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Iowa History Daily: August 20 - Ralph Budd & The Zephyr

Iowa History Daily: Railroad executive and innovator Ralph Budd was born on a farm in Black Hawk County, Iowa, near Washburn. Budd sparked the diesel-electric revolution when he introduced the Zephyr streamliner.

During rural child focused on hard work and Presbyterian faith, Budd’s family relocated to Des Moines when he was thirteen. After attending North High School and Highland Park College, he joined the Chicago Great Western Railroad as an assistant engineer. Pairing a natural knack with his industrious nature, Budd rose rapidly and worked on several important projects during his early career including the Panama Canal’s railroad.

Budd returned stateside and started working for the Great Northern Railroad where he caught the eye of James J. Hill. Moving to St. Paul, Budd served as Hill’s assistant before the railway magnate’s death. Budd rose to the Presidency of the Great Northern after Hill’s passing, and oversaw the completion of the Cascade Tunnel. Budd also helped the Great Northern enter the bus business with the Northland Transportation Company, a critical forerunner to today’s Greyhound Lines.

In 1932, Budd accepted a position heading the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. His leadership proved pivotal as the Great Depression deepened, and the Burlington introduced lightweight, diesel-powered Zephyr steamliners in 1934. The innovation revolutionized the industry, serving as a critical part of Budd’s legacy. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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