Rail tourism

Page 4 – Railways Studios

In 1920 New Zealand Railways (NZR) established its own Railways Studios – the country’s first outdoor advertising studio. The studios produced posters, pamphlets, maps and pictorial postage stamps promoting NZR’s services. They also undertook work for dozens of government and business clients that advertised at stations, inside carriages and on trackside hoardings. Ironically, among their biggest customers were automobile and petrol companies.

By 1924 the studios had a staff of 74, including commercial artists, signwriters, photographers and carpenters. During an overseas trip in 1926, the minister of railways, Gordon Coates, was impressed by ‘the great use made of modern publicity methods to attract business to the principal railways of the world’. As a result, in October 1927 NZR established its own dedicated publicity branch, which would be able to call on ‘trained publicity experts and journalists’ as well as the skilled artists of the Railways Studios.

The publicity branch worked closely with the Tourist Department, local authorities and chambers of commerce to publicise travel, accommodation and sightseeing packages. The studios turned out a series of bright, attractive posters highlighting the scenic and therapeutic charms of rail destinations such as the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, National Park and Timaru. They also promoted combined rail/motor tours to Lake Wanaka, Mount Cook and Fiordland.

Early New Zealand advertising generally lacked the sophistication of American or European marketing. NZR posters in the 1920s usually mimicked the style and tone of British railway advertising. Most featured sun-drenched beaches and ‘bathing belles’, towering mountain peaks, lush forests or exotic Maori. But by the early 1930s the artists in the studios were producing more daring abstract designs that often featured a montage of images and bold colours and shapes.

How to cite this page

'Railways Studios', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/rail-tourism/railways-studios, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012