The comfort of many passengers in train journeys can be credited to George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897), an American inventor and businessman. Pullman is best remembered for improving railway sleeping cars.
Pullman was born on March 3, 1831, in Brocton, New York, where he worked as a cabinetmaker until 1855. After a failed effort to operate a general store in Colorado, he went to Chicago and persuaded the Chicago and Alton Railroad to allow him to convert two-day coaches into sleeping cars. These cars he equipped with mattresses and blankets; they had washrooms and were lit by oil lamps, all the trappings of comfort.
In 1863, Pullman built the «Pioneer», the first car that became known as a pullman. The Pioneer became an important vehicle when the funeral party for Abraham Lincoln traveled on it to Illinois. The car was so large that bridges along the route had to be raised and railway platforms removed. Pullman built and operated a number of these cars, and, in 1867, with Andrew Carnegie, he organized the Pullman Palace Car Company, the nearest thing to a hotel on wheels. Eventually, the Pullman Palace Car Company became the largest railroad car business in the world.
Pullman built a town called Pullman, south of Chicago, inhabited mostly by his employees. Eventually the twelve thousand inhabitants sued him, claiming that his charges for rent and utilities far exceeded those of the surrounding area. The court ordered the properties sold to the inhabitants.
Before long, Pullman showed an even deeper animosity toward his employees. He discharged more than half of them and then rehired them at a much lower wage. Pullman brooked no interference from his employees, saying that they were not permitted to discuss with him any problem. He fired anyone who tried to talk with him about employment conditions. «The workers have nothing to do with the amount of wages they shall receive», he declared.
The American Railway Union announced a boycott against any railway employing Pullman cars. President Cleveland apparently was unsympathetic to strikers or boycotts. He ordered federal troops into Chicago to enforce an injunction imposed by the courts. Riots ensued, and people were killed. Eugene Debs, the president of the union, was jailed. Pullman endured. He broke the strike with the aid of a cavalry escort of a trainload of meat that passed through the strike line.
In 1947, the Supreme Court upheld an antitrust suit and ordered that the company be sold to a railroad syndicate. Although all this came to pass, sleeping cars are still called pullmans.