The Pullman Company-Railroad Jobs during the Industrial Revolution

Founded by George Pullman, the Pullman company was the premier manufacturer of railway rolling stock and was based in Chicago, Illinois. During the first half of the 20th century, the railroad industry was booming. This created many railroad jobs, and increased the rate of employment during the industrial revolution. This was due to the industrial revolution and the advent of automated production. This fueled the growth and scope of the Pullman Company to be one of the most powerful companies in the country. This included the rapid increase in the use of the railroad as a means of transportation and shipment of goods. The Pullman company turned into a monopoly in the railroad industry, as the rail cars carried close to 26 million passengers yearly. Workers who were employed by the Pullman company lived in a town nearby the factory named Pullman, Chicago. Pullman not only had a monopoly over the rail car industry, but also operated many of the railroads within the United States.

Map of Pullman Company Network, circa 1895.
Courtesy of Encyclopedia of Chicago

At its peak, the Pullman company operated the largest sleeper car fleet, which consisted if 9,800 cars. The company would compensate railroads to put their sleeper car on trains. As a result, the workers on these sleeper cars formed a union, headed by A. Phillip Randolph, who was one of the most influential political figures of his time. In addition to the sleeper cars, Pullman also built streetcars and trolleys for use on interurban lines in cities.

George Pullman created the Pullman company after riding a train from Buffalo to West field, New York, this gave him the idea to create a new and improved rail car that allowed passengers to sleep comfortably during their journeys. Pullman’s cars were designed to have bathrooms, beds, and all the comforts of home. After much research and consideration, the Pullman company was established in 1862, and began constructing luxury railcars that were fully furnished with carpeting, chairs, and tables. There were curtains on the windows and had a smooth, quiet ride, due to the use of composite “paper car wheels”, instead of cast iron wheels.

Pullman No. 9
The first Pullman Car “No. 9”, a remodeled Chicago and Alton day coach. First ran from Bloomington, IL to Chicago on 1 September 1859
The Official Pictures of Century of Progress Exposition Chicago 1933, Kauffmann & Fabry

Although the company had a lavish and groundbreaking history, one of the most notable events of the Pullman company was the Pullman strike of 1894. As a result of a recession in 1893, as a result, the purchases of sleeper cars decreased significantly, causing Pullman to reduce the hours and wages of its employees, but did not decrease the rent in the Pullman town, this led to a strike led by Eugene V. Debs, who formed the American Railway Union. However, Pullman did not comply or attempt to negotiate with the American Railway Union, so the they began a strike within the Pullman company and ordered a strike against all trains that utilized Pullman sleeper cars. As a result, chaos ensued and there were many riots and millions of dollars of damages were done. The strike came to an end when the government stepped in and asked the strikers to stop interfering with trains that carried mail, as a result, President Grover Cleveland began getting the army involved. This led to violence and riots in cities across the country, and ultimately, putting an end to the strike. After the strike, Debs was charged with crimes including conspiracy and obstructing the mail, and was sentenced to six months in prison. After the Pullman strike, the company was told to release their properties, and thus, the Pullman neighborhood became a normal south side Chicago neighborhood. After the release of Debs from jail, he became a socialist and advocated for his political views, and ran in the 1900 presidential elections.

The Pullman strike marked a turning point in the United States labor laws.  As a result of the Pullman strike, President Cleveland ordered an investigation of the causes of the strike. The investigation discovered the cause of the strike due to Pullmans’ paternalism, which is when a liberty and freedom is taken away, for the benefit of the company or individual, this resulted in the company giving the town back to Chicago. Today, the Pullman town is recognized as a national historic site, located in the historic district of Chicago. The strike also facilitated the holiday of Labor Day, as President Cleveland established it as a national holiday.

George Pullman. Courtesy of Britannica.

After the strike, the Pullman company was reorganized into the Pullman Car & Manufacturing Company, and later Pullman, Inc. In the 1920’s, Pullman thrived and business was booming, and the Pullman monopoly was in full swing and led to the acquisition of Standard Steel Company. The two companies merged and formed the “Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing Company”. After these mergers, demand for lightweight passenger cars increased, especially during the 1940’s, however, an anti-trust complaint was filed against Pullman-Standard for monopoly and unethical business practices. The complaint was filed to separate their sleeper car manufacturing from the company, and the Pullman company was sold to fifty-seven railroads from around the country, for around $40 million. After Pullman was sold to these railroads, they still continued to operate under the Pullman-Standard name, for railcar manufacturing, and the Pullman Company for its railroad operations. The Pullman Company continued until 1968, until their passenger car operation ceased and the company folded. Later, the Pullman Technology Company received the designs and blueprints of the Pullman-Standard Company, which was later incorporated into the designs of the Comet cars built for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. (NJDOT) The designs of the cars were later incorporated into Bombardier, and as of 2004, Pullman Technology Inc. was an active subsidiary of Bombardier.

For more reading on the Pullman Company, check out this list of books that are great resources on the history and legacy of the Pullman Company: