The Town of Pullman

George Mortimer Pullman was one of the great industrialists of the time. He was a creative, successful inventor, strategist, and executive - a perfect businessman. He recognized that the lives of his employees did not end when they left work at night. This is how he came to build the first model town in industrial America - a different kind of railroad town. Industrial towns such as these had already been in existence for years in England, where they were dominated by the railways[53].

Pullman had invented a sleeping car for the Chicago & Alton Railroad. By 1867 the orders were pouring in. Everywhere railroads were altering stations and bridges to make them suitable for Pullman's cars, because they were a foot wider and 2,5 feet higher than regular railroad cars for the maximum comfort for the passenger. The Pullman Palace Car Company was incorporated in Illinois, and gradually new plants sprang up from New York to California. Pullman had come up with other inventions such as the restaurant car, the dining car, and the chair car, and made them on contract for the railroads themselves, but he would not sell his sleeping car.

Soon, more manufacturing facilities were needed. Pullman saw that other companies were troubled by labor struggles. Strikes occurred at crucial times and slowed down production. Men got drunk and stayed home to recover or they found other jobs once they had acquired skills. Pullman thought that if he gave his workers a decent place to live, he would get a better class of workmen. The cost of labor could be reduced and unrest would become contentment. Most importantly, if he owned the town, he could protect his town from corrupting influences. He could keep the environment as controlled as a church or a prison. Some of the Pullman directors had objections to using corporate funds for this purpose. They argued that their business was manufacturing and operating railroad cars, not real estate. But George Pullman won the argument and found a perfect site for the new shops. It was the prairie twelve miles south of Chicago's business district. It was the central point of US railroad activity, and was accessible to more major railroads than any other place in the country. But it was also relatively isolated, far from the residential areas of the working class. The only way to acquire a labor force was to build the housing accommodations.

In 1880 the Pullman Company bought an area of land of four thousand acres, almost seven square miles, on the west shore of Lake Calumet. It was in the town of Hyde Park, and the town of Pullman was erected on three hundred acres. One tenth of the beautiful community was taken up by its parks. A miniature lake was created for boating and swimming, with an island in the middle for athletic activities. Every street was paved with macadam. The sidewalks were usually paved with wood and were lined with shade trees. The company landscaped every front lawn of every house in town. All the buildings were yellow brick, made in Pullman itself of clay dredged from Lake Calumet.

By 1885 the town had fourteen hundred living units, most of them with five rooms. The company was strict with repairs. There were occasional complaints when two families had to share a toilet, while in Chicago few homes had any indoor plumbing at all. Health conditions and sanitation were excellent, the company even provided garbage containers which were emptied daily. Schooling was free through the eighth grade, with the only condition being that all pupils had to be vaccinated for smallpox. Another pioneering provision was a kindergarten for children between the ages of four and six. An evening school taught subjects such as bookkeeping and stenography. There was a lively cultural life in the town. There was a theater with one thousands seats, a library, a Military Band composed entirely of men who worked for the company, and an extensive athletic program.

The town grew each year. It was at its peak in 1893 when the population of the town was 12,600. The town grew in value as well. The land had cost $800,000 in 1880, and was estimated as being worth $5 million twelve years later. But George Pullman had his problems with the town, too. He kept his eyes on everything. In his view, liquor and prostitution were bad, so he banned both from the town. The town was his brainchild, and he would run it his way. He believed in Puritan virtues such as hard work, sobriety and individual responsibility. But many of his workers came from different traditions. As early as 1884, over half of his workers were foreign born. Within eight years the rate was 72 percent. There were mostly Scandinavians, as well as British, Germans, Dutch, and Irish. Many of them saw no harm in a glass of beer and wanted to practice their own religion. Pullman had special ideas about religion as well. There was one church building in town, owned - of course - by Pullman himself. The rent on it was so high that no congregation could afford to pay it. The Presbyterians tried it for a few years and went bankrupt.

From the very beginning, Pullman's eccentric ways aroused opposition. There were a few small strikes in 1882 (when the company announced it would pay only half of the round-trip fare for the employees living in Chicago), 1884 (against a wage cut), 1888 and 1891, but the Pullman Company proved stronger than its employees every time. In 1893, the company announced that "during the eleven years the town has been in existence, the Pullman working-man has developed into a distinctive type - distinct in appearance, in dress, in fact, in all the external indications of self-respect. . .[54]"

Precisely those 'external indications' Pullman could control, but he could not legislate against the bitterness within. One inhabitant of Pullman once said: "We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shop, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when we die we shall be buried in the Pullman cemetery and go to the Pullman hell.[55]" Not long after the company had congratulated itself on its fine workers, the bitterness of those same 'distinctive types' exploded into action, which is shown in chapter 24.