Friday, March 03, 2006

From Pullman Home to Pullman Hell


Industrialist George Pullman was born on this day in 1831 in Brocton, New York.

When Pullman, a school dropout, arrived in Chicago at the age of 14, he had an idea for solving the problem of knee-deep mud that plagued its streets, and by the age of 16, he and a few partners began making money raising houses and building new foundations underneath them. He used his share of the revenues to design and build a comfortable railroad sleeping car. When the huckstering Pullman arranged to have the body of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln brought from Washington to Springfield in a Pullman car, the orders came in faster than he could fill them.

Styling himself as a "welfare capitalist," Pullman wanted to inspire contented laborers without paying high wages, and in the service of this goal he designed (with architect Solomon Beman) and built the town of Pullman (now in Chicago's South Side) -- a model factory town on 4,000 acres, with charming Victorian homes equipped with indoor plumbing and natural gas, but in which all property was owned by the Pullman Company. At a time when most factory towns in the U.S. were collections of shabby hovels, the town of Pullman seemed like an enlightened achievement -- but as one demoralized employee noted, "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."

The Pullman Company's business was declining by the 1890s, and in 1894 George Pullman made draconian cuts in jobs and wages without reducing prices for basic services in the town of Pullman, inspiring Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union to launch a crippling lockout. The Pullman strike effectively shut down Pullman's operations, and led to a national sympathy strike, but after workers were blamed for the burning of buildings at Chicago's World Columbian Exposition, Grover Cleveland sent in 12,000 U.S. troops, commanded by Gen. Nelson Miles, to break up the strike. Before it was over, 13 strikers were killed, 57 were wounded, and an estimated $80 million worth of property was damaged.

After the strike, the town of Pullman was annexed by Chicago and sold off in pieces. After Pullman died on October 19, 1897 , he was buried in a Pullman car in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, locked in with steel rails and encased in concrete to prevent desecration of his grave.

Ambrose Bierce summed up popular reaction by noting, "It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofab*tch wasn't going to get up and come back."

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering, was the town of Pullman, Washington (the home of Washington State University) named for the same gentlemen?

12:52 PM  
Blogger RSchuler said...

Apparently, yes. The original name of the town was Three Forks, but the settlers renamed it "Pullman" after George Pullman donated $50 to the town's first 4th of July celebration. Wonder if they'd change it if I gave 'em $50.

3:23 PM  

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