George Pullman 1831-1897

The Pullman Sleeping Car was invented by George Pullman in 1857

Roald Amundsen Pullman Private Railroad Car
Teemu008/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pullman Sleeping Car was invented by cabinet-maker turned building contractor turned industrialist George Pullman in 1857. Pullman's railroad coach or sleeper was designed for overnight passenger travel. Sleeping cars were being used on American railroads since the 1830s, however, they were not that comfortable and the Pullman Sleeper was very comfortable.

George Pullman and Ben Field began the commercial manufacture of the Sleepers in 1865. When a Pullman car was attached to the funeral train carrying Abraham Lincoln's body the demand for the sleeping car increased.

George Pullman and the Railroad Business

As the railroad industry developed, George Pullman established the Pullman Palace Car Company to manufacture railroad cars. Funded by George Pullman at a total cost of $8 million, the town of Pullman, Illinois was built on 3,000 acres west of Lake Calumet in 1880 to provide housing for his company workers. He established a complete town around the company where employees of all income levels could live, shop, and play.

Pullman, Illinois was the site of a vicious labor strike beginning in May 1894. Over the previous nine months, the Pullman factory had reduced its workers' wages but did not lower the cost of living in its houses. Pullman workers joined Eugene Debs's American Railroad Union (ARU) in the spring of 1894 and shut down the factory with a strike on May 11. Management refused to deal with the ARU and the union prompted a nationwide boycott of Pullman cars on June 21. Other groups within the ARU started sympathy strikes on behalf of the Pullman workers in an attempt to paralyze the nation's railroad industry. The U.S. Army was called into the dispute on July 3 and the arrival of the soldiers sparked widespread violence and looting in Pullman and Chicago, Illinois.

The strike unofficially ended four days later when Eugene Debs and other union leaders were jailed. The Pullman factory reopened in August and denied local union leaders an opportunity to return to their jobs.