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Porter's Service Card
Catalog #: 1986.0647.06, Accession #: 1986.0647
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Card is from the Pullman Co., Washington Division. This is the Service Card for display in a sleeping car, lettered for L. W. Davis, Porter
Physical Description
5" W x 3" H; paper, laminated in plastic, damaged corner.
Gift of Lawrence W. Davis

Porters on sleeping cars were almost all employees of the Pullman Co., which from the 1870s through the 1950s, employed more African Americans than any other single firm in the U.S. The Pullman Co. claimed it was the "largest hotel operation in America," providing in its heyday some 100,000 beds a night to its sleeping-car passengers.

Pullman cars were almost all sleeping cars (or "sleepers"), with "sections" that converted from day seating to night-time berths, and usually with a few "compartments" - separate, small rooms with their own toilet and sink and one or more berths. Porters - one assigned per car - were on call throughout the day and night to serve their passengers. Hours were stressful, but because of the Brotherhood's bargaining, pay was good compared to many other jobs open to African Americans before the late 1960s. At home, porters were frequently leaders in their communities.

In the later years of the Pullman Company's existence, a porter assigned to a car placed a card with his name in a slot on the wall at one end of his car. Passengers thus knew the porter's name - a basic element of dignity.

See other Pullman and Pullman-porter related objects and photos in this database.

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