Pullman Company

Workers leave the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893.

The Pullman Car Company, founded by George Pullman, manufactured railroad cars in the mid-to-late 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century, during the boom of railroads in the United States. Its workers initially lived in a planned worker community (or "company town") named Pullman.[1] Pullman developed the sleeping car which carried his name into the 1980s. Pullman did not just manufacture the cars: He also operated them on most of the railroads in the United States, paying railroad companies to couple the cars to trains. The labor union associated with the company, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was founded and organized by A. Philip Randolph, was one of the most powerful African-American political entities of the 20th century. The company also built thousands of streetcars[2] and trolley buses for use in cities.[3]


After spending the night sleeping in his seat on a train trip from Buffalo to Westfield, New York, George Pullman was inspired to design an improved passenger railcar that contained sleeper berths for all its passengers. During the day, the upper berth was folded up somewhat like a modern airliner's overhead luggage compartment. At night the upper berth folded down and the two facing seats below it folded over to provide a relatively comfortable bunk for the night. Although this was somewhat spartan accommodation by today's standards, it was a great improvement on the previous layout. Curtains provided privacy, and there were washrooms at each end of the car for men and women.

Pullman established his company in 1862 and built luxury sleeping cars which featured carpeting, draperies, upholstered chairs, libraries and card tables and an unparalleled level of customer service. Once a household name due to their large market share, the Pullman Company is also known for the bitter Pullman Strike staged by their workers and union leaders in 1894. During an economic downturn, Pullman reduced hours and wages but not rents, precipitating the strike. Workers joined the American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs.

After George Pullman's death in 1897, Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, became company president. The company closed its factory in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago in 1955. Pullman 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 ceased production after the Amtrak Superliner cars in 1982 and its remaining designs were purchased in 1987 when it was absorbed by Bombardier.

Corporate history

See also: Pullman Strike
Pullman's Palace Car Co. capital stock certificate (1884)
Entrance gates to the company's Calumet Works, circa 1900
The Calumet Works, circa 1900

The original Pullman Palace Car Co., had been organized on February 22, 1867.

On January 1, 1900, after buying numerous associated and competing companies, it was reorganized as The Pullman Co., characterized by its trademark phrase, "Travel and Sleep in Safety and Comfort."

In 1924, Pullman Car & Manufacturing Co. was organized from the previous Pullman manufacturing department, to consolidate the car building interests of The Pullman Co. The parent company, The Pullman Co., was reorganized as Pullman, Inc., on June 21, 1927.

The best years for Pullman were the mid-1920s. In 1925, the fleet grew to 9800 cars. Twenty-eight thousand conductors and twelve thousand porters were employed by the Pullman Co.[4] Pullman built its last standard heavyweight sleeping car in February 1931.

Pullman purchased controlling interest in Standard Steel Car Company in 1929, and on December 26, 1934, Pullman Car & Manufacturing (along with several other Pullman, Inc. subsidiaries), merged with Standard Steel Car Co. (and its subsidiaries) to form the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company. Pullman-Standard remained in the rail car manufacturing business until 1982. Standard Steel Car Co., had been organized on January 2, 1902, to operate a railroad car manufacturing facility at Butler, Pennsylvania (and, after 1906, a facility at Hammond, Indiana), and was reorganized as a subsidiary of Pullman, Inc., on March 1, 1930.

In 1940, just as orders for lightweight cars were increasing and sleeping car traffic was growing, the United States Department of Justice filed an anti-trust complaint against Pullman Incorporated in the U.S. District Court at Philadelphia (Civil Action No. 994). The government sought to separate the company's sleeping car operations from its manufacturing activities. In 1944, the court concurred, ordering Pullman Incorporated to divest itself of either the Pullman Company (operating) or the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company (manufacturing). After three years of negotiations, the Pullman Company was sold to a consortium of fifty-seven railroads for around US$40 million.[5]

In 1943, Pullman Standard established a shipbuilding division and dived into wartime small ship design and construction. The yard was on Lake Calumet (Chicago), on the north side of 130th Street, at the most southerly point of the Lake Michigan. Pullman built the boats in 40-ton blocks. The blocks being assembled in a fab shop on 111th Street and moved to the yard on gondola cars. In two years, they built 34 PCEs {Corvette}, which were 180 feet long and weighed 640 tons, and 44 LSMs, which were 203 feet long and weighed 520 tons. Pullman ranked 56th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts.[6]

Pullman-Standard built its last sleeping car in 1956[7] and its last lightweight passenger cars in 1965, an order of ten coaches for Kansas City Southern.[8] The company continued to market and build cars for commuter rail and subway service and Superliners for Amtrak as late as the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Beginning in 1974, Pullman delivered seven hundred and fifty 75 ft (23 m) stainless steel subway cars to the New York City Transit Authority. Designated R46 by their procurement contract, these cars, along with the R44 subway car built by St. Louis Car Company, were designed for 70 mph (110 km/h) running in the Second Avenue Subway; after it was deferred in 1975, the Transit Authority assigned the cars to other subway services. Pullman also built subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which assigned them to the Red Line. Pullman-Standard was spun off from Pullman, Inc., as Pullman Technology, Inc., in 1981, and was sold to Bombardier in 1987.

Pullman antitrust case

United States v. Pullman Co., 50 F. Supp. 123, 126, 137 (E.D. Pa. 1943) (defendant ordered to divest itself of one of two lines of sleeping car business where it had acquired all of its competitors).

The end of Pullman

After the 1944 breakup, Pullman, Inc., remained in place as the parent company, with the following subsidiaries: The Pullman Company for passenger car operations (but not passenger car ownership, which was passed to the member railroads), and Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Co., for passenger car and freight car manufacturing; along with a large freight car leasing operation still directly under the parent company's control. Pullman, Inc., remained separate until a merger with Wheelabrator, then headed by CEO Michael D. Dingman, in late 1980, which led to the separation of Pullman interests in early and mid-1981.

Operations of the Pullman Company sleeper cars ceased and all leases were terminated on December 31, 1968.[7][9] On January 1, 1969, the Pullman Company was dissolved and all assets were liquidated. (The most visible result on many railroads, including Union Pacific, was that the Pullman name was removed from the letterboard of all Pullman-owned cars.) An auction of all Pullman remaining assets was held at the Pullman plant in Chicago in early 1970. The Pullman, Inc., company remained in place until 1981 or 1982 to close out all remaining liabilities and claims, operating from an office in Denver.

Pullman advertisement in 1962 Seaboard Air Line Railroad time table

The passenger car designs of Pullman-Standard were spun off into a separate company called Pullman Technology, Inc., in 1982. Using the Transit America trade name, Pullman Technology continued to market its Comet car design (first built for New Jersey Department of Transportation in 1970) for commuter operations until 1987, when Bombardier purchased Pullman Technology to gain control of its designs and patents. As of late 2004, Pullman Technology, Inc., remained a subsidiary of Bombardier.

Pullman, Inc., spun off its large fleet of leased freight rail cars in April 1981 as Pullman Leasing Company, which later became part of ITEL Leasing, retaining the original PLCX reporting mark. ITEL Leasing (including the PLCX reporting mark) was later changed to GE Leasing.

In mid-1981, Pullman, Inc., spun off its freight car manufacturing interests as Pullman Transportation Company. Several plants were closed and in 1984, the remaining railcar manufacturing plants and the Pullman-Standard freight car designs and patents were sold to Trinity Industries.

After separating itself from its rail car manufacturing interests, Pullman, Inc., continued as a diversified corporation, with later mergers and acquisitions, including a merger in late 1980 with Wheelabrator-Frye, Inc., in which Pullman became a subsidiary of Wheelabrator-Frye, Inc. In January 1982, Wheelabrator-Frye merged with M. W. Kellogg, a builder of large, cast-in-place smokestacks, silos and chimneys. Wheelabrator-Frye retained both Pullman and Kellogg as direct subsidiaries. In 1990, the entire Wheelabrator-Frye group was sold to Waste Management, Inc. The Pullman-Kellogg interests were spun off by Waste Management as Pullman Power Products Corporation, and by late 2004 that company was doing business as Pullman Power LLC, a subsidiary of Structural Group, a specialty contractor.

As a separate side note, other construction engineering portions of Pullman-Kellogg were spun off as a new M. W. Kellogg Corporation, and in December 1998, became part of the merger that formed Kellogg, Brown & Root, a specialty contractor which itself was later sold to Halliburton, an oil well servicing company. In an eventual competitive move, other Kellogg engineering interests were merged with Rust Engineering becoming Kellogg Rust, which itself became The Henley Group, and later Rust International before it became the Rust Division of what is today Washington Group International, a specialty contracting firm that competes directly with Halliburton worldwide. Washington Group International is the successor to the Morrison Knudsen civil engineering and contracting corporation, and is also the owner of Montana Rail Link.

After the last of the Kellogg interests of Pullman-Kellogg were spun off, and after the railcar manufacturing plants were sold, and with the formal dissolution of the old Pullman Company (the operating company from the 1944 split), the remaining portions of the Pullman interests were spun off in May 1985 by Waste Management, Inc., into a new Pullman Company. In November 1985, Pullman bought Peabody International and the new company took the new name of Pullman Peabody. In April 1987 (after Pullman Technology was sold to Bombardier), the name was changed back to Pullman Company. In July 1987 the company acquired Clevite Industries.[10] By 1996, Pullman Co., with its Clevite subsidiary, was almost solely a supplier of automotive elastomer (rubber) parts, and in July 1996 the company was sold to Tenneco. As of late 2004, Pullman Co. (now the brand name Clevite), as a manufacturer of automotive elastomer products, was still under the control of Tenneco Automotive.

Company town

George Pullman announced his plan to build a company town along with a factory in late April 1880. Three years prior, the United States underwent the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The strike forced businessmen, like Pullman, to take the feelings of their employees into consideration. Pullman’s objective in building a company town was to attract a superior type of employee and elevate his employees through the exclusion of baneful influences.[11] Pullman also expected the rents on the houses in the company town to make a return of 6 percent on its investment. This was never realized. The rents of the houses in the company town only made a return of 4 ½ percent on investments.[12]

The company built a company town, Pullman, Illinois on 4,000 acres (1,600 ha), 14 mi (23 km) south of Chicago in 1880. Pullman contracted Solon Spenser Beman and Nathan F. Barrett to design and landscape the entire company town respectively. Both Beman and Barrett were experts in their respective fields. Beman interned under the famous architect Richard Upjohn and Barrett landscaped areas in Staten Island and Tuxedo, New York, as well as Long Branch, New Jersey. The community was designed by Solon Spencer Beman and landscaped by Nathan Barrett. According to George Pullman's governing conception, it was not within the city limits of Chicago but in the adjoining town of Hyde Park. On April 24, 1880, groundwork began on the company town. Throughout the construction of the company town Pullman strove to minimize costs and maximize construction efficiency. Whenever and wherever possible Pullman adopted techniques of mass production. The first departments and shops constructed were ones such as painting, iron, and woodworking, which could be used in the continuing construction of the company town.[13] By January 1, 1881, the company town was ready for its first resident to move in. A foreman from the Pullman Company’s Detroit shop, Lee Benson, moved his wife, child, and sister into the company town.[14] On the exterior, the buildings of the company town were made of red brick with limestone trim. On the interior, the buildings had high ceilings and large windows. The walls of the interior of the buildings were also purposefully painted in light colors to provide the semblance of a cheerful environment.[15] By the time construction was finished on the company town it was composed of a library, theater, hotel, church, market, sewage farm, park, and residential buildings. The bar in the Florence Hotel was the only place where alcohol could be served and consumed in the company town.[16] In the residential section of the town, there was 150 acres dedicated to tenements, flats and single-family homes that rented from $0.50 to $0.75 a month.[17] The residences featured modern conveniences such as gas, water, indoor sewage plumbing and regular garbage removal. By 1884, the town included more than 1,400 tenements and flats, and by July of the following year, its population was over 8,600.[18]

The town agent was in charge of the company town. The town agent oversaw departments including street and building maintenance, gas and water works, and fire protection. The town agent also oversaw businesses including the hotel, sewage farm, as well as the nursery and greenhouse. Under the town agent there were nine department heads and approximately 300 men under them.[19] All company town officials were selected by Pullman. There were no elections in the company town besides elections for the school board.[20]

After its completion, the company town attracted national attention. Many critics praised Pullman’s conception and planning of the company town. One newspaper article titled “The Arcadian City: Pullman, the Ideal City of the World” praised the company town as “the youngest and most perfect city in the world, Pullman; beautiful in every belonging.”[21] In February 1885, Richard T. Ely published his article “Pullman: A Social Study” in Harper’s Monthly. While the article praised the company town for creating an elevated environment for its workers, the article criticized the all-encompassing influence of the company. The article came to the conclusion that “Pullman is un-American” and “it is benevolent, well wishing feudalism.”[22]

During the Panic of 1893, Pullman closed his manufacturing plant in Detroit in order to move all manufacturing to the company town. [23] Wages were reduced and employees were laid off, but the costs of utilities remained unchanged. On May 11, 1894, the employees of the Pullman Co. walked off the job and initiated the Pullman Strike. The Pullman Co. had reduced wages, but not the rents on housing. 30 people were killed as a result of the strikes and sabotage. After the strike, the company town was not the same. The strike resulted in the loss of pride for the company town.[24]

In February 1904, the Pullman Company was mandated to sell the company town by court order. Despite this, the Pullman Company did not sell the company town until 1907.[25] Today, Pullman is a Chicago neighborhood, and a historical landmark district on the state, National Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places lists.

In 2014, the National Park Service is considering creation of a new urban national park in Pullman.[26]

Other Pullman sites

The Pullman Company operated several facilities in other areas of the U.S. One of these were the Pullman Shops in Richmond, California which was linked to the mainline tracks of both the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe, servicing their passenger equipment from throughout the Western U.S. The main building of the Richmond Pullman Shops still exists, as does the thoroughfare it's located on: Pullman Avenue.


A Pullman porter assisting a passenger with her luggage.

The Pullman Company was also noted for its porters. The company hired black men almost exclusively for the porter positions. (Men of Filipino descent were primarily hired for club car service positions.) Although a porter's occupation was menial in some respects, it offered better pay and security than most jobs open to African Americans at the time, as well as an opportunity to travel the country. Many credit Pullman porters as significantly contributing to the development of America's black middle class.[27] In 1925, Pullman porters became unionized as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), founded by A. Philip Randolph. At one time Pullman was the largest employer of African Americans in the United States.[28]


Rail vehicles

A 1946 Pullman-Standard PCC-type streetcar in Boston
Pullman Gallery cars
Pullman-Standard Superliner dining car
A late 1970s R46 subway car in New York City

Pullman's streetcar building period lasted from 1891[2][3] until 1951.[29] The company one was one of just three builders (and one of only two in the U.S.) of the PCC streetcar, a standardized type of streetcar purchased by numerous North American transit systems between 1936 and 1952[30] and nearly 5,000 of which were constructed.[31] Pullman built the body of the very first all-new PCC car, a prototype called "model B", in 1934,[32] but the first production-series Pullman PCC cars were not built until 1938 (and delivered in early 1939).[29] The St. Louis Car Company captured about 75% of the U.S. market for PCC cars, with the balance of around 25% being supplied by Pullman.[29]

Trolley buses

In addition to rail vehicles, Pullman-Standard also manufactured trolley buses — or trolley coaches, as they were more commonly known at the time – starting in 1931[33] and concluding in late 1952.[34] A total of 2,007 trolley buses were built by the company.[33] Production took place at a former Osgood Bradley Car Company plant in Worcester, Massachusetts, which had come under Pullman control as part of its 1929/30 acquisition of a controlling interest in the Standard Steel Car Company.[3] The vast majority were built for U.S. cities, with only 24 being supplied to Canadian cities and a total of 136 built for cities in South America.[33] The very last trolleybuses built were an order of 30 for Valparaíso, Chile, in late 1952.[34][35] That city's Pullman trolley buses have far outlasted any others, and as of 2015 about a dozen were still in regular service there,[36] four from the 1952 batch and the others from a larger group built in 1946–48 but partially rebuilt in 1987–88.[37] In 2003, the remaining 15 were declared a National Historic Monument by the Chilean government.[37][38]

See also


  1. Super User. "South Shore Journal - Marktown: Clayton Mark's Planned Worker Community in Northwest Indiana".
  2. 1 2 Middleton, William D. (1967). The Time of the Trolley, p. 424. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0-89024-013-2.
  3. 1 2 3 Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1973). Transit’s Stepchild, The Trolley Coach (Interurbans Special 58), p. 173. Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 73-84356.
  4. "Eliillinois". Eliillinois.
  5. "Pullman Guide" (PDF). Newberry.org. Retrieved 2013-07-19.
  6. Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis (1962) Harvard Business School p.619
  7. 1 2 Bedingfield, Robert E. (23 November 1968). "Rails Taking Over Sleeping Car Runs; Pullmans Moving Into Rails' Hands". New York Times. pp. 71, 77. Retrieved 2015-02-24.
  8. Drury, George H. (June 5, 2006), "Who built the streamliners: Historical profiles of North American passenger-car builders", TRAINS magazine, retrieved November 24, 2010
  9. "Pullman Conductor All but Disappears With End of 1968". New York Times. 31 December 1968. Retrieved 2015-02-24.
  10. "Pullman Co. reports earnings for Qtr. to Sept 30". The New York Times. December 8, 1987. Retrieved November 30, 2010.
  11. United States Strike Commission, Report on the Chicago Strike of June–July 1894 (Washington D.C., Government Printing Office, 1895), 529, accessed April 15, 2015
  12. United States Strike Commission, Report on the Chicago Strike of June–July 1894 (Washington D.C., Government Printing Office, 1895), 530, accessed April 15, 2015
  13. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 52
  14. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 53
  15. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 57
  16. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 65
  17. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 71
  18. Smith, Carl (2007). Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 180-181
  19. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 107-108
  20. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 117
  21. “The Arcadian City,” uncited newspaper clipping, accessed April 15, 2015, http://publications.newberry.org/pullman/items/show/298.
  22. Richard Ely, “Pullman: A Social Study,” Harper’s Monthly 70 (1885): 465, accessed April 15, 2015, http://darrow.law.umn.edu/documents/Pullman_Social_Study_Harper_s_Magazine_1885.pdf.
  23. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 139
  24. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 206.
  25. Stanley Buder, Pullman: An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 214
  26. Chicago's Pullman site could become national park, Seattle-pi.com (August 23, 2014)
  27. Morning Edition (2009-05-08). "Pullman Porters Helped Build Black Middle Class". NPR. Retrieved 2013-07-19.
  28. "Reflections on Black History". Freepress.org. Retrieved 2013-07-19.
  29. 1 2 3 Carlson, Stephen P.; and Schneider, Fred W. (1980). PCC: The Car That Fought Back, pp. 103–4. Glendale (CA): Interurban Press. ISBN 0-916374-41-6.
  30. Kashin and Demoro, p. 59.
  31. Kashin and Demoro, p. 81.
  32. Kashin and Demoro, p. 35–36.
  33. 1 2 3 Porter, Harry; and Worris, Stanley F.X. (1979). Trolleybus Bulletin No. 109: Databook II. Louisville (KY): North American Trackless Trolley Association (defunct).
  34. 1 2 Saitta, Joseph P. (ed.) (1987). Traction Yearbook '87, p. 111. Merrick (NY), US: Traction Slides International. ISBN 978-0-9610414-6-5. LCCN 81-649475.
  35. Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. p. 124. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
  36. Trolleybus Magazine, September–October 2015, p. 152. UK: National Trolleybus Association. ISSN 0266-7452
  37. 1 2 Webb, Mary (ed.) (2009). Jane's Urban Transport Systems 2009–2010, pp. 65–66. Coulsdon (UK): Jane's Information Group. ISBN 978-0-7106-2903-6.
  38. "Quince troles porteños so monumentos históricos". La Estrella (in Spanish). July 29, 2003. Retrieved November 28, 2009.


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