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George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897) was an American industrialist and inventor best known for developing the Pullman sleeping car, a luxurious railroad passenger car equipped with sleeping berths. He was born in March 1831 in Brocton, New York. Pullman began his career as a cabinetmaker or carpenter and later transitioned into the business of building and designing sleeper cars for trains. In 1864, he founded the Pullman Palace Car Company, which quickly became the leading manufacturer of sleeping cars in the United States. His innovation was not only in the comfort and amenities of the sleeping cars but also in the services provided to passengers, such as porter service, dining cars, and even libraries.

20211003 19 Pullman National Monument
Picture Credit/Source: 20211003 19 Pullman National Monument” by davidwilson1949 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Pullman sleeping car revolutionised long-distance travel, providing a more comfortable and luxurious experience for passengers. The cars were designed to be self-contained, with comfortable beds, climate control, and other amenities that allowed travellers to sleep and rest during their journeys. The Pullman cars became popular not only in the United States but also internationally. However, the success of the Pullman Company was accompanied by controversy and labour issues. Pullman created a company town named Pullman, near Chicago, where his employees lived. He exerted significant control over their lives, including their housing, wages, and even their behaviour. This led to discontent among the workers, culminating in the famous Pullman Strike of 1894, a nationwide railroad strike involving over 250,000 workers and violent clashes with law enforcement.

The Pullman Strike significantly impacted labour relations and the growth of the labour movement in the United States. It also resulted in government intervention and the establishment of Labor Day as a national holiday to recognise and honour the contributions of workers.

George Pullman passed away in October 1897, in Chicago, Illinois, from a heart attack and was buried at Graceland Cemetery. Despite his controversial labour practices, his contributions to the development of the railroad industry and the modernisation of passenger travel cannot be denied. The Pullman sleeping car remains an important innovation in transportation history. This is the story of his life and the company he created.

Quick Summary
George Pullman was a notable American engineer and industrialist. He is best known for designing and manufacturing the Pullman sleeping car, which revolutionised railway travel and comfort in the late 19th century. Pullman also left a significant mark with the establishment of a company town called Pullman, which was intended to provide housing and amenities for the workers involved in manufacturing his sleeping cars.

However, the Pullman Company and its town became embroiled in controversy and labour unrest. The high rent prices charged for company housing and low wages paid to workers led to the infamous Pullman Strike of 1894. The strike was further fuelled by the employment of African-American men as Pullman porters, who were expected to provide exemplary service but were compensated solely through gratuities.

The Pullman town has many historic and architecturally significant buildings; among these are the Hotel Florence; the Arcade Building, which was destroyed in the 1920s; the Clock Tower and Factory, the complex surrounding Market Square, and Greenstone Church. In the adjacent neighbourhood of the nearby Roseland district is the home of one of the many beautiful churches in Chicago built in Polish Cathedral style, the former church of St. Salomea. It is now used by Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.

During an economic downturn in 1894, Pullman faced financial difficulties and sought to maintain profitability by cutting wages and imposing long working hours on his employees. However, he failed to reduce the prices of goods and rents within the company town, causing further discontent among workers. Seeking to suppress the strike, Pullman enlisted the support of President Grover Cleveland, who deployed federal military troops. The intervention resulted in a violent confrontation, leaving 30 strikers dead.

Picture Credit: A Pullman porter assisting a passenger with her luggage.
Attribution: Pullman Palace Car Strike, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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In the aftermath of the strike, a national commission was established to investigate the events, including an assessment of the operations of the Pullman Company town. In 1898, the Supreme Court of Illinois ruled that the Pullman Company must divest itself of the town, which later became incorporated as a neighbourhood within Chicago.

George Pullman’s religious beliefs and practices are not widely documented, and limited information on his specific religious affiliation is available. However, it is known that Pullman was raised in a religious family with strong Christian values. His father, James, was a Baptist, and George and his siblings were likely exposed to Baptist teachings and values during his upbringing. George’s mother (Emily) had been raised as a Presbyterian.

For several years after James and Emily were married, they attended no church and conducted Sunday School classes for their children at home. Then, drawn to the “God is love” message of the Universalist evangelist minister Timothy C. Eaton, they began attending services and Sunday School at the Universalist church in nearby Portland, New York. George’s father often led services when no preacher was available.[2] The Pullman Memorial Universalist Church of Albion, New York, was constructed in 1894 (dedicated in 1895) as a memorial to George Pullman’s parents.

George Pullman was known to be involved in philanthropic activities and charitable work, including supporting churches and religious institutions. He donated funds to build churches and provided free transportation for ministers to attend religious conferences.

The Beginning
George Pullman was the third child of James Lewis Pullman and Emily Caroline Minton. Not much is known about George’s early life and schooling, but it is believed that he received a basic education in his hometown.

At age 14, Pullman moved to Albion, New York, to work as a clerk in his cousin’s general store. This experience provided him with practical business knowledge and sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. Pullman later worked as a cabinetmaker (his father’s profession) and gained valuable skills in woodworking, which would prove useful in his future endeavours.

In the mid-1850s, Pullman relocated to Chicago, which was experiencing rapid growth and development at the time. There, he established himself as a successful furniture and architectural designer, capitalising on the city’s booming construction industry. Pullman’s attention to detail and innovative designs earned him a reputation for excellence in his field.

Picture Credit: Pullman advertisement in 1962 Seaboard Air Line Railroad timetable
Attribution: Uploaded by JGHowes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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In 1859, Pullman received his first significant opportunity in the railroad industry. He was commissioned to design and build a luxurious railway car known as the “Pioneer,” which featured various amenities and comfortable sleeping accommodations. The success of this project led to the establishment of the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1862, with George Pullman as its founder and president. He developed his first railroad sleeping car, the Pullman sleeper or “palace car”, in 1864. The sleepers were designed after the packet boats that travelled the Erie Canal in his youth.[3]

After President Lincoln was assassinated on 14th April 1865, Pullman arranged to have Lincoln’s body carried from Washington, DC, to Springfield, Illinois, on a sleeper car, for which he gained national attention. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route in homage. Orders for his new car began to pour in. The sleeping cars proved successful despite each carriage costing more than five times the price of a regular railway car. They were marketed as “luxury for the middle class.”[4]

Pullman’s company rapidly expanded, and he became a prominent figure in the railway industry. His Pullman sleeping cars revolutionised train travel by providing passengers with a comfortable and convenient way to sleep during long journeys. Pullman’s designs were renowned for their elegance and attention to detail, attracting wealthy clientele and gaining recognition worldwide.

Father’s Business
George Pullman’s father, James Lewis Pullman, was a farmer, carpenter and inventor taking out a patent in 1841 for the machine using jack screws to move buildings or structures onto new foundations. This invention played a valuable role in the widening of the Erie Canal and contributed to James Lewis Pullman’s reputation as an entrepreneur and innovator.

George Pullman grew up in a family environment where his father’s inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit likely influenced him. He received a basic education at local schools but dropped out at the age of 14 to pursue other opportunities.

After his father died in 1855, George Pullman took over the family business. In 1856, he secured a contract with the State of New York to relocate 20 buildings to make way for the widening of the canal. This early experience in construction and engineering may have laid the foundation for his future endeavours in the transportation industry.

While George Pullman’s father played a role in the development of the moving buildings system, George Pullman himself is more widely recognised for his contributions to the railroad industry and the invention of the Pullman sleeping car.

Pullman, the Rail Business
The opportunity for George Pullman to become involved in the rail business came about through a combination of factors and circumstances. After successfully completing the contract with the State of New York to move buildings for the canal widening project, Pullman gained experience in construction and engineering.

During the mid-19th century, there was a growing demand for improved transportation systems, especially railroads. The expansion of the rail network opened up opportunities for individuals with innovative ideas and solutions to contribute to this burgeoning industry.

George Pullman recognised the need for improved comfort and accommodations for train travellers. Inspired by his own experiences of uncomfortable and often cramped sleeping arrangements during his travels, Pullman saw a business opportunity in designing and manufacturing more comfortable sleeping cars for train passengers.

In the early 1860s, George Pullman introduced his innovative design for the Pullman Palace sleeping car, offering luxurious accommodation and amenities, including plush seats, folding berths for sleeping, and dining facilities.

At a stroke, the sleeping car revolutionised long-distance train travel, providing a comfortable and convenient experience for passengers. Pullman’s sleeping cars gained widespread popularity and were adopted by numerous railroad companies across the United States. He established the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1867 to manufacture and operate his sleeping cars. The company grew rapidly and became a dominant force in the railroad industry.

Pullman, the Town
Pullman, Illinois, developed in the 1880s just outside the Chicago city limits, was one of the most substantial early company towns in the United States. The company owned all the housing and local businesses, essentially dictating all aspects of life for its workers – a place to live, food shopping and clothing stores, a library, churches, and entertainment for 6,000 company employees and many dependants.[5]

The Pullman Company controlled the town of Pullman, where it built its rail cars. Employees were required to live in company housing and shop in company stores, often at inflated prices. Additionally, when the company faced economic downturns, it cut wages but did not lower housing rents or prices in the company stores, leading to increased hardship for workers. This, combined with long hours and poor working conditions, contributed to the Pullman Strike in 1894.

Historic Pullman was built in the 1880s by George Pullman as workers’ housing for employees of his eponymous railroad car company, the Pullman Palace Car Company. He established behavioural standards workers had to meet to live in the area and charged them rent. Pullman’s architectSolon Spencer Beman, was said to be extremely proud that he had met all the workers’ needs within the neighbourhood he designed.

The distinctive rowhouses were comfortable by the standards of the day and contained such amenities as indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers.[6]

Picture Credit/Source: Pullman row houses” by UIC Library Digital Collections is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Working Conditions and the Pullman Strike
The working and living conditions for employees of the Pullman Company were harsh and were a significant factor that contributed to the Pullman Strike of 1894. Here are some details about the conditions:

  • Company Town: The town built by George Pullman to house the workers employed by the Pullman Company consisted of tightly controlled housing, stores, and facilities, all owned and managed by the company.
  • Rent and Deductions: The workers were required to live in company-owned housing and pay rent, which was deducted directly from their wages. The rent charged by the company was often considered high, consuming a significant portion of the workers’ income.
  • Company Stores: Pullman workers were also required to shop at the company stores, which charged higher prices for goods than outside stores. This practice limited the workers’ ability to seek more affordable options.
  • Deductions and Fines: The company had a strict system of fines and deductions for various reasons, including tardiness, damaged equipment, or rule violations. These deductions further reduced the workers’ already low wages.
  • Long Working Hours: Pullman workers were expected to work long hours, often six days a week. The workdays were gruelling, with shifts lasting up to 16 hours, particularly during periods of high demand.
  • No Collective Bargaining: The workers had no voice or representation in negotiating their wages or working conditions. The Pullman Company did not recognise labour unions, making it difficult for workers to advocate for their rights collectively.
  • No Right to Choose Housing: Workers were assigned housing by the company and could not choose where they lived. This lack of autonomy in selecting their residences added to the feeling of being controlled by the company.
  • Lack of Privacy: The closely monitored and controlled living environment in Pullman left workers with limited privacy. Company officials regularly inspected the workers’ homes, and any personal belongings that did not meet the company’s standards were subject to confiscation or fines.

The combination of high rents, limited purchasing options, long working hours, low wages, and the overall lack of control over their lives led to significant discontent among the Pullman workers.

Former slaves working in servile positions were treated badly and were frequently subject to verbal and physical abuse. In 1925, after decades of discrimination and mistreatment by the passengers and the Pullman company itself, the porters organised and became the first African-American labour union. Founded by A. Philip Randolph, the porters formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), which after years of effort, fought for and won a collective bargaining agreement in 1937. At its height, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had a membership of over 18,000 passenger railway workers across Canada, Mexico, and the United States.[7]

During the depression that followed the Panic of 1893, demand for Pullman rail cars slackened. The Pullman company laid off hundreds of workers and switched many more to pay-per-piece work. This work, while paying more per hour, reduced total worker income. Despite these cutbacks, the Company did not reduce rents for workers who lived in Pullman. The tensions erupted into a full-scale workers’ strike. The harsh working and living conditions, coupled with the economic downturn in 1893, sparked the Pullman Strike as workers sought better treatment and fairer conditions.

Workers initiated the Pullman Strike in 1894, and it lasted for two months, eventually leading to intervention by the US government and military.[8] The Strike Commission, set up in 1894, ruled that the aesthetic features admired by visitors had little monetary value for employees.

Picture Credit: Workers leave the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893
Attribution: In The Story of Pullman, 1893., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:,_1893.jpg

Beyond the harsh working conditions and the resulting Pullman Strike, Pullman and his company faced criticism for their overbearing paternalistic approach to labour relations. Pullman’s practice of controlling every aspect of his workers’ lives, from housing to wages, was controversial and faced a backlash. Pullman was also criticised for not reducing rents after cutting wages during an economic downturn, a decision that contributed to the 1894 strike.

After George Pullman died in 1897, the Illinois Supreme Court required the company to sell the town because operating it was ‘outside the company’s charter’ (probably, what would be called ultra vires (‘beyond the powers of’) in Britain).[9] In 1899, the town and other major portions of the South Side were annexed by the city of Chicago. Within ten years, the city sold the houses to their occupants. After the strike, Pullman gradually was absorbed as a regular Chicago neighbourhood, defined by distinguishing Victorian architecture, but its fortunes continued to rise and fall with the Pullman Company for many years.

Picture Credit: George M. Pullman, printer’s sample for the World’s Inventors souvenir album (A25) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes” by Allen & Ginter is marked with CC0 1.0.

End of the (Rail) Road
After George Pullman died in 1897, just three years after the end of the strike, Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, became company president. The Pullman company purchased the Standard Steel Car Company in 1930 amid the Great Depression, and the merged entity was known as Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company. The company closed its factory in the Pullman neighbourhood of Chicago in 1955. The company ceased production after the Amtrak Superliner cars in 1982, and its remaining designs were purchased in 1987 when it was absorbed by Bombardier.

The company had been experiencing financial difficulties for several years, facing declining demand for its services and increased competition from other modes of transportation. These factors, combined with mounting debt, ultimately led to the closure of the Pullman Company.

The Pullman railcars, which were known for their distinctive luxury and comfort, were dispersed among different railroad companies and private owners. Some of these cars are still in operation today, either as part of heritage or tourist railroads or as privately-owned pieces of railway history.

It’s worth noting that while the Pullman Company ceased its operations, the name “Pullman” still holds historical significance in the realm of luxury train travel. Several train companies and services worldwide continue to use the name “Pullman” to evoke the elegance and luxury associated with the original Pullman Company’s sleeper cars.

George Pullman’s company, the Pullman Palace Car Company, expanded internationally in the late 19th century. The company began exporting its luxurious railway cars to various countries, including Canada, Mexico, and countries in Europe, such as France and England. The Pullman cars became known for their comfort and elegance, gaining worldwide popularity.

The Pullman Brand Lives On
The original Pullman Palace Car Company ceased operations in the mid-20th century. However, the Pullman name has been associated with different companies and brands over time, such as:

  • AccorHotels: AccorHotels, a multinational hospitality company, owns and operates a luxury hotel brand called Pullman Hotels and Resorts. These hotels offer upscale accommodations and services in various cities worldwide.
  • Pullman Rail Journeys: Pullman Rail Journeys is a private railcar operator in the United States. They provide luxury train travel experiences, utilizing vintage Pullman railcars to recreate the elegance of the past.
  • British Pullman: Restored to their former glory, British Pullman‘s carriages are as famous today as in the heyday of train travel.
  • Pullman Company: The Pullman Company, also known as Pullman Railcar or Pullman-Standard, manufactures railcars and related equipment. While not directly connected to George Pullman’s original company, they adopted the name and have been a prominent player in the railcar manufacturing industry. The company produces a wide range of railcars, including passenger cars, freight cars, and speciality vehicles.
  • Pullman Kitchen: Pullman Kitchen specialises in high-end kitchen design and cabinetry. They offer custom kitchen solutions and are known for their quality craftsmanship and attention to detail.

These contemporary companies and brands are not direct continuations of George Pullman’s original Pullman Palace Car Company but rather entities that carry on the Pullman name or provide services inspired by the historic Pullman legacy.

Lesser-known facts about George Pullman

  • Early Ambitions: George Pullman initially aspired to become an architect and worked as a cabinet maker and housebuilder before venturing into the railroad industry.
  • Luxury Sleeper Cars: Pullman revolutionised train travel by introducing the concept of luxurious sleeping cars. His innovative designs offered comfortable berths, elegant interiors, and attentive service, making train journeys more enjoyable.
  • Pullman City: Pullman envisioned an ideal industrial community for his workers, which led to the establishment of Pullman City near Chicago. It was a planned community with model housing, parks, and amenities, but it faced controversy and labour disputes over its strict regulations.
  • The Pullman Strike: The infamous Pullman Strike of 1894 was a significant event in US labour history. It was sparked by worker grievances against wage cuts and the town’s living conditions, eventually leading to a nationwide railway strike.
  • Sleeping Car Innovations: Pullman constantly improved his sleeper car designs, introducing features such as fold-down beds, electric lights, and even dining cars, further enhancing the comfort and convenience of train travel.
  • Presidential Funerals: Pullman’s sleeper cars were often used for presidential funerals. Notably, his railcars were employed for the funeral processions of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and James A. Garfield.
  • Political Connections: George Pullman was well-connected politically and maintained close ties with influential figures of his time, including Abraham Lincoln, whom he knew personally.
  • Sleeping Car Monopoly: Pullman established a virtual monopoly in the sleeping car industry, controlling both manufacturing and service aspects. This led to legal challenges and antitrust scrutiny, ultimately resulting in the court-ordered breakup of the Pullman Company after his death.
  • The Pullman Library: George Pullman had a personal library containing thousands of books, which he made available to his workers in Pullman City, fostering a culture of learning and education.
  • Philanthropy: Despite controversies surrounding his labour practices, George Pullman was involved in philanthropic endeavours. He donated significantly to educational institutions, including funding the Pullman Free School of Manual Training, which provided vocational training to young people.
  • Parenthood: He married Harriett Sanger, daughter of a construction company owner, on 13th June 1867. Together, they had four children: Florence (1868-1937), Harriett (1869-1956), and the twins George, Jr. (1875-1901) and Walter Sanger [known as Sanger] (1875-1905). A young man named Gustave Behring claimed that he was the illegitimate son of Pullman.[10] George Jr. was involved in the Pullman Company and held executive positions. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he died in a shooting accident in 1901.

Review and Closing Words
The Pullman Palace Car Company greatly transformed train travel. It introduced a new level of comfort and luxury, making long-distance travel more appealing to the middle and upper classes. The sleeping cars also allowed for more efficient use of rail networks as travellers could comfortably travel overnight. Even after Pullman’s death, the legacy of these luxury cars continued, with “Pullman” becoming a generic term for any sleeping car, regardless of manufacturer.

George Pullman’s legacy is complex. On the one hand, his innovations transformed rail travel and set new standards for comfort and luxury. His ideas influenced the rail industry for decades after his death. On the other hand, his labour practices and the Pullman Strike are often held up as examples of the need for labour rights and protections. His company town, Pullman, Illinois, is now a National Monument and serves as a symbol of both the potential and the pitfalls of industrial-era labour relations.

In conclusion, George Pullman’s impact on the transportation industry cannot be overstated. Through his vision and entrepreneurship, he revolutionised train travel by creating a new standard of luxury and comfort. The Pullman Palace Car Company’s sleeping cars not only provided an elevated travel experience but also facilitated more efficient use of rail networks. While Pullman’s innovations left an indelible mark on the industry, it is essential to acknowledge the complexities of his legacy. The labour practices employed by the Pullman Company, along with the infamous Pullman Strike, highlight the struggles faced by workers and the need for fair labour rights and protections. These events serve as a reminder of the delicate balance between progress and the well-being of the workforce.

Today, George Pullman’s memory lives on through the preservation of Pullman, Illinois, as a National Monument. This site stands as a tangible symbol of the triumphs and challenges of industrial-era labour relations, inviting reflection on the lessons learned and the ongoing pursuit of equitable work environments.

While inspiring, George Pullman’s contributions to the transportation industry should also serve as a reminder that progress should be coupled with a commitment to the welfare and dignity of workers. By studying his legacy, we gain valuable insights into the evolving dynamics between industry, labour, and society, prompting us to continually strive for a more equitable and sustainable future.

Caption: The Brighton Belle passing Purley Oaks at speed in June 1964.
Attribution: Tony Hagon, CC BY 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Picture Credit: Former Brighton Belle Pullman carriage at London Victoria, now part of the Venice Simplon Orient Express fleet, note the oval lavatory window.
Attribution: The original uploader was Our Phellap at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Unported license. Subject to Disclaimers.

 Sources and Further Reading



CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations
  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Source: Largely from
  3. Source:
  4. Source:
  5. Source:
  6. Source: Newcomen, T. (1998) “Pullman, Illinois: Changes in community planning from the 1880s to the 1990s”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 10-29. Cited at:,_Chicago
  7. Source: Chateauvert, Melinda (June 28, 2016). “Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters”. Cited at:
  8. Source: United States Strike Commission, The Background to the Dispute: United States Strike Commission Report, Senate Executive Document No. 7, 53rd Congress 3d Session (1894), pp. xxi-xxiii, reprinted in Warne, C. E. (ed.)(1955) The Pullman Boycott of 1894: The Problem of Federal Intervention, D.C. Heath & Co., Boston. Cited at:,_Chicago
  9. Source: Lindsey A. (1964) The Pullman Strike. Cited at:,_Chicago
  10. Source: See also:

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