The Silk Train

At the turn of the twentieth century, silk was a hot commodity in the United States. High demand combined with a constantly fluctuating market meant that merchants had to devise a way to get silk from the west coast of North America, where it would arrive from Asia, to the mills on the east coast as quickly as possible. The solution was what became known as the silk trains. These trains were no ordinary cargo trains; a single shipment of silk could be worth millions of dollars. Because of this, at least one car of every train was devoted to bunks for the armed guards that would protect it.

 

Also, because of the money involved, silk trains were seen as the most important on the tracks, and their passage took precedence over all others. There’s even a story that a train carrying Prince Albert (who later became King George VI) had to wait while a silk train went through.

While both synthetic materials and the opening of the Panama Canal eventually led to the end of the silk trains, they remain an exciting part of textile history. 

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