Great feature on Olive Wetzel Dennis, an early 20th Century service engineer, from Atlas Obscura.
If you had ridden the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the American northeast sometime in the 1920s or ’30s, you might have noticed a passenger who seemed unusually invested in her environment. While you snoozed through Cincinnati, or looked out the window at the approaching Chicago skyline, this woman was probably carefully measuring the height of the seats, or laying cloth swatches over them to check the colors.
As you chose your supper in the dining car, you might have seen her sampling every single item on offer. The next morning, when you blearily left your bunk, she might have greeted you, and asked you how you slept.
This was Olive Wetzel Dennis, the world’s first “Service Engineer.” During an era when few women even set foot on trains, let alone helped design them, Dennis spent most of her time riding the rails for the B&O, thinking of ways to improve the average traveler’s experience. Over her decades-long career, the “Lady Engineer,” as she was called, introduced scores of improvements to the company’s railroads—from footrests and reclining seats to special ventilators she designed herself. As the Baltimore Sun put it years after her death, “she took the pain out of the train.”
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