An air-line railroad was a railroad that was relatively flat and straight, choosing a shorter route over an easier route. In their heyday, which was prior to aviation, they were often referred to simply as "air lines". For example, a 1903 novel indicates a character's success by noting his position as "superintendent of passenger traffic of the New York and Chicago Air Line", a fictitious railroad.[1]

"Straight as a plumb line": Seaboard Air Line Railway advertisement illustrating the "quickest train service via the shortest route" to Florida, 1902.
"The straight line of your palm is not straighter than the straight line to the palms": another advertisement for the Seaboard Air Line's "shortest, quickest route to Florida", 1908.


Dictionary definitionEdit

Webster's 1913 dictionary gives the definition "Air line, a straight line; a bee line. Hence Air-line, adj.; as, air-line road." (As of 2005 this meaning has fallen into disuse.)[citation needed]


Air line railroads began to be built in the mid-nineteenth century; in 1853 the New York Daily Times ran a satirical article mocking the trend, suggesting that the fad for an "air line" name was being used to float dubious investments:

The "air-line" is three miles and nine-thirteenths shorter from Quattlebum to Squashtown than the present traveled route by the Conger Creek railroad.... Though we know there is already a railroad in operation between Quattlebum and Squash Town, parallel with and not far from our air-line... we feel satisfied that the immense current of travel, now passing by Conger Creek, must be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, to the air-line road. What sane individual, starting at Quattlebum and bound for Squash, will take the Conger Creek road when he can go by way of Shootsburg in two minutes less time, and at very little more cost?[2]

List of air line railroadsEdit


  1. ^ Wister, Owen (1903), Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University. Macmillan, New York, 1903
  2. ^ The New York Daily Times, January 31, 1853, p. 2
  3. ^ Henry, Apthorp (1886). Annual Report of the Commissioner Railroads and Telegraphs to the Governor of the State of Ohio, for the Year 1886. Hathi Trust: The Westbote Co. p. 465.
  4. ^ "Stuart Knott Appointed a Receiver". The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. September 7, 1900. p. 3 – via