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Lifeline of the Nation

Association of American Railroads
Carl Dudley Productions

America's intricate system of railroads, often held as a symbol of progress and expansive trade, took on even greater importance during World War II.  As the principal carriers of troops, vehicles, and general supplies needed for the war effort, the major freight lines comprising the Association of American Railroads released Lifeline of the Nation in 1945 to express a commitment to the country's well being.  A powerful industry organization, the Association assumed responsibility for monumental undertakings of  logistics and transportation which were required for mobilization.  Clearly a product of the War Years, the film ends with rail workers dreaming of newspaper headlines announcing the unconditional surrender of Germany. 

Written and produced by Carl Dudley, who would go on to create the cultural series This World of Ours, Lifeline of the Nation opens to breathtaking shots of the rural landscape, dotted with smoking engines carrying military equipment.  "Fortunate are we to be a nation whose economy has ever been tied to the steel rail and the driving locomotive!"  Using the attack on Pearl Harbor as an instigating emergency, the film stresses how railroads were able to operate within the strict confines of military rules and confidentiality while still mobilizing American military men and equipment in time to halt the oppressive actions of foreign enemies.   Beyond just the war effort, however, it is stressed that the entire industrial economy, from steel, to agriculture, to lumber, all depends on railroads to keep the supply and demand flowing.  In time of emergency, it is shown that rail companies will give preference to vital shipments, depicted on screen when a stationmaster lectures a flustered warehouse owner who selfishly worries about his own profitable cargo which has been delayed to make way for needed supplies.


Equally revered are the rail employees who fix tracks and engines and chart the timetables to keep everything from vehicle parts to overseas mail on schedule.  "Ever aware and intensely conscious of his heritage, the railroader is proud that his is one of America's mightiest, most vital industries.  Planned and built to the unstinting courage of free men and enterprise today, as from the very beginning, America's railroads are fighting to maintain and justify those principles on which they were founded."  Offering a final vote of confidence in these principles, the film follows a rail worker home one evening from the yard where he, with his family gathered around, reads a newspaper headline proclaiming a final Allied victory.  In the 1950's, over a decade after this film's initial release, the Association of American Railroads again teamed with Carl Dudley Productions to create a version of Lifeline of the Nation to address the threat of an atomic attack on the United States.  With the cooperation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the updated film examines rail companies' contribution to civil defense and how trains will be quickly adapted to provide aid to

Lifeline of the Nation may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.

1. Film World. 16mm Film Booking Guide.  June 1946.  279.