Incredible color photos show the women railroad workers who mobilized the American war effort, 1943

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two, a wiper at the roundhouse.

During World War II, America’s railroads were an important part of the war effort and it’s estimated that from 1941 to 1945 trains transported close to 44 million American troops.

Between the war years of 1942 and 1944, trains carried 98 percent of military personnel and more than 90 percent of freight for the military.

These incredible photos show how women in America helped keep the railroads running smoothly and helped maintain this vital part of the war effort. By the end of the war, some 116,000 women were working on railroads across the United States

The pictures are taken in April 1943 by the Office of War Information photographer Jack Delano who captured the women of the Chicago & North Western Railroad roundhouse in Clinton, Iowa, as they kept the hulking engines cleaned, lubricated, maintained, and fixed the trains.

A report on Click Magazine of 1943 said: “Nearly 100,000 women, from messengers aged 16 to seasoned railroaders of 55 to 65, are keeping America’s wartime trains rolling. So well do they handle their jobs that the railroad companies, once opposed to hiring any women, are adding others as fast as they can get them”.

american railroad women ww2

Cloe Weaver, mother of four, a roundhouse helper training to operate the turntable.

World War II would prove to be the zenith of public rail transportation. More people and materials than ever before had to travel, and nearly everything moved by rail. Demand increased spectacularly.

Passenger miles increased at an even greater rate during the same period, from 23,816 million passenger miles to 95,663 million passenger miles. In 1944, the peak war year, more than 75 percent of all commercial passengers traveled by rail.

Railroads carried about 43.7 million military personnel, or more than 97% of all troops moved between December 1941 and August 1945.

At least 100,000 military personnel were on troop trains daily as railroads used a fourth of their coaches and half of all Pullman (sleeper cars) for troop transport.

An average of more than 2,500 troop trains a month operated in the US. A quarter of all passenger cars would be reserved for military personnel, and about half of all Pullman sleepers would be utilized by them as well.

american railroad women ww2

Wipers clean an H-class locomotive.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Elibia Siematter, a sweeper at the roundhouse.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three, a wiper at the roundhouse.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Marcella Hart and Mrs. Viola Sievers clean an H-class locomotive.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Thelma Cuvage sifts and cleans sand for use in locomotives.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Elibia Siematter on her lunch break.

american railroad women ww2

Roundhouse workers on their lunch break.

american railroad women ww2

Wipers clean an H-class locomotive.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Viola Sievers sprays an H-class locomotive with steam.

american railroad women ww2

Mrs. Dorothy Lucke, a roundhouse wiper.

american railroad women ww2

A propaganda poster during World War Two.

(Photo credit: Jack Delano / Library of Congress).