The Super Chief was one of the named passenger trains and the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It was often referred to as "The Train of the Stars" because of the many celebrities who traveled on the streamliner between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.
The Super Chief (assigned train Nos. 17 & 18) was the first Diesel-powered, all-Pullman sleeping car train in America, and it eclipsed the Chief as Santa Fe's standard bearer. The extra-fare Super Chief-1 commenced its maiden run from Dearborn Station in Chicago on May 12, 1936. Just over a year later, in May 1937 the much-improved Super Chief-2 traversed the 2,227.3 miles (3,584.5 km) from Los Angeles over recently upgraded tracks in 36 hours and 49 minutes, averaging 60 mph (97 km/h) overall, and often reaching 100 mph (160 km/h).
On that day the Super Chief set a new standard for luxury rail travel in America. With only one set of equipment, the train initially operated once a week from both Chicago and Los Angeles. However, at the height of its popularity, and with added equipment, the trains of the Super Chief made daily departures from both ends of the line. Adding to the train's mystique were its gourmet meals and Hollywood clientele.
Direct competitors to the Super Chief during its lifetime were the City of Los Angeles, a streamlined passenger train jointly operated by the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, and (to a lesser extent) the Golden State, a streamlined passenger train jointly operated by the Rock Island and Southern Pacific railroads. The Santa Fe Super Chief was one of the last passenger trains in the United States to carry an all-Pullman consist; only the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited and the Illinois Central's Panama Limited survived longer. The train maintained its legendary high level of service until the end of Santa Fe passenger operations on May 1, 1971.
When Amtrak took over operation of the nation's passenger service on May 1, 1971, it ended the 35-year run of the Super Chief on the Santa Fe, though Amtrak would continue to use the name along the same route for another three years. In 1974 the Santa Fe forced Amtrak to drop the train's name due to a perceived decline in service. Amtrak replaced the train over the same route with its Southwest Limited. Following the delivery of new Superliner equipment, the Santa Fe compromised with Amtrak and the train became known as the Southwest Chief in 1984.