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George Pullman
Born March 3, 1831(1831-03-03)
Brocton, New York
Died October 19, 1897 (aged 66)
Chicago, Illinois
Occupation Inventor and Industrialist
Children Four Children

George Mortimer Pullman (March 3, 1831 – October 19, 1897) was an American inventor and industrialist. He is known as the inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, and for violently suppressing striking workers in the company town he created, Pullman (which was later annexed and absorbed by Chicago becoming a neighborhood).


Born in Brocton, New York, his family moved to Albion, New York, where he gained many of his ideas that made him successful. Pullman also manufactured coffins during this time. Pullman dropped out of school at age 14, and eventually became one of Chicago's most influential and controversial figures. He arrived in Chicago as that city prepared to build the nation's first comprehensive system.

Chicago was built on a low-lying bog, and it was said that the mud in the streets was deep enough to drown a horse[1]. Unable to drain sewage by placing the sewers below ground, Chicago put its sewers on top of the street and covered them, effectively raising the street level 6–8 feet. Pullman was one of the engineers that undertook the task of raising the buildings of central Chicago to the new grade, and of building new foundations under them (a technique his father used to move homes during the widening of the Erie Canal) and Pullman’s reputation was greatly enhanced when the Ely, Smith & Pullman partnership raised the massive Tremont House, a six-story brick hotel, with the guests remaining inside.[2]

Development of Pullman sleeping car[]

File:Pullman Residence.jpg

Prairie Avenue Pullman residence

Between 1859 and 1863, he spent time as a gold broker near Golden, Colorado where he raised money and met a future business associate, Hanniball Kimball.

He then developed a railroad sleeping car, the Pullman sleeper, or "palace car." These were designed after the packet boats that traveled the Erie Canal of his youth in Albion. The first one was finished in 1864. By arranging to have the body of President Abraham Lincoln carried from Washington, D.C. to Springfield on a sleeper, he received national attention and the orders began to pour in. The sleeping cars proved successful despite the fact that the sleeper cost more than five times the price of a regular railway car. They were marketed as "luxury for the middle class."

In 1867 introduced his first hotel on wheels, the President, a sleeper with an attached kitchen and dining car. The food rivaled the best restaurants of the day and the service was impeccable. A year later in 1868, he launched the Delmonico, the world's first sleeping car devoted to fine cuisine. The Delmonico menu was prepared by chefs from New York's famed Delmonico's Restaurant. Both the President and the Delmonico and subsequent Pullman sleeping cars offered first-rate service which was provided by recently-freed former house slaves who served as porters, waiters, chambermaids, entertainers, and valets all rolled into one person.

Pullman believed that if his sleeper cars were to be successful, he needed to provide a wide variety of services to travelers: collecting tickets, selling berths, dispatching wires, fetching sandwiches, mending torn trousers, converting day coaches into sleepers, etc. Pullman believed that the former house slaves of the plantation south had the right combination of training and acquiescence to serve the businessmen that would patronize his "Palace Cars." Pullman became the biggest single employer of African Americans in post-Civil War America.

In 1869 Pullman bought out the Detroit Car and Manufacturing Company. He bought the patents and business of his eastern competitor, the Central Transportation Company in 1870. In the spring of 1871, George Pullman, Andrew Carnegie, and others bailed out the financially troubled Union Pacific and were placed onto its board of directors. By 1875 the Pullman firm owned $100,000 worth of patents, had 700 cars in operation, and had several hundred thousand dollars in the bank.

In 1887, he designed and established the system of “vestibuled trains,” which virtually made an entire train into a single car. The vestibules were first put in service upon the Pennsylvania trunk lines.[3]

Pullman company town[]

In 1880 Pullman bought 4000 acres (16 km²) near Lake Calumet some 14 miles south of Chicago on the Illinois Central Railroad for $800,000. He hired Solon Spencer Beman to design his new plant there, and in an effort to solve the issue of labor unrest and poverty, he also built a town adjacent to his factory with its own housing, shopping areas, churches, theaters, parks, hotel and library for his employees. The 1300 original structures were entirely designed by Beman. The centerpiece of the complex was the Administration Building and its man-made lake. The Hotel Florence, named for Pullman's favorite daughter, was built nearby. (see Pullman, Chicago).

Pullman believed that the country air and fine facilities without agitators, saloons and city vice districts would result in a happy, loyal workforce. The model planned community became a leading attraction during the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and caused a national sensation. Pullman was praised by the national press for his benevolence and vision. According to mortality statistics, it was one of the most healthful places in the world.[3] As pleasant as the community may have been, Pullman expected the town to make money. By 1892 the community, profitable in its own right, was valued at over $5 million.

Pullman ruled the town like a feudal baron. He prohibited independent newspapers, public speeches, town meetings or open discussion. His inspectors regularly entered homes to inspect for cleanliness and could terminate leases on ten days notice. The church stood empty since no approved denomination would pay rent and no other congregation was allowed. Private charitable organizations were prohibited. Pullman employees once declared:

We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.
—Pullman employees living in the Pullman-owned town[4]

The Pullman community is a nationally registered historic site.

Pullman strike[]

When business fell off in 1894, Pullman cut jobs, wages and increased working hours in order to lower costs and keep profits, but not rents or prices in his town. His failure to lower rents, utility charges and products led his workers to launch the Pullman Strike, a violent upheaval which was eventually broken up by federal troops sent in over the objections of Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld, by President Grover Cleveland.

A national commission formed to study causes of the 1894 strike found Pullman's paternalism partly to blame and Pullman's company town to be "un-American." In 1898, the Supreme Court of Illinois forced the Pullman Company to divest ownership in the town, which was annexed to Chicago.

Public projects[]

Pullman was identified with various public enterprises, among them the Metropolitan elevated railway system of New York, which was constructed and opened to the public by a corporation of which he was president.[3]

Loathing for Pullman remained after the Pullman strike. When he died in 1897, he was buried in Graceland Cemetery at night in a lead-lined coffin within an elaborately reinforced steel-and-concrete vault. Several tons of cement were poured to prevent his body from being exhumed and desecrated by labor activists.

The Pullman Company merged in 1930 with Standard Steel Car Company to become Pullman-Standard, which built its last car for Amtrak in 1982. After delivery the Pullman-Standard plant stayed in limbo, eventually shut down, and in 1987 had its remaining assets absorbed by Bombardier.


  • The city of Pullman, Washington is named in Pullman's honor. It was believed that major railroads were to have been built in Pullman, though later built in Spokane.

See also[]

  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Organized after Pullman's death, it was a leading African-American union.


  1. A common expression describing a need for drainage as applied in Brooklyn.
  2. Chicago Daily Tribune, January 22, 1861
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wikisource-logo "Pullman, George Mortimer". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. 

External links[]

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