The Marco Polo: FDR’s Transportation of Choice

We are all used to hearing about Air Force One, the name of the plane that the U.S. president is flying on. However, before air travel was easy, U.S. presidents traveled on U.S. Train Car Number One.

The Pullman Company originally built the Marco Polo in 1929 in Lot 6246, Plan 3972B. The car was one of six named after famous explorers: David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, Ferdinand Magellan, Robert Peary, and Roald Amundsen.[1] President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) used Marco Polo during his time as governor of New York and his first two presidential terms between 1929 and 1940.[2] Roosevelt had the car modified with a brass rail above the bed and along the corridor. These modifications assisted his movement on the train car with his paralysis resulting from a bought with polio in 1921.

Once World War II erupted, national security insisted Roosevelt take strong safety precautions in his travels across the United States. So the sister car, Ferdinand Magellan, was refurbished with stronger armor and more lavish accommodations befitting a president. After abandoning the Marco Polo, the train car continued to carry people of importance, including Madame Chiang Kai-Shek of China, J.J. Studebaker, Harvey Firestone, and W.L. Mellon.[3]

In 1944, The Central of Georgia purchased the train car, where it spent time as an office car. In 1989, after Norfolk Southern purchased the Central of Georgia, the car moved to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. reaffirmed the grandness of the car, saying, “It’s just as I remember it.”[4] Norfolk Southern donated the car to the Southeastern Railway Museum in 2020.


[1] “Ferdinand Magellan (Railcar).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 12, 2021.

[2] Lengel, Edward G. “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Train Ferdinand Magellan.” WHHA (en-US). The White House Historical Association, October 19, 2017.

[3] “Norfolk Southern Cars.” Reserve Organization of America, 2017.

[4] Ibid.

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