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. Its workers initially lived in a planned worker community (or “company town”) named Pullman.
George Mortimer Pullman was always an inventive, innovative entrepreneur. Legendarily, an extremely uncomfortable overnight train ride from Buffalo toWestfield, New York, caused him to realize that there was a vast market potential for comfortable, clean, efficient passenger service. He had a great deal of experience with compact and efficient sleeping accommodations thanks to his experiences with canal boats on the Erie Canal. He formed a partnership with former New York state senator Benjamin C. Field in 1857, one of his close friends and neighbors from Albion, to build and operate several sleeping cars. Pullman and Field secured a contract from the Chicago, Alton and St. Louis Railroad to develop a more comfortable sleeping car. Pullman and Field converted two moderately successful cars. Field, more interested in politics than rail cars, assigned his interest to Pullman in exchange for future loans.
In many ways, George Pullman intended his Palace Car Company to counter the discomfort, disorder, and discontinuity endemic to rail travel and modern urban life. As early as 1860, before his company had even existed, Pullman had been experimenting with railcar construction by outfitting his cars with sleeping berths that could be folded into chairs during the day. The innovation made Pullman’s cars wider than standard railcars, which initially prevented most railroads from carrying them on their narrower rails. After George Pullman secured the right for one of his cars to serve as Abraham Lincoln’s funeral car in 1865, interest in Pullman’s sleeping cars greatly expanded. In 1867, Pullman incorporated Pullman’s Palace Car Company with several investors and devoted himself to manufacturing sleeping cars.
But Pullman did more than simply manufacture sleeping cars. He also focused on transforming the entire experience of rail travel. As the photographs and documents below convey, Pullman emphasized the palatial aspects of his railcars. Outfitted with plush seating and ostentatious decorations, Pullman cars were intended to bring order and comfort to modern rail travel.