“The locomotive industry emerged in mid-nineteenth-century America with the development and rapid expansion of the railroad network.
As the number of locomotive manufacturers increased, the industry became intensely competitive, and builders vied with one another to capture the attention of railroad companies, officials, and agents.
The first locomotive builders’ prints were created in the late 1830s and ‘40s in response to this industry competition. These lithographic portraits of locomotives were soon considered to be essential to the manufacturers’ promotion of their machines.
Locomotive builders’ prints differed from ordinary advertising prints or landscape views with picturesque trains.
Instead, they were a unique type of print, a hybrid designed both to attract potential customers and to provide accurate technical information about locomotive engines and cars.
With the introduction of chromolithography in the 1840s and ‘50s, locomotive manufacturers began commissioning color prints of their engines.
Early American locomotives were often painted and colorfully decorated; chromolithographic locomotive builders’ prints offer a rare insight into the decorative designs, finishes, and materials favored by manufacturers.
The use of color in the 1850s ushered in what has been called the golden age of the locomotive builders’ prints.