Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pullman Company

The Pullman Palace 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. Pullman developed the sleeping car which carried his name into the 1980s. The labor union associated with the company, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was organized by Pullman porters, was one of the most powerful African-American political entities of the 20th century. The company also built thousands of streetcars and trolley buses for use in cities.

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.

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