Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Wagner Palace Car Company

New York Central Sleeping Car Company

The Wagner Palace Car Company began as the New York Central Sleeping Car Company, founded in 1858 at New York City by Webster Wagner (1817-1882) in cooperation with Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose New York Central was the primary user of the four original coaches.

Wagner learned the wagon-making trade from his elder brother, with whom he formed a partnership. When that business failed, he become a station agent for the New York Central in his home town of Palatine Bridge, New York, where he apparently came to the attention of the Commodore.

In 1869, the Gates Sleeping Car Company was absorbed and the firm reorganized as the Wagner Palace Car Company. Gates had been one of the earliest—if not the earliest—of the sleeping car companies. Its bunk-type cars had been in operation on the Lake Shore Railroad as early as 1858.

About 1870 Wagner negotiated a deal with Pullman to use its berths in the Wagner cars, with the understanding Wagner would confine its operations to the NYC. But in 1875, when Pullmans contract with the Michigan Central (a NYC subsidiary) expired, Wagner persuaded them to switch to Wagner cars. Pullman sued. The suit went to court and testimony was taken until it became clear there was a great similarity between the seats in question and those used in 1843 in cars built for the Erie Railroad by the John Stephenson Company, at which point the suit was suddenly settled out-of-court lest both companies lose their profits!

Interior of Wagner Palace car, 1875 Interior of Wagner Palace car, 1875.


Webster Wagner died in 1882 aboard one of his own sleeping cars in a terrible rear-end collision. The company nevertheless continued doing business, and in 1888 was in court again with Pullman, this time for having allegedly infringed upon Pullmans vestibule patents. This time Pullman clearly won.

The Wagner Palace Car Company was one of the largest employers in Buffalo in 1890. Its works occupied 35.7 acres at 1770 Broadway out at the east end of Broadway near Broadway and Bailey. In addition to brass finishers, the company employed blacksmiths, car builders, carpenters, carvers, marble finishers, steamfitters and even a storekeeper! Most of these workers lived on the East Side of Buffalo. They probably either walked, rode a bicycle or took a horse drawn street car to work.

The battles between the Pullman and Wagner companies continued until, at the end of 1899, following Commodore Vanderbilts death, the directors of the Wagner Palace Car Company pulled the plug, and the company was sold to Pullman 1 January 1900.

Interior of Wagner Palace car 1897 Interior of Wagner Palace car, 1897.

For More Information

“Wagner Palace Car Sleeping Cars.” NMRA Bulletin, May 1977 page 52. Includes drawing by Ed Cray.

11 April 2006

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