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Pullman Sleeping Car
George Mortimer Pullman, inventor of the Pullman sleeping
car, was born on March 3, 1831 in Brocton, New York. He dropped
out of school at age 14, but he had a natural knack for business.
He began working with a merchant and then took on an apprenticeship
in cabinet-making at age 17.
Pullman's father had been involved in contracting the
moving of large buildings when the Erie Canal was widened.
When Pullman moved to Chicago (at age 22), he was able to
sell a similar concept there, when the city established a
new sewer system. In order for sewage to drain into the river,
the new pipes and streets were raised as high as ten feet
above ground. Pullman began a business with a couple of partners
to construct new foundations for buildings and then move them
on top of them. He was quite successful, and made enough money
to begin work on an idea he'd been thinking about for
years — how to build a comfortable, luxury passenger
Pullman first remodeled some old coaches from the Chicago
and Alton Railroad into sleeping cars. By 1863 he had finalized
a design for what he called the 'Pioneer' car, and he forged
ahead on a design for what would become known as the Pullman
sleeper, finishing it in 1864. These cars were very expensive,
at more than five times the price of what a regular railway
car cost. The luxurious cars had sleeper compartments with
fine sheets and pillows, and were outfitted with accordioned
connectors between cars to keep out wind and noise.
After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Pullman
arranged to have one of his cars transport the President's
body from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. This
event received a great deal of national attention, and shortly
thereafter orders began pouring in. The railroad car business
would eventually make him a fortune. His business model was
to lease, rather than sell, his sleepers to railways, which
would also pay Pullman a portion of the premium they charged
passengers to ride in the cars.
To accommodate demand, Pullman built a plant outside Chicago.
But there, on the shores of Lake Calumet, Pullman took it
one step further, building a town there so his employees could
live, shop, eat, and entertain themselves. With over two thousand
cars on the rails, his company was worth $62 million in 1893.
Pullman's master plan backfired, however, when business
began to decline in 1894, and workers' wages, and living
conditions, declined. The 'Pullman Strike' became
an infamous event in U.S. labor history. Many Pullman cars
were cut from trains in a show of solidarity with the Pullman
workers. Eventually the State of Illinois absorbed the town
of Pullman back into the city of Chicago. Nevertheless, Pullman's
designs for sleeping cars and dining cars, which he introduced
in 1868, set the standard for comfortable railroad travel.
Pullman died on October 19, 1897. His reputation had been
so badly tarnished after the strike incident that his family
was worried former employees might try to desecrate his corpse.
They buried him in Graceland cemetary, in a deep grave which
they covered with asphalt, concrete and steel rails.