George Mortimer Pullman was born in Brocton, New York in the year 1831. He was raised in New York, and was taught in the art of cabinetmaking in Albion. For seven years, he worked with his brother making cabinets. (Colliers Encyclopedia, 511) After those seven years, he became bored with cabinetmaking, and moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1855. There he gained notice as a contractor, and became quite popular. One of his more popular accomplishments was the raising of the Tremont Hotel. He did not gain much more recognition in the contractor business.
After riding in a train once, he noticed the discomfort of the sleeping cars on the train. He found a new project for himself, and in 1864, converted two coach cars into a “sleeper” with comfortable berths to sleep on. The way his car worked, he invented a system of facing pairs of seats, with an overhead rack that held a curtain, so the seats were to be used as a curtained compartment. This was the first comfortable sleeping car, and began a new career for him. Along with the sleeping car, Pullman invented the Railway Dining car in 1868, and to help the use of his cars, he invented the car vestibule, to connect his railway cars. (New Standard Encyclopedia, 643)
He began the Pullman Palace Car Company, which produced his new sleeping cars, along with his other different cars. This company had made Pullman a rich man and famous man. His cars transported people all across the country, all carrying his name on the side. He had set up several different factories to make his cars in different locations in the US, other than in Chicago where it began. In Chicago, Pullman had a revelation, and thought up a city after his own name, Pullman, Illinois. (“The Forgotten Four Hundred”, 38. This became a model city for his workers in the factory. In his town, he possessed new aged housing, new types of factories, nice library’s for it’s inhabitants, an enclosed shopping area, and even recreational facilities. His town was a model of modern efficiency. His workers rented housing from him, and these houses boasted conveniences like running water, gas heat, and electricity. These types of traits set his town apart from others.
... experience in building luxury sleeping cars he knew that "beauty improved the individual." Pullman intended to create a model town for workers, which would ... for a number of years. Likewise, the Florence Hotel, the only place to consume liquor in the town was also a failure ...
Hard times had come along, and in 1893, depression hit. After the beginning of this depression, Pullman had to lay off almost half of his 6,000 employees. The rest of the remaining workers with jobs had received pay cuts. In 1894, business increased, and Pullman rehired 2,000 of his workers, but the cut wages still attended. Pullman turned down employee’s pleas to raise their wages, because they noticed Pullman had still been paying dividends to the stockholders in his company.
Angered by Pullman’s refusal, the Pullman Strike began on May 11, 1894. After three of his workers were fired for trying to bargain with Pullman, the union had insist on a boycott of trains with Pullman Cars on them. Railroad owners retorted by firing any worker who believed, and participated in the boycott. And Pullman had laid off all of his workers, and shut down his factory. Soon after the strike began, most of the nation’s railways had shut down. (The History of the United States, 188) Before the strike was over, federal troops were sent to protect the strikebreakers and to keep the rioters in the city under control.
The railway owner’s had plans to get the trains going again. They would attach mail cars onto the Pullman cars, because it was illegal to stop the movement of mail. It worked, but did not stop the strikers for good. (The Forgotten Four Hundred, 39) Federal troops were sent to keep the trains operating. They still tried to stop the cars, but violence was not far behind, and soon blood had been shed. The Attorney General of The United States had acquired a court order, from the Sherman Antitrust act, which stopped the strike in its tracks. The Pullman strike was over.
His ordeal from the strikes had left him old, and unbalanced. George M. Pullman died in 1897, at the age of 67 years of age. He arranged to have his grave lined with concrete to keep robbers from disrupting his eternal sleep. To his twin sons, he had only left an annual allowance of three thousand dollars each. To his wife, he bequeathed seven and a half million dollars in her name. However, before she could die, she had run up a bill of eighteen million dollars.
... . In response to the strikes, George Pullman decided to close the plant in an attempt to wait out his workers. When he did this ... . U. (American Railway Union) called to for a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company complex. Being the local branches of the union ... work on any train in the country that contained a Pullman car. Because of this boycott, the nation's passenger rail came ...
(The Forgotten Four Hundred, 39)
In the 1800’s, many products were made in the Chicago area, but the Pullman car was probably the most publicly known product. People recognized his invention as a great development, and his ideas are still used in rail cars today. He had done very well for a man who was taught to make cabinets.
Dibacco, Mason, and Appy. The History of the United States: Vol. 2
Civil War to the Present. Boston: McDougal Littell. 1997: 188.
“Pullman, George Mortimer.” Collier’s Encyclopedia. 1987: 511.
“Pullman, George Mortimer,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation.
“Pullman, George M.” New Standard Encyclopedia. 1992: 643.
“The Absolute All-American Civilizer.” American Heritage Magazine. June – July 1985: 54-57.
“The Forgotten Four Hundred: Chicago’s First Millionaires.” American Heritage Magazine. November 1987: 37-39.