The United States was recovering from the Great Depression in the 1930's and the railroads decided that it was time to create a new impetus to increase travel. Streamlining was the latest advent in industrial design and plans were made in 1934 by the New York Central System to produce their first streamlined locomotive, which would be named after the founder of the railroad, Commodore Vanderbilt. It is an ironic fact that Vanderbilt, who had been seriously injured in a train wreck, disliked railroads intensely but later went on to establish the NYC and shape railroad history.
The design of the Commodore Vanderbilt was the creation of Carl F. Kantola, whose career at the NYC spanned 47 years. NYC Hudson No. 5344 was selected to be used as the prototype and was suitably modified to accept its streamlined shroud, which had been developed by the Case Institute of Technology. In December 1934, the project was complete. On December 27, 1934, the Commodore Vanderbilt was first exhibited at Grand Central Station and then it began an exhibition tour of of major cities on the NYC system. Next, it was placed in service hauling the 20th Century Limited.
Many other railroads scrambled to streamline their locomotives, however, the NYC has the distinction of being the first US carrier to do so. Little is know about any performance changes which resulted from the streamlining, but it can speculated that the drag reduction probably resulted in a fuel savings. In 1939, No. 5344 was fitted with Henry Dreyfuss streamlining shroud, but eventually all shrouding was removed during the mid 1940's.