Thursday, 17 February 2011

George Pullman, American Entrepreneur and Creator of the Pullman Car

In the 19th century Pullman improved rail travel with comfortable railroad cars. He started with sleepers and expanded from there. He was also involved in other projects.

Nowadays the most famous Pullman cars are those that make up the Orient Express with its cream and brown livery. Although these carriages were built in the 20th century, they were invented in the mid-19th century.

George Mortimer Pullman - the Early Years

George was born in 1831 in Brockton, New York. His father was a farmer and his mother’s uncle owned a general store. After 4th grade George left school and went to work in the store.

In 1845 his father, Lewis, gave up farming and moved to Albion, NY, where he worked as a carpenter on the Erie Canal.

A few years later George joined his parents, as did two of his brothers.

Lewis invented a method of moving buildings and, when he died, George took over his place in the family cabinet making business. In 1854 he contracted with New York State to move about 20 buildings away from the canal.

In 1857 he helped raise buildings in Chicago so that a sewer system could be installed to control the annual flooding.

The First Sleeping Cars

There are an overnight train from Buffalo to Westfield, NY, but it was very uncomfortable and Pullman saw the potential for a more comfortable sleeping car.

In 1857 he formed a partnership with one of his friends, Benjamin C. Field, to build and operate these cars. They received a contract from the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad.

To being with they converted two cars, Pullman drawing on his experience of sleeping accommodation on the canal boats.

Field, who had been a New York State Senator, was more interested in politics so left the partnership.

The 1859 Colorado Gold Rush

George Pullman found another way to make money. Not by panning for gold but by providing (with James E. Lyon) a freight business and an ore crushing mill.

The partnership didn’t last long and shortly thereafter, along with Spafford C. Field (Benjamin’s brother), Pullman acquired acreage for Cold Spring Ranch. This became a base camp for the miners.

Back to Chicago and the Pullman Cars

In 1863 Springfield and Pioneer were built. They were expensive but they were clean, comfortable and beautiful. Each cost $18,000.

Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the President’s body was taken to his home in Springfield, Illinois, in a Pullman.

The publicity engendered piqued Andrew Carnegie’s interest and he became a major investor in the Pullman Company.

In 1867 Pullman created his first sleeper with attached kitchen and dining car and named it the President. The following year Delmonico joined the fleet, offering fine cuisine.

In 1869 Pullman consolidated his manufacturing operations in Chicago. The company produced five classes of carriages: hotel, parlor, reclining room, sleepers and diners.

Marriage, Family and Homes

George’s wife was Harriet (nee Sanger) whom he married in 1867. They had four children: Florence, Harriet, George Jr and Walter Sanger - the latter pair being twins.

Ten years later George had a house built on S. Prairie Ave, Chicago. It was demolished in 1922 under the provisions of Mrs. Pullman’s Will.

In 1888 George had another house built. This was on Pullman Island in Alexandria Bay. He also had homes in Albion, NY and Long Branch, NJ.

The Final Years

In 1880 Pullman purchased 4,000 acres near Lake Calumet (about 14 miles south of Chicago). Here he built his plant and adjacent town and called it Pullman.

Following employee unrest and a strike in 1894, the Illinois Supreme Court made the Pullman Company divest its ownership of the town. This was in 1898.

George Pullman didn’t live to hear of this ruling. He suffered a heart attack and died in 1897. He was 66 and was buried at the Graceland Cemetery.

The Bluebell Railway in Sussex uses Pullman coaches for special events. (


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