Glenn Miller's “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was such a phenomenal hit that RCA honored Miller with a novel trophy: a copy of the record pressed in gold on February 10, 1942. The song boosted tourism in Chattanooga, Tennessee, inspiring local businessmen to save a historic train station from demolition and refurbish it.
By 1942, more than 1.2 million copies of the song had been sold. And that was no small thing--the biggest seller in years. RCA manager W. Wallace Early celebrated by presenting Glenn Miller with a trophy during a live radio broadcast.
"The best one we could think of was a gold record of Chattanooga," Early said. "And now, Glenn, it’s yours, with the best wishes of RCA Victor Bluebird Records."
Announcer Paul Douglas made sure people tuning in could imagine what it looked like, saying "I think everyone listening in on the radio should know, Glenn, it actually is a recording of 'Chattanooga Choo Choo,' but it’s in gold, solid gold, and is really fine."
Miller responded with a little joke about the specific sales figures.
"For the boys in the band and for the whole gang," he said, "thanks a million, two hundred thousand."
Miller's honor started a self-congratulatory tradition of labels awarding their own artists framed gold records. Then, as rock and roll’s rising popularity changed the record industry, new trade organizations formed, according to music historian Robert Oermann.
"One of them was the recording industry association of America, the R-I-double-A," Oermann said in an interview with WUTC. "And this is where the idea of an outside certification firm comes in."
In 1958, “Catch a Falling Star,” by Perry Como, earned the first RIAA gold.
Meanwhile, Glenn Miller's gold changed its namesake city.
Chattanooga's Terminal Station used to be the city’s passenger rail hub. In the 1970s, as passenger rail declined, the wrecking ball was about to swing. But local entrepreneurs transformed it into a hotel where actual train cars serve as rooms.
The city's tourism chief, Bob Doak, said the song became Chattanooga's calling card.
"Kids of all ages," Doak said, "including adults, love to come in for the novelty of spending a night in a train car."