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The Museum of Science and Industry Is Selling Its 181-Year-Old Train

By Sam Cholke | September 23, 2015 5:47am | Updated on September 23, 2015 8:17am


The Mississippi is believed to have been the first train ever to operate in the American South. [Courtesy on Bonhams]

HYDE PARK — The Museum of Science and Industry is auctioning off five of its trains, including the first train to run the rails in the American South, as it revamps its transportation collection.

On Oct. 5, Bonhams auction house in San Francisco will auction off the museum’s second ever donation, a replica of a horse-drawn trolley, along with three trains from the early 1800s and a locomotive cab.

“Our story on trains is much more focused historically than we would like,” said Kathleen McCarthy, director of collections for the museum. “Right now, we have a very high concentration of historic trains.”

She said much of the transportation collection on display was focused on just nine years of early train development in the early 1830s.

“We’ll bring out some motorcycles and from our collections and some more contemporary artifacts and we hope to bring in some concept cars,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a long-time dream of mine because there’s been some really exciting developments in transportation.”

Sam Cholke says a few other iconic items will be sold soon:

Among the trains being sold is the Mississippi, the only one of the five that is not a replica. Built in Britain in 1834, the train was captured and used heavily by both sides in the Civil War and is believed to be the first train ever to operate in the South.

McCarthy said it was a difficult choice, but the museum choose to keep the Rocket, another British-built train that set the standard for early locomotives in the United States, instead of the Mississippi.

She said the museum also chose to let go of the Archer Avenue horse-drawn trolley, the second donation ever to the museum, because the State Street trolley also on display represented the cable car industry that was more dominant in Chicago in the 1930s than any other American city.

McCarthy said the museum is “very conservative” when deciding to sell artifacts, but the end of a long-term loan helped prompt the move.

The Spirit of America, the first car ever to reach 500-miles-per-hour, will be returned to driver Craig Breedlove later this year.

The trains are expected to remain on display through mid-October and the 999 steam locomotive and other trains and trolleys will remain on view for the public.

Bonhams estimated that four of the five trains could conservatively bring in $117,000 for the museum, but declined to estimate the auction value of the Mississippi.

The trains are not cheap. The Archer Avenue trolley reproduction is estimated to sell for $25,000 to $35,000. The Pennsylvania Railroad engine cab reproduction is the bargain out of the lot, expected to sell for a minimum of $12,000.

McCarthy said all proceeds would be used to add to the museum’s collection and conserve existing artifacts.


The York replica was built as working locomotive and will now be sold.


The Archer Avenue horse-drawn trolley is the Museum of Science and Industry's second donation ever.


The John Stevens replica was displayed during the 1933 Century of Progress fair.


The Pennsylvania Railroad engine cab is among the items being auctioned off from the museum's collection.

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