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PULLMANS were the railroad sleeping cars that, when introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, popularized long-distance rail travel. In 1836–1837, the Cumberland Valley Railroad of Pennsylvania installed sleeping-car service between Harrisburg and Chambersburg by adapting the ordinary day coach to sleeping requirements. Each car contained four compartments of three bunks each, built on one side of the car, and there was one rear section for washing facilities. Passengers could read only by candlelight, and box stoves warmed them. The seats and floors of most cars were filthy, and compartments were usually crowded. Passengers could only justify travel under such circumstances as a painful duty.

In 1855, a New York cabinetmaker, George M. Pullman, arrived in Chicago to apply his inventive ability to altering these conditions. Three years later, in Bloomington, Illinois, Pullman remodeled two Chicago and Alton coaches into sleeping cars, each of which contained ten sleeping sections, two washrooms, and a linen locker. Although this venture proved unprofitable, in 1864 Pullman decided to create a more elaborate car, which was equipped at a cost of $20,178.14, a huge amount for car construction in that day. The "Pioneer," as it was called, was bigger and wider than Pullman's first attempt and contained a folding upper berth, sliding seats, artistically decorated furnishings, special car springs, and better lighting, heating, and ventilation. In 1867 the Pullman Palace Car Company was incorporated with a capitalization of $1 million. In the same year the new luxurious sleeping-car model, the "President," included a kitchen, the predecessor of the dining car. In 1870 a Pullman car completed its first transcontinental journey. In 1883 the Pullman Company introduced to the United States the brilliant Pintsch gaslight as an illuminant and was a pioneer in the introduction of electric lighting.

Other improvements followed, and the Pullman Company outdistanced competitors. Indeed, the company proved so successful that an antitrust suit forced Pullman in 1947 to sell off its car-operating business and to concentrate solely on car manufacturing. By contrast, in the late nineteenth century, the Pullman Company ran into more difficulties when it experimented with industrial paternalism by building a company town outside Chicago for its workers. Workers resented their employer's attempts to impose bourgeouis culture on them and to control many facets of their private lives, and the famous Pullman Strike, beginning in 1893, eventually dissolved the community. Nevertheless, Pullman service, by introducing comfort to transportation, revolutionized travel both in the United States and abroad.


Leyendecker, Liston E. Palace Car Prince: A Biography of George Mortimer Pullman. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1991.

Papke, David Ray. The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

HarveyWish/a. e.

See alsoAmerican Railway Union ; Labor ; Pullman Strike ; Railroads ; Transportation and Travel .