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A History Of Pullman and Pullman-Standard

This page was last updated on February 17, 2011.

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A Pullman Postscript

Arthur D. Durbin

(Trains magazine, November 1969, Volume 30, Number 1)

"The World's Greatest Hotel" closes it doors

At Midnight on December 31, 1968, Pullman Company operation of sleeping cars in the United States ceased. In subsequent months that unique organization, founded a century earlier by George Mortimer Pullman, was liquidated. Thousands of employees were discharged, giant repair shops were closed, millions of dollars of inventory was sold -- and a great enterprise vanished.

At the height of its operation during the 1920's the Pullman Company was termed "the World's Greatest Hotel." Every night 100,000 guests slept in Pullman berths. Every year 36 million customers paid 92 million dollars for their accommodations. Producing and maintaining such an operation was an enormous task.

In part, the Pullman name did survive. Pullman, Incorporated, onetime carbuilding affiliate of the sleeping-car company, remained. It continued as a diversified manufacturing complex after antitrust action of the Federal government completely separated it from the sleeping-car company in 1947. Following the court action, the Pullman Company sleeping-car operation was sold to the Buying Group of 57 (later 59) railroads on whose lines the cars served. From 1947 until the end of service in 1968, all newly built Pullman cars were owned by individual railroads and leased to Pullman for operation.

As the territory of the United States expanded during the "Railway Age" in the 19th century, railroads multiplied and the sleeping-car business grew rapidly. When the Pullman Company was chartered on August 1, 1867, it received 48 cars that it had purchased from George Pullman personally. The new venture was capitalized at $100,000. By 1899, Pullman Company owned almost 2000 cars and was capitalized at 74 million dollars. Thirty years later, during the peak year of 1930, it operated 9860 cars and capitalization was 120 million dollars.

After World War II ended in 1945, Pullman Company business declined rapidly, mostly because of competition from trunk airlines and a marked increase in the number of hotels and motels. In 1950 Pullman and domestic scheduled airlines each carried about 16 million passengers. By 1953 Pullman passengers had declined to 13 million while the domestic airlines could boast of 26 million passengers. Moreover, daring 1953, 82 major Pullman "lines" in the United States and Canada were discontinued. The trend continued unabated until 1968, when the owning railroads finally decreed the liquidation of the company and individually assumed the operation of sleeping cars.

It was the end of an era.

George M. Pullman

George Mortimer Pullman was born in Brockton. N. Y., on March 3, 1831. With experience as a cabinetmaker, contractor, and storekeeper, he turned his attention to sleeping cars. Although Mr. Pullman did not invent or build the first sleeping car in history. he did conceive of a program for an organized system of comfortable railroad transportation. In the era of American history termed the "Railway Age," Pullman provided luxurious cars of uniform construction, adapted to both day and night use over connecting lines of railways without change of cars. Moreover, George Pullman conceived a gospel of service to the passenger that approached perfection in the realm of travel hospitality. For this he will long be remembered; in dictionaries of 20 languages throughout the world the word Pullman appears as a noun connoting luxury, comfort, and safety in overland transportation.

Fame and enormous wealth came to the sleeping-car magnate. Pullman Palace cars operated on both sides of the Atlantic -- in England and Italy as well as throughout North America. But the labor unrest at the Pullman plant broke the spirit of George Pullman. and the great strike of 1894 was a blow from which he never recovered. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Chicago on October 19, 1897, at the age of 66 years. Four days after his death George Pullman was laid to rest in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, and a bereaved widow acknowledged expressions of sympathy.

(Note: The first American sleeping ear is generally believed to have been built in 1837 tor the Cumberland Valley now Penn Central.)

Pullman's Town

The town of Pullman, Illinois has been termed America's first planned industrial community. It was created by George M. Pullman as a great social experiment in connection with his new car works, which was the first mass-production industrial plant and heralded the advent of the assembly line. The town was built in 1880 on 3600 acres of land at Lake Calumet, 14 miles south of Chicago. The chief architect was Solon Spencer Beman, who also designed the Pullman Building headquarters and Grand Central Station, both in Chicago.

Strictly enforced rules governed life in the town of beautiful parks and broad streets. For example, such "criminally debasing influences" as saloons and idlers were barred. A rigid plan determined one's residence in Pullman: the location, type, and size of the company-owned dwelling were determined by one's station -- worker, foreman, manager -- in the hierarchy of the company.

It was at Pullman that the bitter and bloody railroad strike of 1894 started when 4000 workers were laid off and wages were cut during the depression of '93. Soon the strike spread to all railroads that hauled Pullman cars. After three months of rioting, President Grover Cleveland sent Federal troops to Chicago to enforce an injunction ordering Eugene V. Debs, president of the American Railway Union, and all other persons to refrain from obstructing the business of the railroads entering Chicago. The strike was broken by the troops during this first use of Federal force in a labor dispute.

In The Beginning...No. 9 and the Pioneer

The first two Pullman cars were day coaches 9 and 19 of the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad which George Pullman remodeled into primitive sleeping cars in 1859. The work cost S2000 per car and was done without plans or blueprints. No. 9 was 44 feet long and contained a box stove, oil lamps, and 10 sections upholstered with plush. The wood trim was cherry.

Conductor J. L. Barnes, describing the first run on September 1, 1859, from Bloomington. Illinois, to Chicago. noted that "on that first night I had to compel the passengers to take off their boots before they got into the berths...I remarked to Mr. Pullman that it was a fine car, and he replied briefly, for he was a silent man: 'It ought to be. It cost enough.'" Barnes continued, "The three cash passengers, men, were from Bloomington. There was no crowd at the station, and the car, lighted by candles, moved away in solitary grandeur, if such it might be called."

Car No. 9 was destroyed by fire in 1897. In the same year, a facsimile was constructed by remodeling tourist car No. 402. which had been built by Barney & Smith and purchased from the Santa Fe.

Pullman's first all-new sleeping car was the Pioneer, outshopped at Chicago in 1865. First known as car "A," the Pioneer cost an extravagant $20,170 to build -- considerably more than the $4000 cost of contemporary cars. It had 12 sections and the interior finish included polished black walnut, crimson French plush, pure linens, chandeliers with candles, mirrors, and marble washstands.

The Pioneer was 58 feet long over end sills and 10-1/2 feet high from the rail. Weight was 60,850 pounds. Patrons boarding the car admired an exterior of polar wood panels with battens and plate-glass windows with glass "Gothics" embossed and silver plated. The body color was umber (black-brown) touched off with lavish gold-leaf ornamentation. The edges of the battens were painted black. Originally there were two reddish-brown 4-wheel trucks under each end -- a total of 16 wheels. The roof was wood covered with tin.

When the Pioneer appeared it was so large and expensive that no railroad would operate it. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, State of Illinois officials ordered the car attached to the funeral train for the trip over the Chicago & Alton line to Springfield on May 2. 1865. Platforms and bridges hurriedly were altered and the future of the Pullman car was assured.

Competition, then consolidation

As the sleeping-car business expanded rapidly after 1867, Pullman Company conducted a major part of the trade. However, a number of other sleeping-car companies were organized. Two of Pullman's early competitors were the New York Central Sleeping Car Company, organized in 1865 by Webster Wagner and the Vanderbilt interests, and the Gates Sleeping Car Company, which operated from Buffalo to Chicago over the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. Gates was absorbed into the New York Central Sleeping Car Company in 1869. In 1882, after the death of Webster Wagner, the Vanderbilt company became the Wagner Palace Car Company.

A number of railroads established their own sleeping-car service: Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul; New Haven; Great Northern; Soo Line; Wisconsin Central; and Central of Georgia. On 14 additional railroads the first sleeping-car services were organized under an association arrangement by which Pullman and the railroads held the cars in joint ownership and divided the profit from operations. Among these roads were the Grand Trunk, Missouri Pacific, Northern Pacific, Lackawanna, Atlantic Coast Line, Santa Fe, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.

One by one the competing sleeping-car companies were brought under the control of the Pullman Company: Erie & Atlantic; Central Transportation Company; Mann & Woodruff (combined as the Union Palace Car Company); Crescent City; and Rip Van Winkle. The last of the acquisitions -- the Wagner company -- took place in 1899. The last association contract, with the SP&S, ended in 1922.

Major railroad-owned sleeping-car services replaced by Pullman operation were New Haven (1913); Great Northern (1922); Central of Georgia (1923); and most of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul (1927). Except for local lines of the Soo and CMStP&P, sleeping-car service in the U. S. was virtually monopolized by the Pullman Company prior to the outbreak of World War II.

When Pullman outpaced itself

The first Pullman cars were built for George Pullman personally, either for his private ownership or in partnership with the railroad using the cars. Forty-eight of these cars were constructed between 1859 and 1867, usually in railroad shops. After the Pullman Company was incorporated in 1867, cars were purchased from carbuilders until 1870, when the company established its first manufacturing plant at Detroit, Mich. (see photo above). With demand for Pullman cars increasing, the Detroit plant's capacity proved inadequate, and Pullman decided to build a large works in Chicago, which opened in 1881. From 1867 until 1881, Pullman found it necessary to purchase 283 cars from outside carbuilders and railroad shops. All of these were completed under the supervision of the company representative, Aaron Longstreet. Additional cars were acquired from predecessors and railroad companies during the period of expansion from 1867 to 1917, when Pullman absorbed all competing car companies and railroad-owned sleeping cars in the U. S. During this period, Pullman acquired 2271 cars owned by 58 separate companies.

Pullmans...only the name remained the same

In a century-plus of operation from 1859 to 1968, hundreds of changes and improvements in Pullman cars reflected the public's evolution in taste and increased stand-gig of iLyingdair of thibpiajogiipnovagego pionamii or invented by Pullman engineers was the vestibule, a covered passageway between cars with an anti-telescoping device that was patented in 1887 and first applied to Pennsylvania Limited cars.

Another step forward in railroad equipment construction came in 1907, when Pullman rolled out the first all-steel Pullman sleeping car, briefly named Jamestown in honor of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. Construction of the 12-1 car, which Railway Ga:ette described "as near all-metal construction as is now practical to make it.- was prompted by fire-prevention laws passed in New York City to protect the tunnels into Pennsylvania Station and the new Grand Central terminal then being built. The new laws precluded the operation of wooden railway equipment into the stations. The conversion of the Pullman Car Works from wood to steel construction methods in three years (1907-1910) was a herculean task.

The first mechanical air-conditioning for railroad trains was tested in Pullman cars in 1927-1929. Yet another breakthrough flashed across America in 1934 in the form of M-10000, the country's first streamlined, lightweight, aitisondigoned train. Built the Chicago plapt of Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company, Union Pacific's three-car aluminum speedster was a hold and successful bid to stir the gloom of the depression and restore dwindling passenger volume. Pullman's leadership continued as it placed in service the first lightweight sleeping cars on the City of Portland in 1934. Until World War II interfered in 1941, over 600 lightweight Pullmans were produced for assignment to the crack trains of the land. One of the less successful innovations was the sleeper coach, which provided three hunks in a vertical row on opposite walls of the section. During the postwar era until 1956, more than 2000 additional lightweight Pullman-operated, railroad-owned cars were added to the Pullman Company fleet, replacing outmoded and war-weary heavyweight sleepers. As a result of the antitrust action, the roster contained hundreds of cars built by the Budd Company (Philadelphia, Pa.) and at American Car & Foundry (St. Charles. Mo., and Berwick. Pa).

Above all, Pullman meant service

Serving the 36 million people who traveled overnight in Pullman berths in an average year in the 1920's and 1930's demanded the utmost in human courtesy and mechanical proficiency. Pullman porters -- and there were 9000 of them at the peak of business -- had to operate 38 different air-conditioning systems, "make down" 43 types of berths, and memorize an elaborate book of instructions. Pullman developed a standard method or regulation for almost everything that could occur aboard a Pullman car. Every detail of hospitality to the passenger was covered in minute detail. Books of instructions and rules also were issued for conductors, attendants, maids, barbers, and bus boys. It was little wonder that for decades former Pullman employees were sought for service in the White House and in the finest metropolitan clubs and hotels.

All Pullman porters belonged to the powerful Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first important Negro union in America. In the early days of sleeping-car service, berths were made up by the Pullman conductor or brakeman. The first Negro porter was hired in 1870, and although a few Filipinos were hired in the ensuing years, most porters came from the black race. Porters frequently were called "George" (probably after George M. Pullman), which prompted a wealthy lumberman from Clinton, Ia., George W. Dulany Jr., to found the SPCSCPG (Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping-Car Porters "George"). Dulany spent his adult lifetime and a fortune of money on the project. He enrolled 33,000 card-carrying members, including King George V of England, George Herman "Babe" Ruth, and Georges Clemenceau of France -- all of whom were pledged to discourage the practice.

The Pullman Company was easily the world's greatest housekeeper. The linen inventory contained over 4 million towels and nearly 31/2 million sheets. One year's purchase of supplies included 98 million sanitary drinking cups and over 4 million cakes of soap. In order to be assured of a steady supply of specialty items, Pullman operated its own shops to produce everything from lead glass to upholstered furniture to toilet seats to brass hardware. Pullman even established its own printing plant, The Pullman Press, to publish the enormous quantities of rulebooks, instruction manuals, car rosters, plans and specifica tions, material catalogs, printed forms, tickets, and advertising folders that were part of its everyday operation.

Cars were maintained not only to handle normal and seasonal traffic, but to accommodate numerous special movements. During a two-month period in the summer of 1926, Pullman handled a total of 3956 extra car movements, including 2140 cars supplied for the Eucharistic Congress at Chicago in June.

Minor car servicing was performed in 275 different railroad yards. For major work, Pullman had these shops located throughout the country (with year of acquisition): St. Louis, Missouri. (1880); Wilmington, Del. (1886); Buffalo, N. Y. (1889); Calumet, Illinois (1901); Richmond, California. (1909); Atlanta, Ga. (1926); Detroit, Mich. (1870, sold 1902); and Elmira, N. Y. (1873, abandoned 1883). Pullman's payroll included 5000 car cleaners, 4700 mechanics, 432 electricians, 353 commissary workers, and 400 employees in 10 company-owned laundries (the laundry bill often was more than 3 million dollars a year).

On June 30, 1947, Pullman obeyed a court decree and elected to retain ownership of its carbuilding subsidiary, Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company, and to sell its sleeping-car operating subsidiary to 57 railroads. Sale price of the 731,350 shares of capital stock in the Pullman Company was over 75 million dollars.

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