Song of the Iron Road (1956): An 'industrial musical' about railroad taxes!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What do you get when you combine New Jersey history, cartoon freight trains, a singing narrator, and a lesson on tax rates? Hagley’s next showcase film, a colorful sponsored piece titled Song of the Iron Road. Released in 1956 by the Associated Railroads of New Jersey, the film can be described as an industrial musical, employing song and animation along with traditional live-action and hard statistics to argue against excessive taxes imposed on railroads in New Jersey.

The film’s producer, Roger Wade Productions, was no stranger to sponsored projects. Founded in 1946 by former US Army Signal Corp Lieutenant Roger Wade, this New York-based studio specialized in industrial films and worked with an array of companies and organizations throughout its operation, including the US Navy, the American Heart Association, and Shell Oil Company. 

To help these various clients push specific products or agendas, Roger Wade Productions utilized a variety of audio-visual media. Along with standard motion pictures like Song of the Iron Road, which employed several different strategies to catch and keep the viewer’s attention, they also produced sound slide film and filmstrips. Sound slide film, promoted by Wade himself in an article written for the November 1955 issue of Business Screen Magazine (a publication dedicated to industrial filmmaking), combined images such as photographs, cartoons, or graphics, with music or a voiceover. Sound slide films could be printed to 16mm film and then shown on the same projector used for 16mm motion pictures. Wade argued that slide films were “super salesman,” allowing a company to create an “interesting presentation” that is 1/2 to 1/4 the production cost of a “modest motion picture.”

Wade also championed the use of filmstrips. These were 35mm film reels containing a sequence of still images. The reels were fed into a projector and displayed similar to a slide show with sound usually on a record or tape. In one advertisement in the March 1960 issue of Business Screen Magazine, Roger Wade Productions cited the company’s integral involvement in developing filmstrips for devices like the Salesmate, a portable projector with a built-in screen carried by traveling salesmen that the ad claims Roger Wade invented. 

Wade was clearly well-versed in the art of corporate advertising. He and his company’s frequent contributions to Business Screen Magazine, as well as the trust that was placed in them by some of the United States’ largest organizations, indicated they were a valuable asset to the business community. As its slogan stated, the company was “small enough to be personal, big enough to film anything.”

If you are interested in viewing additional Business Screen Magazine issues or more of Hagley’s growing collection of digitized sponsored films, please visit our Digital Archives.


Ona Coughlan is the Audiovisual Digitization Archivist at the Hagley Library