Building America: George Pullman

Cyrus McCormick’s grave had to be guarded by a faithful servant for over a year in order to prevent desecration and/or theft. George Pullman on the other hand had to be buried in Graceland Cemetery at night in a lead-lined coffin within a reinforced steel-and-concrete vault that was 18 inches thick. As an extra precaution, several tons of cement were then poured over the vault.

George Pullman grave mausoleum
George Pullman grave marker

George Pullman portrait

George Pullman (March 3, 1831 – October 19, 1897) was a quintessential American industrialist. Inventor of the Pullman railroad sleeping car, he is as or more well known for the violent strike-breaking of workers which occurred at the company town he created, Pullman, Chicago.

Only twenty years before Henry Ford’s celebrated $5-per-day program Pullman built a town adjacent to his brand new factory on the south side of Chicago. It had its own housing, shopping areas, churches, theaters, parks, hotel and library.

Pullman Factory south side Chicago

Pullman’s town isn’t celebrated today the way that Ford’s program is however. Pullman prohibited independent newspapers, public speeches and town meetings. His inspectors regularly entered homes to inspect for cleanliness and could terminate leases on ten days notice.

Pullman’s workers found these conditions livable at first. But during the depression of 1893 Pullman cut jobs and wages but not rents. This led his workers to launch the Pullman Strike, a violent upheaval which was eventually broken up with federal troops by President Grover Cleveland. President Cleveland deployed 12,000 US Army soldiers to Chicago, about half the strength of the active forces at that time.

Employees Pullman factory

A popular quote from Pullman employees during the strike: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.” The quote is all the more powerful in light of the fact that Pullman’s town had only been in existence for about a dozen years when the strike occurred.

NY Times Obituary of George M. Pullman
George M. Pullman died suddenly of heart disease at 5 o’clock this morning. His death occurred in his magnificent brownstone residence at the corner of Prairie Avenue and Eighteenth Street, where he had resided for many years.

Effect on the Stock Market

Mr. Pullman’s death affected the Chicago stock market quite appreciably. He was said to have been a heavy holder of both Diamond Match and New York Biscuit securities, two of the most acxtive stocks listed on the local Exchange. When the announcement of Mr. Pullman’s death was posted on the bulletin board it caused a break in the latter stock of 3 1/4 points. A break of several points in Pullman Palace Car stock was chronicled on Wall Street, but a rally followed.

At the town of Pullman no word had been heard of Mr. Pullman’s death until newspaper men began to inquire as to the feeling of the townspeople on the subject. The event had been so sudden and at such an hour that the company officials in the town had heard nothing regarding the death of their chief till after the toilers in the train car works and kindred establishments had begun the daily routine. Immediately, however, preparations were made to close the big shops.

GEORGE M. Pullman’S CAREER: How He Gained a Start in Life and Amassed a Fortune.

Of humble origin, George Mortimer Pullman was thrown on his own resources very early in life. He was born in Brocton, Chautauqua County, N.Y., March 3, 1831, and has scant educational opportunities in his boyhood days. At the age of fourteen he went to work in a village store in Westfield, N.Y. at a salary of $40 a year and his board. He remained in that place for about three years. His father was a hardworking mechanic, who acquired a local reputation as a mover of barns and other frame buildings. When seventeen years old George went to Albion and joined his oldest brother in the business of cabinetmaking. He also learned to use the crude implements, which his father had collected, for raising and moving buildings.

The elder Pullman died soon after George attained his majority on and circumstances combined to throw the main responsibility for the maintenance of his mother and brothers upon the prospective palace car magnate. He took up his fathers worked as it had been left in travel from place to place in Western New York raising and moving frame buildings. He became acquainted with Senator Dan Field of Albion. Mr. Field was interested in Woodruff Sleeping Car Company, and also in legislation relating to sleeping car fares. He talked freely with young Pullman about sleeping cars, and caused the ambitious lad to “put his thinking cap on.”

About that time contracts were to let for the enlargement of the Erie Canal by sections. George Pullman obtained several contracts with the state for the removal of warehouses and other buildings which were too close to the canal. He accumulated a few thousand dollars in this way in which to work. He was about 28 years old when he made the acquaintance of Mrs. Mattison, of Chicago, who with her daughters, spent a few weeks in Albion. Mrs. Mattison’s husband was the proprietor of a hotel in Chicago and that family was much interested in the project, then being agitated, to raise the grade of all the streets in Chicago 8 feet, for the purpose of having a proper system of sewerage constructed.

Young Pullman frequently talked the matter over with Mrs. Mattison and he became so strongly impressed with the moneymaking possibilities offered in the growing Western city that he determined to take his house moving implements to Chicago and go into business there. A preliminary visit to Chicago strengthened his belief that a fortune awaited any energetic, wide awake, young man willing to buckle down to hard work. His first undertaking in Chicago was the raising of the Mattison House, then one of the largest brick blocks in the city. Mr. Pullman raised the hotel and the surrounding sidewalks successfully and in such a manner that business was not suspended nor the street blocked. His success in his first venture brought him more business than he could handle. He took all of the contract that he could attend to, however, and within the next two or three years he raised and moved several score of the most important business buildings in Chicago. The small capital which he took with him from Albion was multiplied tenfold.

In the Sleeping Car Business.

When at the height of his success as a contractor Mr. Pullman received requests from his old friend, Senator Field, for some financial accommodations. From the relations thus establish they speedily developed a business co-partnership. Both Senator Field and Mr. Pullman had an abiding faith in the future of the sleeping cars, and together they entered into a contract to run the sleepers in which Mr. Field was interested over the Chicago and Alton Road. After a while Pullman bought out his partner’s half interest for $2500 cash. The cars with which Mr. Pullman’s first experiments were tried were two ordinary passenger coaches which had been changed into the simplest kind of sleeping cars at slight expense. $.50 was charged for a berth for one night. Before the sleeping car idea had fairly taken hold of the public the Pikes Peak Fever developed and Mr. Pullman hastened out there on a prospecting trip. He remained there are nearly 3 years, returning to Chicago in 1864.

Exterior View Pullman Car

Even while he was at Pikes Peak Mr. Pullman gave a great deal of thought to the sleeping car. Upon his return to Chicago he took up the subject with a view of developing it in a broader field than had hitherto been attempted. His inventive genius asserted itself and he began to make drawings of cars which by some practical railroad men were pronounced fairy pictures. Pullman had sufficient capital to be self-reliant, and he determined to build a model railroad car. He secured the privilege of using a shed in the Chicago yard of the Alton Road, and employed a master car builder at a salary of $100 a month to help him. Mr. Pullman announced that he was going to build the most comfortable and the most costly car ever built. His idea was to produce a car that could be run on long trips, either as a day car or as a night car. The question of where to put the mattresses when not in use puzzled him for a long time. After a while he said to his salaried car builder: “why not hinge an upper berth near the roof and put the mattresses in it when the birth is closed in the daytime?” The car builder probably replied that there would not be sufficient space as the car was too low. “Then we will raise the roof of our car,” responded Mr. Pullman.

pullman_car_interior

A plan was soon prepared for a car 1 foot wider and 2 1/2 feet higher than any car that had previously been constructed in this country. The railroad men to whom this plan was shown either laughed at it or pushed it aside with indifference. Mr. Pullman’s enthusiasm increased as the work progressed, however, and after the car was built he determined that it should be decorations in the house of Samuel J. Tilden. He came to New York and engaged the artist who had just completed elaborate decorated in the house of Samuel J. Tilden. This artist went to Chicago and decorated Mr. Pullman’s car, which, when entirely completed and ready for service, had cost $18,000. The Pioneer was the name given to this first parlor sleeping car, and almost the first use to which it was put was in Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train on the Alton Road, between Chicago and Springfield. The unusual width of the car necessitated shaving off of the station platforms along the lines of the railroad. This model car was a success from the start, and one road after another speedily took up the idea.

Pullman’s Palace Car Company

Prior to the winter of 1867 George M. Pullman conducted the palace and sleeping car business strictly as an individual venture. In that year the Pullman’s Palace Car Company was organized, with several railroad men interested financially. The Corporation was formed under the laws of the State of Illinois on Washington’s birthday, 1867. The capital stock was nominal at first, but within a few years it was increased to $20 million. Mr. Pullman was the first and only president of the company. One of the first men to appreciate the practical value of the Pullman cars was John W. Brooks of Boston, then president of the Michigan Central Railroad. He invited Mr. Pullman to call and see him in Boston, and very soon after word a number of the new cars are running on the Michigan Central Road under a 10 years contract.

For a while these model cars were made to order in different factories this plan caused more or less friction, for the superintendent or foreman of each factory had fixed notions of car building with which Mr. Pullman had to combat before he can get just what he wanted. Mr. Pullman and his associates, therefore, determined to establish a plant of their own, and the Detroit shops were the outcome of this determination. It was in the shops that Mr. Pullman perfected his sleeping car, and developed the drawing room, the dining car, and the elegant private car with full housekeeping equipment. The Pullman shops in Detroit started with an order to build two cars. Within five years of the same shops were turning out two completed cars each week. The career of the company founded by Mr. Pullman has been one of steady growth. At present it owns or controls about 2000 cars, which run over more than 126,000 miles of road. The Pullman cars were first introduced into England in 1873.

The City of Pullman.

It was in 1880, after the success of his car company was assured, that George M. Pullman gave form to the idea of building a model manufacturing town. He had studied the subject carefully for two or three years, and had visited Europe in search of practical suggestions. It was his fixed purpose to establish a model settlement for the car companies employees and their families. The charter of Pullman’s Palace Car Company did not permit that corporation to own more land than was actually needed for its manufacturing purposes. Mr. Pullman therefore personally bought 3500 acres of land near Chicago, and after deeding to the car company 500 acres in the center of the track for manufacturing purposes, he placed the remaining 3000 acres in trust for the Pullman Land Association. He took the precaution to restrict the sale of lots, so that no persons or business of an objectionable character could intrude.

The work of creating the city of Pullman was begun in May, 1880. Boulevards, streets, and parks were laid out and handsome buildings for public use were constructed, as well as the model dwellings for the working men. The most approved sanitary appliances were brought into requisition, and a comfortable hotel, handsome churches, schools, and a town hall were erected. 4000 workmen were employed at the outset in building the new town. The railroad station, market, a hotel, a church, and a schoolhouse were built before you single dwelling was begun. The drainage system was perfected at an outlay of $300,000. The land on which the city of Pullman was established cost $800,000, and in 1892 the value of that property as improved was estimated at about $5 million.

The first family moved into a house in the new settlement on September 20, 1881, and at the expiration of five years from time there was a population there of 9,000. Pullman is now a part of the city of Chicago and its distinct population is alleged to be 15,000. Mr. Pullman regarded the founding and development of the settlement as the crowning achievement of his career. In endeavoring to carry out his views he encountered much opposition and some criticism from the very people whom he declared that he was trying to help. Mr. Pullman established a savings bank in the city of Pullman, of which he was president, and for the past few years the deposits have abrogated nearly $600,000. Mr. Pullman occasionally deemed it necessary to explain that Pullman city was not established as a charity in any sense. Although he established it in a philanthropic spirit, he always intended that it should pay expenses, and he furthermore designed that there should be a wholesome discipline maintained there.

The Great Strike of 1894

Pullman strike soldier patrols train

Following the financial depression which began in 1893 the Pullman’s Palace Car Company found it necessary to cut down the rate of wages and reduce the number of its employees. The following year several road companies elected to take advantage of the hard times and low prices that prevailed, and contracted with the Pullman Company for new cars. The prices to be paid for the cars, as Mr. Pullman subsequently explained, were so low that in some cases there was no margin of profit. The car company, however, took back a large proportion of its former employees and started up all of the shops both at Pullman and at Detroit. The men in Pullman, advised by the officers of organized labor, demanded a restoration of the former scale of wages. This demand was refused, and upon presentation of a statement showing the company’s financial condition, the men agreed to go to work and let the question of wages rest for a while. Two days later, however, a strike was ordered by the American Railway Union, and all the Pullman employees quit work. Mr. Pullman, representing the company, declined to yield to the demands of the men, and also declined to consent to an arbitration. He claimed that the question of the wage paying ability of the Pullman Company was not a fit matter for arbitration.

Troops arrive in Chicago for Pullman strike

A general boycott of Pullman cars was next order, and this led to a general tie up of all of the Western railroads. Eugene V. Debs, as the head of the American Railway Union, practically took charge of the railroad business of the country for a few days. Although the situation became very serious and alarming, Mr. Pullman insisted that he was right, and refused to receive from his position. “Organized labor” denounced him bitterly. Mr. Debs and his associates soon ran counter to the laws of the United States, and General Miles was placed in command of the federal troops in Chicago, with orders to enforce the laws. The strike soon thereafter terminated, but it left a wrankle in feeling among the working man against Mr. Pullman. Read a more recent account of the Pullman Strike

Mr. Pullman knighted

Although George M. Pullman was regarded by his intimate friends is exceedingly Democratic in his tastes and habits he enjoyed the distinction of being one of the select few American court nobleman. Several years ago King Humbert of Italy bestowed upon the founder of the city of Pullman the Order of the Star and Cross. That distinction in gave Mr. Pullman the right to appear at court any ability as Sir Knight de Pullman, the privilege of which he never was known to avail himself.

Mr. Pullman’s domestic life was a happy one. He maintained a handsome residence in Chicago, and his wife and daughters were foremost in fashionable society there. Mr. Pullman also had many years a fine summer home at the Thousand Islands. His “Castle Rest” stands on one of the choicest islands in the St. Lawrence River.

Mr. Pullman spent much of his time in New York City, and his financial interests were varied and large. He was at one time president of an elevated railroad company in the city. After the Chicago fire Mr. Pullman was made treasurer of the Chicago Relief Fund, which aggregated more than $5 million. The dead millionaire was a member of all the leading Chicago clubs and of two or three New York clubs.

Mr. Pullman in Wall Street.

Mr. Pullman was at his office in the Mills building in the city last week. The news of his death sent the quotation for shares in the Pullman’s Palace car company, which was 176.5 Monday evening, to 167.5, but the closing price was 171.

Mr. Pullman’s interests in Wall Street were the subject of gossip and speculation. He once had about 80,000 shares of stock in his company, but these holdings were reduced sometime ago to less than half, and recently he sold several blocks of his stock. He had a large interest in New York Biscuit and Diamond Match, and in the choicer Granger stock and Boston and Maine Railroad. All these holdings, it was believed, would be kept out of the market, in accordance with the provisions made by Mr. Pullman sometime ago, in the belief that his end might be sudden.

Mr. Pullman’s fortune is variously estimated at from $12 million to $30 million.
Resources:

Pullman Museum








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