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The American Dream: Rock Island Lines Style

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

On October 10th, 1922, the Rock Island Railway Club hosted the seventieth anniversary celebration of the Rock Island Lines. The banquet was held in the same room of the Sherman Hotel in Chicago as the original dinner in 1852 to mark the opening of the first stretch of rail line from Chicago to Joliet.

The keynote speaker, Board Chairman Charles Hayden, brought the stockholders good news: The Rock Island Lines now covered 8,200 miles of line across 14 states. But he had even better news for the railroad employees at the banquet—the conductors, engineers, shop workers, carpenters, and clerks. He could promise a fringe benefit worth far more than money.

"It ought to be a source of inspiration to every one of you," he said, to know that the president, vice-president, and all the officers began at the bottom of the ladder." 

"Your sons can do the same," he said. "There is no foreman or carpenter whose son may not by diligence and hard work and ability and devotion to the company's interest rise to the highest positions." For most workers, this was the American Dream, to come to America so that their children would have that chance.

"However," said the chairman, turning to those sons who were present at the banquet, "However, this does not mean that promotion will come to you without an effort on your part. We must keep abreast of our competitors," he warned them, and that would mean constantly improving the operation of the railroad in an economic fashion. "We insist on one thing," he told the sons, "and always will: that the great property which is entrusted to our charge and the large capital which it is constantly necessary to add, shall be utilized efficiently and economically...our financing must be conservative."

It was a stirring speech, although I think this last part could have been put into plainer English: "If you young men want to climb the Rock Island ladder to management, don't even think of giving your old man a raise."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.