Vol. 6, No. 5, Wednesday January 5, 2011

by dick bales

The Glass of the

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 John Altgeld).

In this picture, striking American Railway Union members confront Illinois National Guard troops, who are guarding the Arcade Building in Pullman.

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, shown here.

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 I do.


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