The Glass of
Pullman Palace Car
It’s a long story, but I almost wrote a book on George Pullman and
his Pullman Palace Car Company. The book deal fell apart, but my
interest in George Pullman (above, left), his company, and the town that bears his
name (Pullman, Illinois) has remained to this day.
George Pullman is the inventor of the railroad sleeping car, called
the Pullman sleeper, or “palace car.” The first one was finished in
1864. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated a year later,
Pullman arranged to have the body carried from Washington, D.C. to
Springfield, Illinois, on a Pullman sleeper. His new sleeping cars
received national attention, and the orders began pouring in.
In 1867 Pullman introduced his first hotel on wheels, the President,
which was a sleeping car with an attached kitchen and dining car. A
year later he brought out the Delmonico, the world’s first sleeping
car devoted to fine cuisine.
In 1880 Pullman purchased 4,000 acres of land on the Illinois
Central Railroad, about twelve miles south of Chicago’s Loop. He
built his factory on this property. In an effort to solve the
problems of labor unrest and poverty, he also built a town next to
this factory. The town (Pullman) included housing for his employees
and also shopping areas, churches, theaters, parks, a library, and a
hotel. The Hotel Florence, named after his daughter, is shown below.
Pullman believed that country air and an environment free of
agitators, saloons, and vice districts would result in a happy and
loyal workforce. His planned community, pictured here, was a leading
attraction of the Columbian Exposition of 1893.
But there was trouble in Paradise. Pullman ruled his namesake town
like a feudal baron. He prohibited independent newspapers, public
speeches, town meetings, or open discussion. Some Pullman employees
summed up their situation as follows:
“We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught
in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when we
die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”
When the railroad car business declined in 1894, Pullman cut jobs
and wages but increased working hours in order to lower costs and
maintain profits. However, he did not lower prices or housing rent
payments in his town. This led workers to strike. This violent labor
upheaval was eventually broken up by President Grover Cleveland, who
sent in federal troops (much to the objection of Illinois Governor
In this picture, striking American Railway Union members confront
Illinois National Guard troops, who are guarding the Arcade Building
George Pullman died of a heart attack on October 18, 1897. Hatred
for the man remained even after the Pullman Strike had ended.
Fearing that angry employees would break into his grave and
desecrate his body, Pullman left written instructions for how he
should be buried.
Pullman was laid to rest at night in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.
Pursuant to his wishes, workers dug a hole thirteen feet long, nine
feet wide, and eight feet deep. A concrete slab, eighteen inches
thick, lined the bottom of the grave.
He was buried in a lead-lined casket, which was wrapped in tarpaper
and coated with asphalt an inch thick. Once the casket was in the
grave, a steel cage was placed around the casket. Then several tons
of concrete were poured into the hole.
As noted above, Pullman did all this for fear of people breaking
into his grave. But one sarcastic pundit made the opposite
observation: “It is clear the family in their bereavement was making
sure the son of a bitch wasn’t going to get up and come back.”
Pullman’s elaborate gravesite is shown at left.
There is at least one Pullman shot glass that appears to be
pre-prohibition. This thin-walled and paneled glass has just the
word, “Pullman” on it.
This one-word label is similar to this Pullman sleeper car creamer,
The original Pullman Palace Car Company was organized in 1867. It
was reorganized as The Pullman Company in 1900, which was again
reorganized as Pullman, Inc., in 1927.
My favorite Pullman glass is this whiskey glass. It bears the words,
“Pullman Company” on the inside bottom of the glass. Using the above
timeline as a guide, it appears that this glass is circa 1900-1927,
and thus may possibly be pre-prohibition.
George Pullman is gone. In a way, his town is
gone, too. Although the Pullman neighborhood has achieved national
and state landmark status, it was annexed into the City of Chicago
in 1889, and thus the town no longer exists as a separate
municipality. But thankfully, Pullman glasses are still around,
appearing occasionally on eBay. The Pullman Company whiskey glasses
almost always are the subject of fierce eBay bidding. I own two
clear glasses; I had a light green beauty once, but I foolishly gave
it to my younger son when he was a senior in college. (I told him
that if he was going to drink, at least he should drink in style.)
Thankfully, he loves the glass almost as much as