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Dimensions (inches): 11" t x 71.5" w x 1.25" d
Black, sand-painted, American trade sign, with Roman style lettering in gold leaf that reads “American Railway Express.” Made of pine, with an applied, molded edge, circa 1818-1829.

In 1917, with the onset of American involvement in WWI, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that nationalized the American railroad system. Part of the reason for this was a coal shortage that had been underway since the prior year, due to both a poignantly cold winter and other factors. This was a nation-wide issue, but hardest felt in the American West. Production was ramped up to meet demand, which escalated to fuel the war, in addition to all manner of homes and business for heat, some for cooking, etc. Shipments were increased, but people were unwilling to store more of it than they typically needed. Coal cars clogged the railway system, affecting not only coal delivery but everything else, and the price of both coal and wood skyrocketed, in spite of the excess.

The other reason for the conscripting of the formerly private railroads was the need to move troops and military supplies. The result of placing civil servants in charge of the mess did little to help the outcome, as one might expect.

There were 4 major express shipping companies at the time, contracting with the railways: American Express, Wells Fargo, Adams Express, and Southern Express. These, plus 3 minor firms, were consolidated into one under the newly created federal arm to run it, known as the United States Railway Administration (USRA). All previous contracts with the railways were nullified and in July of 1818, a single new express company was created called American Railway Express. Although the war ended that year, and federal control of the railways was relinquished back to the private firms in 1920, American Railway Express operated until 1929, when the reins were finally handed off. At that time the name was changed to Railway Express Agency and ownership was given to 86 railroads. Somehow this was largely accomplished without any single one, or any group, wielding most of the control.

Due to the short existence of American Railway Express, the origin of this early sign can be tied to the narrow window between 1918 and 1929, and logic suggests that it was probably made towards the beginning of that date bracket. Sanded signs like this are more indicative of the latter 19th century, through about 1910, and were not the norm among signs made in the 1920’s.

Condition: Moderate paint loss in the black ground, but in an attractive manner. Small amount of silver paint in the lower half of the “S’s” in “Express,” as if someone was going to repaint it, but thought better of the idea and ceased. Minor to modest expected wear around the molding.
Primary Color: black, gold
Earliest Date: 1918
Latest Date: 1929
For Sale Status: Sold
Price SOLD
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