PULLMAN PALACE CAR COMPANY COLLECTION, 1867-1979
by: Barbara Kemp & Robert S. Harding, March 1986
George M. Pullman, 1831-1897, was responsible for developing the railroad passenger sleeping car business into a main industrial enterprise of the 19th century eventually taking over the competition. He claimed that his cars maintained a high standard of comfort at an extra charge. Heretofore, sleeping arrangements had been provided by the railroads, which had permitted passengers to sleep in their seats, which were pulled together for overnight travel. The idea for specially designed sleeping cars came to Pullman while traveling from Buffalo to Westfield in 1854 in great discomfort. At first, he altered existing railroad cars, the first being in September 1858 on the Chicago and Alton Railroad.
His first sleeping car built to his specifications was the "Pioneer" which was ready, by coincidence, to carry part of the Lincoln funeral party from Chicago to Springfield in 1865. In 1867 "hotel cars" were introduced. These were sleeping cars equipped with kitchen-dining facilities. No longer would trains have to stop at stations long enough to allow the passengers to get off to buy food. The next year, Pullman built the DELMONICA which was devoted entirely to restaurant purposes.
Pullman built the Pullman Palace Car manufacturing plant in a new town near Chicago which was along the Illinois Central Railroad line in 1880. This was supposed to be a model manufacturing town which had 12,000 residents in 1893. It suffered from the usual company town problems and was annexed to Chicago in 1889.
The depression of 1893 resulted in the lowering of wages for the Pullman workers. The American Railway Union, representing the workers, attempted to bring the matter of wages to arbitration, but Pullman refused, and in June of 1894, a strike was called. About 3,100 employees were involved in the strike supported by 100,000 workers who worked on twenty-four railways radiating from Chicago. The strike was broken in July by President Cleveland who justified his intervention by saying that the strike was obstructing the mails. Although it failed, the country suffered a loss of $80 million. When Pullman died in 1897, he was succeeded as president of the Company by Robert Todd Lincoln, the President's son, until 1911.
In subsequent years, other innovative developments took place. In 1936, lightweight, articulated cars of alloy steel were built. The following year, the roomette car with eighteen enclosed private rooms was introduced. And in 1956, the observation dome sleeper with an upper-deck observatory level came in.
The United States brought an anti-trust suit in 1940 against the Pullman manufacturing and operating company. The final judicial decision in 1944 said that Pullman Inc. must separate car building from car operating. The company sold its sleeping car service transferring its operating unit on June 30, 1947 to a group of fifty-nine U.S. railways.
Mention is made of two distinct practices introduced by Pullman. First, rather than operating railroads, Pullman leased his sleeping cars to the railroads and provided the complete services on them including supplying the porters, conductors, dining staff, and the food and linens. Second, Pullman gave names to each of his sleeping and dining cars rather than assigning them numbers. This was done for three reasons: it was good for the image of the company giving each car a personality; it permitted better operating and accounting efficiency because different categories of names signified different categories of cars; and geographical names also helped to "sell" the territory through which they traveled.
Pullman service is still available on the trains but it is now provided by the railroad offering it.
Scope and Content
This collection consists of materials from the 1870s to the 1970s. Included are articles about the history of the Company and its founder, George Pullman.
There are technical materials relating to the operations of the Company, including the assignment of Pullman cars especially during the break-up of the Company under court order when it sold off all of its operations of the cars and only maintained the manufacture of them. A few books of rules and regulations of service are included. There is a special section on hospital cars, and particularly those leased to the U.S. Government for military service during World War I and II.
Though far from a complete collection of the Pullman records, the Dubin Collection presents a good overall picture of the Pullman Car operations during the heyday of the railroads.
Obtained in 1969 as a gift from the Pullman Company upon the close of their Chicago plant.
Revised: January 25, 2002