While the Internet has made research an incredible amount easier, I did discover a new problem while looking up this lucky token. When I typed into Google the obvious parameters “1934,” “Union Pacific,” “lucky piece,” what I got back was page upon page of people selling one. I couldn’t find any information as to the background of these coins. So I had to rely upon that old grad school training and employ the concept of using historical context to discover the whys and hows. What I did was I changed my approach and tried to figure out “why 1934,” and it turns out the answer was right here on my own page… A Century of Progress – World’s Fair. Sure enough when I added that name to my search I found an answer; it was a giveaway at the World’s Fair in 1934 (and my guess is that it was given away at the “Travel and Transport Building,” which according to the guide book it housed an extensive train history exhibit). This also helps explain why I was running into such high numbers of these for sale across the web. I can’t even imagine how many “Lucky Pieces” the UP & ALCOA gave away.
If you really like this vintage art deco piece of railroad history, I know where you can find one cheap.
The Chicago Railroad Fair started in 1948 and was so successful it was extended into 1949. While the title makes it sound like just a typical trade show (and in many ways it was) it was also a lot more with various exhibits and the classic “fun for the whole family.” Even with those high numbers in attendance it was apparently “the last great railroad fair” held (which means that there must have been a decent number of these in the past). The theme of this fair, besides anything and everything RR, was the expansion of the RR west of Chicago. This of course meant a model of a Western town had to be built, and of course there had to be a bank, hence the creation of this souvenir. There are plenty of postcards and other images from this fair on the web, and it was a surprisingly large event held right on the Lake.
While researching this token I came across a modern event that I didn’t know existed: National Train Day. And wouldn’t you know it that it is this Saturday May 7th! There are various events being held across the country with multiple events being held in many states. In my town there are tours of various train cars and locomotives, history related exhibits, some sort of entertainment, and of course train models.
Guess what the kid and I will be torturing my wife with this Saturday?