Located in Kirkwood, Missouri approximately 20 miles southwest of St Louis, the National Museum of Transportation is a 42-acre private museum dedicated to the preserving the history of transportation vehicles, displaying a large collection of locomotives, automobiles, aircraft, and other transportation technologies. The National Museum of Transportation was founded in 1944 as a citizen group looking to preserve historic transportation vehicles for the purposes of public education.
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The museum’s collection began with a single mule-drawn streetcar named Bellefontaine, displayed at a location near St. Louis County’s historic Barrett Station, and has grown today to encompass more than 200 road vehicles, 70 locomotives, and a variety of other transportation-related holdings and memorabilia. In 1948, the museum was incorporated as a nonprofit organization known as the Transport Museum Association, and in 1979, the organization transferred control of museum operations to the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation. In 2017, the museum regained its status as a privately-operated organization, once again overseen by the Transportation Museum Association.
Today, the holdings of the National Museum of Transportation are considered by the Smithsonian Institution to be among the largest and most comprehensive collections of transportation vehicles in the world. The museum encompasses a 42-acre site in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, including the facilities of the former Barrett Station Depot. The museum site preserves the West Barretts Tunnel, one of the first manmade railroad tunnels in the United States constructed west of the Mississippi River, along with more than four miles of historic railroad track currently used for exhibitions.
The centerpiece of the museum’s holdings is its railroad collection, featuring more than 70 historic locomotives and 190 overall holdings, many serving as rare or lone surviving examples of their technology. As one of the most comprehensive collections of American-made railroad equipment, the museum highlights freight, city, and national passenger transit technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Notable holdings include the Union Pacific #4006 Big Boy, the world’s largest steam locomotive, as well as an 1833 Boston & Boston & Providence Railroad Passenger Coach, the largest tank car ever constructed, known as The Whale, and the EMD FT #103, which has been declared a National Engineering Landmark. Many locomotives are also among the last extant models of their kind, including a Milwaukee Road Class EP-2 Bipolar Electric, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad EMC 1800 hp B-B, and a Wabash 2-6-0 #573, one of only two remaining steam locomotives of its type.
More than 200 items comprise the museum’s automobile and road vehicle collection, housed within the Earl C. Lindburg Automobile Center. Highlights include a 1901 St. Louis Motor Carriage Company automobile, one of only nine extant examples of its technology today, as well as the only Chrysler Turbine Car, a rare 1963 issue, displayed publicly anywhere in the world. Also of note are a 1959 Ford Gas Turbine Tractor, donated to the museum by the company in 1971, and the Bobby Darin “Dream Car,” a custom car created by Detroit fashion designer Andy Di Dia.
Notable museum aircraft holdings include the Douglas Aircraft C-47A, used by the United States Air Force during the invasion of Normandy in World War II, and the Lockheed T-33, a United States Air Force trainer aircraft. Watercraft holdings include the HT Potts Tugboat, the first Missouri River tugboat model to utilized a welded steel hull. Other mass transit technologies are also showcased, including the Fifth Avenue Coach Company Bus #1234.
Exhibits are housed within nine unique exhibit areas, including the Barrett Station Depot, which houses a model train exhibit and other railroad artifacts and memorabilia. For young museum visitors, a Creation Station playspace is available inside the museum’s Education and Visitor Center. The Barrett’s Landing Cafe, also located within the Visitor Center building, offers creative family-friendly American fare.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Guided and self-guided group tours are available for elementary and secondary school students, tailored to incorporate Missouri curriculum standards. More than 50,000 Missouri-area students participate in museum programming annually, including programming for scouting groups to earn transportation and engineering-themed badges.
A full-scale miniature railroad operates daily on the museum’s grounds near its Visitor Center, and a restored full-sized trolley is available for rides Thursdays through Sundays throughout the spring and summer months. A small handcar village also offers rides for children around a miniature track from April through October. A variety of classic car shows are hosted by the museum annually in conjunction with local car enthusiast and restoration clubs, including a Mustang Round-up in April, an All-Ford Show in June, and an Oldsmobile Fun Show in September. During the winter holiday months, the museum showcases the E. Desmond Lee Holiday Train Display, the state’s largest indoor miniature train display.
2933 Barrett Station Rd, St. Louis, MO 63122, Phone: 314-965-6212