Pullman Green

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This page was last updated on February 3, 2016.

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Pullman changed its exterior color from brown to green in February 1900. This was part of the changes due to its reorganization in January 1900 from Pullman Palace Car Company to The Pullman Company, and its consolidation with other companies that included the Wagner Palace Car Company.

"Until 1900, Pullman's cars were painted a rich, thick chocolate brown. In 1900 Thomas H. Wickes, then VP and GM, decided he had wearied of the brown and asked William Breithaupt, foreman of the paint department, to evolve a green color. The result was a dark olive green originally called Brewster Green and later referred to as Pullman green." (Arthur D. Dubin. Pullman Paint and Lettering Notebook, page 10)

Brown to Green

Randy Hees wrote to the Passenger Car List Yahoo group on May 6, 2012:

In the 19th century, the original "Pullman Color" was apparently mixed from raw and burnt umber, which resulted in a color very similar to UPS brown (brown with a green cast). Pullman color, when listed in 19th century paint catalogs and price lists is listed within the "Brown" section, not as a green. Discussions in National Car Builder suggest (or blame) that the paint was chosen because it was a stylish color used to paint carriages (and railroad presidents rode in carriages). The same discussions complained that the umber pigments soak up oil, requiring frequent re-varnishing and were miserable to work with. They comment on the differences in carriage and railroad car care (carriages are housed indoors, washed before and after using). (National Car Builder was a monthly trade journal of the 1870-1895 period, "Devoted To The Interests Of Railway Rolling Stock")

To a 19th century eye, rich browns and dark greens were substantial conservative colors.

Umber pigments would be less expensive ($0.40 lb) than a good Tuscan red ($0.75 lb) as used on many red passenger cars. During WW I, the USRA ordered the D&RG and RGS to change from red to green passenger cars as an economy move (reportedly saved $1.25 in materials, plus had longer life, by now the Pullman color would have been close to the dark green shade).

Pullman color does change over time to a greener shade, apparently by the addition of chrome green and some black to darken it. A late 19th century Sherwin William paint card lists both "Old Pullman" and "New Pullman" colors. New Pullman color is occasionally referred to as "Brunswick Green" a very stylish carriage color. It is also likely that the color changed somewhat circa 1920 when linseed oil paint was replaced by automotive enamel.

During the same time, locomotives go from builder specific multi color with brass trim, to more standard colors. Baldwin is (unless the railroad specifies otherwise) using wine in 1874, to Lake (a glazed brown) in 1876, then green by the end of 1877. They are still painting locomotives dark green in 1905 if the railroad does not call out their own standard.

Finally, I suspect some of the changes may have resulted from changes in locomotive fuel. In the far west, Central Pacific used yellows on its passenger fleet until the early 1890s, when they adopted dark olive. That change corresponds to both the dark green train displayed by Pullman at the Columbia Exposition, and the increasing use of coal by the railroad.

Adrian Hundhausen wrote on May 6, 2012:

No the color did not change "over time." It changed on February 22, 1900. As I have written here before, that is the day when the Pullman Company recorded in its book of 'standards' the adoption of a "new body color for all general service cars." This book of 'standards' is in the collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago where anyone can go and check it. I have a list of all changes in Pullman standards for the 1890s and 1900s, and while yes, there are other changes to exterior decoration recorded, they all quite clearly refer to gold leaf striping etc., and not to body color. So February 22, 1900 is THE DATE for the color change.

Different Shades of Pullman Green

In response to a remark that Pullman had seven different shades of green, Dennis Storzek wrote, "Pullman had it's own internal stock number system for items in its storerooms, and I have only ever seen one Pullman stock number attached to the "standard" green. It may well be they may have had seven different suppliers over the years, all trying to match a single color at a cheaper price, and paint from several may have even been in the stores system concurrently, in fact, that wouldn't surprise me. It would be difficult, however, to supply different paint to shops in different parts of the country, unless all the varieties had different stock numbers." (Dennis Storzek, email to Passenger Car List Yahoo discussion group, March 13, 2015)

UPS Brown

The following comes from "Big Brown" by Greg Niemann:

We can also credit Charlie [Soderstrom] for UPS brown. In 1916, the partners had heard that bright yellow was an attention getter and were poised to paint their fleet a vibrant canary yellow (like today's DHL delivery trucks). They even discussed painting each vehicle different colors so the public would think their fleet was larger than it was. Charlie Soderstrom was appalled. He intervened, explaining that Seattle's department stores presently saw their own vehicles as a great form of free advertising. They would be reluctant to relinquish their deliveries to a company whose conspicuous vans would compete with their own.

The idea was that the (UPS predecessor) Merchants Parcel Delivery fleet should blend into the background. A carriage painter named Charlie Place told Charlie Soderstrom about recent experiments run by a railroad sleeper-car company named Pullman. They found that a certain shade of brown—Pullman brown, it was called—held up best when subjected to rain, sleet, and dust. The Pullman brown color appealed to Jim Casey, and he knew it well as he loved to ride Pullman coaches when he traveled. To Jim and many others the color symbolized the highly respected railroad industry of their day. "Perhaps it will make us equally as famous on the streets of America," Casey ruminated, little knowing just how famous their fledgling company would become. (Over the years, the color changed only slightly to become UPS brown.) (Big Brown, by Greg Niemann; Jossey-Bass, 2007; page 50)

"In 1919, the name United Parcel Service was adopted along with its familiar brown color -- the most dignified Casey [James E. Casey] could find, and the color least likely to show dirt." ("The Boys In Brown," by Linda Ratcliff, Suburbia Today section, The Daily Herald, Chicago, Illinois, July 1, 1960)

Tom Madden wrote on August 6, 2006:

In late February 2003, I was contacted by a gentleman involved in the restoration of Pullman MT. BRODERICK. Seems that UPS would fund the repainting as long as "UPS Brown" was used. I did some research and concluded that color 70-10 (Pullman green) in Dubin's Pullman painting book looked about right for UPS, the gentleman seemed happy with that and so, I gather, did UPS.

The following article appeared in the March 25, 2003 issue of the Wall Street Journal:

"UPS is sticking with the chocolate-brown color splashed on almost everything at the company. Brown was first used on delivery vehicles and uniforms in 1916, chosen because it matched Pullman rail cars and hid dirt. "We never gave much thought to changing the color brown," said John Beystehner, UPS's senior vice president of world-wide sales and marketing. UPS will add shades of red, blue and bright green to planes and packaging."

Additional comments from 2003:

"The discussion concerning UPS is interesting as I've always imagined Pullman color to resemble the UPS color. I once mixed up what I thought was a pretty good match for Pullman with a bit of black in yellow--and then held the chip up to the side of a UPS truck. A pretty good match." -- Wendell Huffman

"Certainly the no. 70-10 color in Dubin's book is an olive color, somewhat greener than the SP/UP "Dark Olive" color adopted as standard in about 1907 and continued on both roads to the end of the heavyweight era. I don't know any adoption dates for Pullman colors. But by WW II, the Pullman color chip I have seen for "green" was much less olive (less brown and yellow) and a much more straight green. It was in definite contrast to the SP/UP color, enough so that the Pullman shops in Richmond (Calif.) painted the Pullman cars assigned to SP in the SP color, not Pullman color. That later Pullman color was distant from olive." -- Tony Thompson

"In 1991, while doing research for a movie about the Pullman Co set in 1936, I spoke extensively with the late George Rust of Dupont about the correct formula for Pullman Green. Among his other duties George was the keeper of railroad paint formulas at Dupont. He informed me that there were 7 different formulas for Pullman Green, The one we selected was D4558. D designates Dupont Dulux which is no longer available in California. Each formula provided a slightly different shade of Pullman Green. The specific variation being determined by the region or railroad to which the cars were assigned. Dupont Dulux has the disadvantage of changing color rather dramatically as it ages and fades. Cars painted with the same formula paint, even the same batch of paint, will be of noticeably different colors if painted a year or so apart. We experienced this first hand at the Fillmore & Western." -- Stan Garner

I find the comments attributed to the late Mr. Rust to be most useful, no doubt as close to "the horse's mouth" as any of us is likely to get. My take on all this? Pullman green, as originally constituted was noticeably olive brown, like the color UPS uses. Over the years it drifted towards being more green, and this drift was augmented by regional or RR-specific variations, all different, all called "Pullman green". Factor in color shifts due to fading and aging and it's likely that every available model paint called Pullman green is correct for some time, railroad or region.

The UPS folks thought the 70-10 color chip was close enough to UPS brown that they sponsored the repainting of MT. BRODERICK with it. It's also clear that "Pullman green" became less brown over the years, but many RR colors changed with time - the folks who stripped and repainted LITTLE NUGGET in Griffith Park found something like 7 different versions of Armour yellow in the dozen or so layers of paint.

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