Special Delivery: Railway Express Agency

Take a look at this colorful poster, designed by Robert E. Lee, a California-born painter and commercial artist who lived in New York City, and published in 1929. The company advertised on this poster, the Railway Express Agency (REA), was an American package delivery service. Operating between 1918 and 1975, they used railroads as one mode of transportation.

The poster shows another leg of the REA’s national network, the delivery truck. The scene in the poster’s foreground, of a Railway Express employee delivering a package, is repeated as a poster on the side of the delivery truck. So, the poster itself is repeated as an advertising poster over and over within the poster!

For Good Order Delivery Use Railway Express Agency. Lithograph by Robert E. Lee, 1929. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g06605

The collections of the Prints & Photographs Division also include photographs showing REA operations. This 1943 Gordon Parks photo shows a truck decked out similarly to the one in the poster, with a Railway Express poster on its side:

New Britain, Connecticut. Miss Ida Hicks, Lithuanian, twenty-eight years old, employed at the American Railway Express Company… Photo by Gordon Parks, June 1943. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d31598

The REA didn’t only advertise their own work on their vehicles. They supported the war effort by featuring an American Red Cross poster on a delivery truck in this photo taken in New York City in 1943:

[Street scene in New York City with trucks and horse drawn cart]. Photo by John Vachon, [1943]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d26869

Robert E. Lee used a similar color palette of orange and purple in another Railway Express Agency poster, also from 1929:

For Convenience Use Railway Express Agency. Lithograph by Robert E. Lee, 1929 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g13911

Can you spot the Railway Express Agency delivery truck in this crowded street scene?

[Delivery trucks jamming West 37th Street, looking west from 7th Avenue, New York City] . Photo by Al Aumuller, 1945. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c11255

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2 Comments

  1. Rebecca Dupont
    November 30, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    Fascinating to see older forms of advertising, especially on things like vehicles that is so prevalent today. The style and bold coloring of the first is something that has began being called back to as a ‘vintage’ look in advertising and posters today. Feels full circle!

  2. Lauren F.
    December 8, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    I thought the REA logo looked familiar, and sure enough, the original Virginia Railway Express logo was inspired by that design. You can see the images of the logos at https://www.vre.org/about/blog/30th-anniversary-logo/

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