Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Touring Turn-of-the-Century America

[Detail] U.S.S. Alert. Photographer - W H Jackson, 1901 or 1902

3) The Pullman Strike

In September 1859, cabinet-maker George Pullman introduced the first railroad sleeping car. It became an overnight sensation as railroads offered nightly service to various destinations. The Pullman Palace Car Company soon opened near Chicago, Illinois with a factory and a company town for its workers.

Pullman, Illinois was the site of a vicious labor strike beginning in May 1894. Over the previous nine months, the Pullman factory had reduced its workers' wages but did not lower the cost of living in its houses. Pullman workers joined Eugene Debs's American Railroad Union (ARU) in the spring of 1894 and shut down the factory with a strike on May 11.

Management refused to deal with the ARU and the union prompted a nationwide boycott of Pullman cars on June 21. Other groups within the ARU started sympathy strikes on behalf of the Pullman workers in an attempt to paralyze the nation's railroad industry. The U.S. Army was called into the dispute on July 3 and the arrival of the soldiers sparked widespread violence and looting in Pullman and Chicago, Illinois.

The strike unofficially ended four days later when Eugene Debs and other union leaders were jailed. The Pullman factory reopened in August and denied local union leaders an opportunity to return to their jobs. A search on the term Pullman produces an image of the interior of a Pullman car and images of the company town, including exteriors of "Workmen's Houses" and "The Pullman Residence."

  • How would you describe the differences between the workers' homes and George Pullman's personal residence?
  • How do you think that the Pullman Strike reflected the class distinctions between the company's management and its laborers?
  • Do you think that living in a company town might exacerbate class tensions? What would be the benefits of living in a company town? How would having a company town benefit the company?
  • Why do you think that the Pullman company refused to negotiate with the American Railroad Union and refused to let union representatives return to work?