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

Pullmans Palace Car Co. - Page 3

Pullman established his first car works at Atlanta, Georgia, in 1866, and in the following year incorporated the Pullmans Palace Car Company at Chicago, Illinois (note there is no apostrophe in “Pullmans”), with a capital of $1 million, to manufacture the railroad sleeping car he had perfected. By then he had 37 sleeping cars in service on six railroad lines and orders were pouring in. He needed more space, and found it at the Burlington’s Aurora, Illinois shops.

But if comfort was king, then Pullman could not ignore the need for gourmet food and luxury cuisine. In 1868, his first dining car the Delmonico made its debut, built at a cost of $20,000 and named after the famous New York restaurant. It was 60' long, 10' wide, had two cooks and four waiters in white jackets, and could seat 48 diners. It was stocked with linens, crystal, silver and china worthy of the finest restaurants. The car was run over several railroads, but no one wanted a “non-revenue” car. So guess who helped Pullman out? The Alton was soon running Pullman’s diners on three of its trains. And they proved quite popular! {5}

Gradually new manufacturing plants sprang up from New York to California. Pullman was making chair cars and dining cars under contract for the railroads themselves, but he would not sell his sleeping car. Railroads signed contracts with Pullman for operation and maintenance of the cars. They charged passengers their first class fare plus 50 cents. They hauled the cars, and paid Pullman the 50 cents plus the cost of operation and maintenance. No wonder they became jealous of his profits! (See The Pullman Sleeping Cars page for details of his lease.) By 1872, Pullman had 500 sleeping, drawing room, and hotel cars on the roads, and was building three new ones a week. {10}

During the 1870s and 80s, the Pullmans Palace Car Company expanded dramatically. It bought out the competitors one by one: Knight, Woodruff, Flower and Mann all became parts of the Pullmans Palace Car Company. By 1880, Pullman cars were on nearly two-thirds of the nation’s tracks, and in 1880 Pullman  commenced the erection of his great works at the town of that name, which he also founded, south of Chicago.

Main administration building, the Pullman Co., 1893
Main Administration Building of the Pullmans Palace Car Company, 1893. From a publicity brochure published by the Pullman Company. Pullman Company Archives of the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

In 1887, George Pullman invented the passenger car vestibule and placed the first vestibule trains on the Pennsylvania Company’s trunk lines. It is interesting to note that although Pullman is credited with the invention, the patents were granted to H.H. Sessions, a Pullman company engineer.

Pullman Palace Car circa 1875.

Pullman “Palace” car circa 1875.

The December 1888 issue of the Official Railway Guide startled the railroad world (and most of all George M. Pullman) with this announcement: “Union Palace Car Co.... will commence operating SLEEPING AND PARLOR CARS on about 15,000 miles of railroad in January 1889.” Formed by Job H. Jackson of Jackson & Sharp, Union Palace Car Co. was in effect a consolidation of Woodruff Sleeping & Parlor Coach Co. and Mann Boudoir Car Co. These two companies operated a total of 34 cars on about 5,000 miles of railroads in the East, South, and Midwest. Pullman lost no time. Two months later Union Palace was purchased by Pullmans Palace for $2.5 million.

In 1891, Pullman began building streetcars. The car below is representative of its early product.

Streetcar by Pullman - 1891

George Pullman died in 1897, shortly after—and many say as a result of—the great strike at his Chicago plant. He had truly tried to benefit his employees in ways he thought best, and was heartbroken when they rejected his paternalism.

In 1899 Pullman expanded into the construction of freight cars and coaches for subways, the Wagner Palace Car Co. was consolidated into the firm, and the resulting business was reorganized as The Pullman Company. The Pullman Company began with property valued at $60 million. [More than $1.3 BILLION in 2005 buying power!] It had more than 2,500 sleeping, parlor, and dining cars carrying 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 passengers a year over the 125,000 miles of railroad under contract with the company.

From the Newark Daily Advocate for 3 April 1901 —

“Many people have wondered how much money can be made by a sleeping car. The income or earning capacity of a sleeping car is considerable. Take the run from New York to Chicago, 1,000 miles. Every road in the United States pays three cents a mile for the privilege of hauling a sleeper, and contracts to return said car in as good shape as it is received, and pay for all damages. The journey on the limited express to Chicago is made in 24 hours, therefore the car earns $30 a day for travel. If it is full, which is generally the case, receipts from berths, sections and state rooms  amount to $185, making a total revenue of $215 a day. Out of this must come the wages of the porter and conductor, the former, however, usually having charge of several cars—the towels, sheets, soap, ice, etc., the whole amounting to but a small sum. Earnings of $60,000 a year per car will about cover the case.”


The Pullman Company reached its peak during the 1920s, manufacturing new heavyweight cars at a rapid pace. Seeking to expand its freight car production, the Pullman Company merged with the Haskell and Barker Car Company in 1922. In 1924, the manufacturing department became a distinct firm, the Pullman Car and Manufacturing Corporation. In 1927, a parent or holding company, Pullman Incorporated, was created to oversee the two subsidiary firms. In 1929, Pullman Car and Manufacturing Corporation merged with the Standard Steel Car Company, forming the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company. In 1947 the Pullman Company (the operating company) was sold for roughly $40 million to a consortium of 57 railroads by order of a federal anti-trust decree.

For More Information

“President Lincoln’s Private Car.” Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette, March/April 1994 p 42.

Barger, Ralph L. A Century of Pullman Cars. Vol. 1, Alphabetical list, and Vol. 2, The Palace Cars. Greenberg Publishing Co., Inc., Sykesville, MD, 1988 and 1990.

Beebe, Lucius. Mr. Pullman's Elegant Palace Car: The Railway Carriage that Established a New Dimension of Luxury. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, NY: 1961

Glendinning, Gene V. The Chicago & Alton Railroad; The Only Way. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, June 2002.

Contains a good deal of information about Pullman, the start of his company, and his close ties with the Alton.)

Husband, Joseph. The Story of the Pullman Car. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1917. Reprint 1972 by Arno Press, New York; 1974 by Black Letter Press, Grand Rapids.

Evolution of the sleeping car and establishment and growth of the Pullman Company, with emphasis on manufacture and operation of the car. 161 pages with many illustrations and photographs.

Kaminski, Edward S. Pullman Standard Freight Cars, 1900-1960. Berkeley, CA: Signature Press, 2007.

A rich treasure trove of some 400 photographs from Pullman and Pullman-Standard, as well as predecessors Haskell & Barker, Standard Steel Car Co., and Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company.

Randall, W. David and William G. Anderson. The Official Pullman Standard Library. Godfrey, IL: Railway Production Classics, 1981-1995.

16 volumes, each covering a specific railway or region of the country. Detailed black and white photographs, fold-out engineering drawings. Average 200 - 7¾" x 9¾" pages.

White, John H. Jr. The American Railroad Passenger Car. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, OH, 1978, pp. 245-66

Wornom, Douglas C. Descriptive List of Cars of the Pullman Company-March, 1961 With Supplements to June 15, 1967. Chicago, IL Owen Davies, Bookseller 1970.

In the last hours of December, 1968, the Pullman Company went out of the railroad sleeping car business after more than 100 years of service to the traveling public. These car listings were issued by the Pullman Company in 1961 and supplements effective as of June, 1967.


The Pullman Era. Chicago Historical Society. A paper on George Pullman, his cars, the community he built and the famous strike.

A Pullman Timeline.” Pullman Virtual Museum. [Searched for this broken link 2 Jan 2006 and received only Page Not Found, yet it has links from within the website itself.]

Online points to begin in-depth research —

Chicago Historical Society Research Center. ARCHIE (Access for Researching Chicago Historical Information Electronically) is the CHS online catalog.

Pullman Palace Car Company Collection 1867-1979. National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution). Online description of holdings.

Mr. and Mrs. Arthur D. Dubin Pullman Palace Car Co. Construction and Registration Books, 1875-1911. National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution). Online description of holdings.

Newberry Library of Chicago. Railroad Archives. Online description of holdings, and
Guide to the Pullman Company Archives (PDF).

“Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company of Butler, Pennsylvania Records [ca. 1902-1982].” Pennsylvania State Archives. Online description of holdings.

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12 May 2007

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