but later went on to establish the NYC
and shape railroad history.
The design of the Commodore Vanderbilt was the creation of Carl F.
Kantola, whose career at the NYC spanned 47 years. NYC Hudson No.
5344 was selected to be used as the prototype and was suitably modified to
accept its streamlined shroud, which had been developed by the Case
Institute of Technology. In December 1934, the project was
complete. On December 27, 1934, the Commodore Vanderbilt was first
exhibited at Grand Central Station and then it began an exhibition tour of
of major cities on the NYC system. Next, it was placed in service
hauling the 20th Century Limited.
Many other railroads scrambled to streamline their locomotives,
however, the NYC has the distinction of being the first US carrier to do
so. Little is know about any performance changes which resulted from
the streamlining, but it can speculated that the drag reduction probably
resulted in a fuel savings. In 1939, No. 5344 was fitted with Henry
Dreyfuss streamlining shroud, but eventually all shrouding was removed
during the mid 1940's.