Whistle stop train tour

A whistle stop or whistle-stop tour is a style of political campaigning where the politician makes a series of brief appearances or speeches at a number of small towns over a short period of time. Originally, whistle-stop appearances were made from the open platform of an observation car or a private railroad car.

Definition and Usage

The definition of the term derives from the practice of a small, occasionally used railway station signaling a train so the engineer will know to stop. Trains inbound to a "whistle stop" station would signal their approach with a blast of the train's steam whistle which would alert the train depot attendant to their arrival. If passengers, mail, or freight waited to be picked up at the depot, the depot master would raise a tower signal to indicate to the train engineer that the train should stop. If no stop was necessary, a different signal would be raised and the engineer could pass through the depot without a stop.[1]

One usage of the term in the political context, by Robert A. Taft, was derisive. He accused then-President Harry S Truman of "blackguarding Congress at whistle stops across the country".[2]

Use of the term has spread to cover any travel done very quickly and with only brief pauses. It is common to hear this expression in the United States, where the term originated, as well as the United Kingdom.


In the 19th century, when travel by railroad was the most common means of traveling long distances over the vast expanses of land as in the United States, politicians would charter tour trains which would travel from town to town. At each stop, the candidate would make a speech from the train, but might rarely set foot on the ground. "Whistle stop" campaign speeches would be made from the rear platform of a train.

One of the most famous railroad cars to be used in the U.S. whistle-stop tours was the Ferdinand Magellan, the only car custom built for the President of the United States in the 20th century. Originally built in 1928 by the Pullman Company and officially the "U.S. No. 1 Presidential Railcar", the Ferdinand Magellan is currently on display at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami, Florida. The famous news photo of Harry S 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 St. Louis Union Station. The Ferdinand Magellan was also used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and, to a much lesser extent, by President Dwight Eisenhower. The Magellan’s last official trip before retirement was in 1954, when first lady Mamie Eisenhower rode it from Washington, D.C., to Groton, Connecticut, to christen the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. President Ronald Reagan used the Magellan for one day, October 12, 1984, traveling 120 miles in Ohio, from Dayton to Perrysburg, making five stops to give "whistle stop" speeches along the way.

Modern whistle-stop tours

Prince Charles of the United Kingdom started a five-day whistle-stop tour of the United Kingdom on Monday 6 September 2010 with a speech in Glasgow. The green campaigning tour is a part of the Prince's Start initiative that aims to build public awareness of sustainable activities. Indeed in Europe, touring politicians still occasionally take a train, as the excellent and still dense railway network offers access comparable to road travel and as it is better suited for extensive trips than air travel. In 2009 for example German chancellor (and CDU candidate) Angela Merkel made a highly publicized tour in Konrad Adenauer's old campaign train.[3] The SPD on the other hand only discontinued the use of train tours for campaign purposes ahead of the 1998 election.[4]


The following are examples of whistle-stop train tours:

Bryan Wellsville

William Jennings Bryan delivers a whistle stop speech during his 1896 presidential campaign

Teddy Roosevelt at Kansas City, Kansas (15178301101) (cropped)

Then-Republican vice presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt conducts a whistle stop during the 1900 election

Charles Hughes whistle stop 1916

Republican presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes, and his wife shake hands with supporters at Chicago's Union Station during his 1916 campaign

JamesCox RRsteps 1920A (cropped)

Democratic presidential nominee James M. Cox makes a whistle stop appearance during his 1920 campaign

Franklin D. Roosevelt,Eleanor Roosevelt, and Earl Miller in Savannah, Illinois - NARA - 195405

Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor conduct whistle stop tour for his 1932 presidential campaign

Truman with wife and daughter

President Harry Truman and his family embark on a whistle stop tour during his 1948 campaign

LBJ and Ladybird Train New Orleans 1964 (cropped1)

President Lyndon B. Johnson joins his wife on a whistle stop tour for his 1964 campaign


Robert F. Kennedy speaks during a whistle stop for his 1968 presidential campaign

President and Mrs. Ford wave during their primary campaign in Michigan - NARA - 7027911

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford wave from a train during their whistle stop tour of Michigan during the 1976 election

Reagan train tour

President Ronald Reagan goes on a whistle-stop tour through Ohio for his 1984 campaign

Wod-o-Pics-3 0071 - Kodalux Processing Services NOV. 89 P - Bradley for Gov campaign whistle-stop 1986 (9501734601)

Rail car being used by Tom Bradley for a whistle stop tour during his 1986 gubernatorial campaign

Wod-o-Pics-3 0070 - Kodalux Processing Services NOV. 89 P - Bradley for Gov campaign whistle-stop 1986 (9504535246)

Crowd greets Tom Bradley's 1986 whistle stop at the Fresno station

President Bush addresses supporters from the back of his "Spirit of America" railroad car in Cornelia during on his whistlestop train tour across Georgia

George H. W. Bush conducting a whistle stop tour of Georgia during his 1992 presidential campaign

President Bush waves from the back of the train outside of Bowling Green as he travels on a whistlestop campaign... - NARA - 186459

George H. W. Bush waves to spectators along the route of his 1992 campaign whistle stop tour of Ohio

John Kerry on Caboose during 2004 Presidential Campaign Whistle Stop at La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ

John Kerry on a whistle stop tour during his 2004 presidential campaign

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Vladimir Zhirinovsky conducts a whistle stop in support of his party (LDPR) ahead of the 2007 Russian legislative election

President-Elect Barack Obama on a celebratory whistle-stop tour en route to his 2009 inauguration

Democrats Main St. vs. Wall St. whistle stop tour 074 (5136953258)

Chet Culver delivers a speech during a whistle stop tour he conducted with Roxanne Conlin in 2010 for his gubernatorial campaign and her senate campaign

598344 10150881064728687 467347874 n (7482352284)

As part of her 2012 Senate campaign, Elizabeth Warren embarks on a whistle stop tour


  1. ^ Citation needed
  2. ^ Truman by David McCullough
  3. ^ http://www.zeit.de/2009/38/Merkel-Zug
  4. ^ http://www.focus.de/magazin/archiv/periskop-kein-wahlkampfzug_aid_169949.html

External links

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