Whistle-Stop Tours: When Trains Ruled American Presidential Elections

History Unplugged Podcast

06-02-2024 • 36 mins

For nearly two centuries, the beating heart of electoral politics was on the back of a train. William Jennings Bryan spoke to an estimated 5 million people from a train car in his 1896 presidential campaign. Yet memories of the pivotal role campaign trains played in American elections fade with the passing of each generation. Also forgotten are the stories documented by the reporters who traveled with hundreds of whistle-stopping politicians including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.

Today’s guest is Edward Segal, author of “Whistle-Stop Politics: Campaign Trains and the Reporters Who Covered Them.” Campaign trains were an American invention that enabled politicians to connect with as many voters as possible in the country’s largest cities and smallest towns.