|George M. Pullman|
The first train sleeping cars were invented by Benjamin C. Field and George Mortimer Pullman. Field was a New York State senator and Pullman was an entrepreneur. After spending an uncomfortable night sleeping on a train car from Buffalo, New York to Westfield, New York, Pullman was of the opinion there had to be a more comfortable way to sleep on a train at night. Enlisting the help of his friend Field, the two formed a partnership and obtained a contract with the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis railroad to build a sleeping car. Pullman and Field built two sleeping cars. Afterward, Field decided he preferred politics to business, so he signed over his interests in the company to Pullman in exchange for loans.
|Pullman Sleeping Car|
Pullman went back to Chicago in 1863 and built the Springfield, named after President Lincoln’s hometown, and the Pioneer. Both cars cost thousands to build and were clean, comfortable and beautiful. Pullman expanded the company and went on to build the President. The President car not only had sleeping accommodations, but came equipped with a kitchen and dining area. The Delmonico came into existence in 1868. Like the President, the Delmonico had a kitchen and dining area, and was the first car devoted to serving fine cuisine. All of the Pullman sleeping cars came with top-of-the-line service. Most were staffed by former slaves serving as porters, waiters, valets, chambermaids and even entertainers. During this time, Benjamin Field dissolved his partnership with Pullman and the company became known as the Pullman Palace Car Company. Pullman became president and general manager of the company and handled the marketing for the sleeping car. His brother, Albert, managed the manufacturing aspect of the company.
Pullman bought the Detroit Car and Manufacturing Company in 1863. He consolidated all of his operations into one company and built five types of cars, to include hotel, parlor, reclining room, sleeper and dining cars. He also bought out some of his competitors, and by 1875, the company was a successful business model.
|Interior of a Pullman Sleeping Car|
The inside of a Pullman car easily rivaled a New York hotel room. Folks who could afford to pay to ride the rails cross country didn’t balk at the extra charge to travel in comfort in a Pullman car. Thick curtains or silk shades covered the windows. The walls were covered in a rich, dark walnut shade. Seats were covered in plush upholstery. Fixtures were brass and chandeliers hung from ceilings painted in elaborate designs. During the day, the sleeper car resembled a regular train car. At night, the car took on the appearance of a 2-story hotel room. Seats unfolded into lower sleeping berths. Upper berths folded down from the ceilings. Porters installed privacy partitions to complete the effect of a hotel room.
As industry grew and safety laws came into effect, railroad cars went from being constructed of wood to steel. In 1907, Pullman unveiled its first steel sleeping car, The Jamestown. The company’s best years manufacturing all types of train cars were the 1920’s. But as automobiles and airplanes became popular after the wars, the glamour of the sleeping car faded. The last Pullman sleeping car came off the line in 1981. It is still in existence today as part of Amtrak’s Empire Builder, covering the Chicago to Seattle route.