Dining cars were, by themselves, a liability
to the railroads. They were the heaviest and most expensive of passenger
cars. To maintain the expected standards of quality in service, menu,
and comfort, the railroads often incurred appalling losses. First class
passengers expected fine dining cars, and the railroads were obliged
to provide them with the finest of service.
Before dining cars, passengers on long trips
either brought along their own food or dined at train station restaurants.
The food at these stops was rarely of good quality or much variety,
passengers sometimes had only minutes in which to eat. In the 1870s,
dining cars were developed
first for wealthy passengers. The Chicago & Alton Railroad was the first
to adopt the dining car for regular passenger service. In order to compete,
other Chicago railroads did likewise. Eventually,
dining cars became a competitive necessity on all railroads, no matter
how high an expense was
incurred through their manufacture and operation.
The Pullman Company built the first dining car, naming
it the "Delmonico", after the world-famous restaurant in New York City.
The "Delmonico" featured two dining rooms with a kitchen between the
two rooms. By the early 1880s, the design configuration of the dining
car had changed, putting the kitchen at one end of the car and the dining
room, seating 36 people, at the other end. A dining car required a staff
of at least seven and sometimes as many as 16 cooks, busboys, and waiters.
Tables were set with fine linen, silver, and china, all made especially
for a railroad and emblazoned with its
logo. The cars themselves were generally carpeted, occasionally furnished
with fine draperies and
light fixtures. Menus might offer as many as 80 different dishes, featuring
fresh meats, fish, poultry, baked goods, fruits, and vegetables. Dining
cars eventually gave way almost altogether to economical buffet and
snack cars which were much less ornate and had limited menus and services.
This specific diner was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad for the "crack"
(fast) train, the Broadway Limited and later in its career ran on the
Spirit of St. Louis.