The Pullman Strike- 1894George Pullman's Pioneer:external image The Pullman Palace Car Company, founded by the industrial businessman George M. Pullman, was one of the first railroad companies to successfully build a sleeping car. During the 1800's, traveling long distances by train was very uncomfortable for passengers; most often stopped during the night to stay at a hotel. Therefore, with his background in cabinet-making, Pullman created an improved way to travel that would benefit the entire railroad industry. Once perfected, Pullman's sleeping car "The Pioneer" was sold to different railroad companies and marketed specifically towards wealthy middle and upper class citizens. Not long after Pullman's launch, his business techniques and efficient cars knocked out all other competition and earned himself a monopoly.

The Company: The company was established in the small town of Pullman, Illinois. Here, approximately 5,000 men and women worked under George Pullman. external image Pullman%27s_Palace_Car_Co._Stock_1884.jpgAlso in the town, the company supplied housing for most of its workers, therefore making George Pullman their landlord as well as their boss. This decision proved beneficial to Pullman because it increased the dependency his workers had on him and his business. In addition, the company began implementing management positions that reduced the power and respect of skilled workers in the industry. Pullman's efforts were geared towards maintaining power and profit while his workers began to slowly get cut off and ripped off. At one point, Pullman cut his workers from 5,500 people to 3,300. These drastic changes began to negatively dominate the work environment.The Workers: Up until George Pullman's working conditions changed, both black and white laborers were content with the wages they were receiving. Following thexternal image pullman-workers.jpge conventional rules about race in the labor force, white conductors and ticket collectors did earn higher wages than black luggage carriers, but the provided housing allowed them both to maintain a steady income. However, when conditions started getting bad, the workers joined a labor organization, the American Railway Union (ARU) and many attended their convention in 1894 hoping to receive advice or support on how to be treated fairly. This union would end up backing the Pullman workers throughout the whole strike. Causes: One of the largest contributions that fueled the Pullman Strike was the national economic depression that took place from 1893-1898. This depression resulted in the company lowering the workers' wages, but maintaining the same cost for housing in the hopes of keeping a profit. Subsequently, workers therefore were receiving less amount of money to pay for the same costly things. There was no middle ground for the company and its workers, so people grew upset. Also, with the new rules and management positions in place, many laborers felt they were being ill-treated and wanted to improve the conditions. When a group of workers met with Vice President Thomas Wickes to ask for a more suitable work place, there were no progressions made and three of those men were later fired without cause. This proved to be the straw that broke the backs of Pullman's workers; all of the reasons piled on and became too much to handle. As W. F. Burns said in his story documenting the strike: The Pullman Boycott: A Complete History of the Great R.R. Strike, "The Pullman Strike was not declared until the employees of the Pullman company were driven to the verge of starvation, their entreaties spurned with contempt, and their grievances denied a hearing." Finally fed up with the mistreatment and seeing no other option, the boycott that followed was inevitable.

The Strike:

On June 26, 1894 the American Railroad Union launched a boycott in which their employees refused to work on trains containing cars owned by the Pullman Palace Car Company. Within four days after the start of the boycott, 125,000 workers from twenty nine different railroads had stopped working in support of the Pullman employees. This action crippled the railroad industry and had negative effects on the economy throughout the country. However, as a 1894 New York Times article stated, "The men fear that the Pullman Company will use its Detroit and St. Louis shops to provide for emergency work." If the company were to follow through with that procedure, the boycott would have been for nothing. Luckily, the boycott was efficient, but the strike eventually ended when Presiexternal image haymarketb1a.gifdent Grover Cleveland sent in United States Marshals as well as 12,000 military troops. The president had the authority to use Federal resources because a court had ruled that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. mail and issued an injunction ordering the strikers back to work as well as prohibiting the ARU leaders from supporting the strike. Although this action ended the strike it did not come without a cost. Violence related to the strike caused 13 strikers to be killed and over fifty others to be wounded. The leader of the American Railroad Union, Richard Debs was arrested and charged with violating the courts injunction. Debs was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail. The boycott officially ended on August 2nd.

Effects of the Strike:

This strike caused many short and long term effects on the Pullman Palace Car Company and many other railroad companies. One of the first short term effects was the huge amount of money the companies lost. Overall the railroad companies lost about $80 million in business and an extra $6 million in property damages. This took a lot of time to get the companies back up and running successfully again. A long term effect of this strike was how it showed the power of unions. Even though the workers did not get the wages they wanted, this strike was the start of a growing national labor union that would eventually become very powerful. Labor unions grew enormously more popular after this strike. The Pullman Strike of 1894 had both short and long term effects that changed the railroad companies immensely.



"Pullman Strike". American History. ABC-CLIO. 7 May 2010.

Burns, W. F, Debs, Eugene V. The Pullman Boycott. A Complete History of the Great R.R. Strike.
The McGill Printing Co, 1894.

Lindsey, Almont. The Pullman Strike. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago,1942.

The Pullman Strike: Illinois During the Gilded Age. accessed 7 May 2010; available from

"Pullman Strikers Quietly Waiting." New York Times, 13 May 1894, pg. 5.