Pullman Company records
Scope and Content of the Collection
Comprising the business archives of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company and the Pullman Company, records at the Newberry Library date from 1867 and include records of the entire firm up to the 1924 split into operating (sleeping car operation, service and repair) and manufacturing companies. From 1924 - 1981, the records chronicle the activities of the operating company only.
Documentation of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company from 1867 to 1900, while varied and extensive, is far from complete. Fragmentary records of company executives, including George M. Pullman and Robert T. Lincoln, offer only a suggestion of the range of their activities. Luckily, the corporate secretary’s office retained many official documents, including the charter and by-laws, Board of Trustee minutes, car construction (non-sleeping car), operating, and other contracts, securities, and some patent records. The company was also careful to retain financial records, including annual financial statements, corporate ledgers and journals, and payroll records. Rate books and history of lines records also exist for this period, as do important records of the operation of such subsidiary and acquired companies as Pullman Company Limited (London), Mann’s Boudoir Car Company, and Wagner Palace Car Company.
The manufacturing record is incomplete for early Pullman cars. Specifications, drawing lists, and blueprints frequently exist in the secretary’s office contract files for street, private, passenger, and freight cars ordered by railroad companies and other firms and individuals, but such records are not extant for sleeping cars. To some extent the gap is filled by pre-1900 equipment standards, car construction cost and delivery records dating from 1871, printed floor plans, descriptive lists of cars, and a limited number of photographs of car exteriors, interiors, and furnishings.
For nineteenth century employees, the sole complete record begins in 1887 and is contained in the payrolls mentioned above. In addition, there are time and absentee records for several company departments, employee discharge registers, isolated employee service records, employee instruction books, and circulars announcing managerial and supervisory job appointments.
Fortunately, an unparalleled public view of the affairs of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company is given in contemporary scrapbook volumes containing newspaper clippings and periodical articles from the around the world. These volumes offer a full record of the 1894 strike, the town of Pullman, and other activities for which there are few existing corporate files.
From 1900 to its sale to the railroads in 1947, Pullman Company operations are very well represented in the archives. In addition to record series continuing on from the previous century, there is significant material relating to: the construction, remodelling, and shopping of heavyweight cars; the Pullman Company work force and labor unions; new departments such as public relations, safety, and medicine and sanitation; operations of the Pullman Company in Mexico; Interstate Commerce Commission involvement in the setting of rates and the valuation of property, cars, and equipment; and corporate reorganizations, including voluminous records of the 1940’s anti-trust suit.
Sleeping car records include those relating to technological advances located in the secretary’s office patent files and in the administrative files of the Chief Engineer. For many heavyweight and a few lightweight cars there are floor plans and other drawings; car construction record sheets listing individual car specifications, repairs, and modifications; car lot specifications files containing specs, drawing lists, photographs and blueprints; and more photographs of car interiors and exteriors taken at the time of construction. Systemization is reflected in the equipment and supply specifications, standards and product testing records, and parts catalogs. Also of interest are records of Pullman’s brief foray into the manufacture of automobile bodies in the 1920s.
Labor relations records are plentiful and concern company union activities and investigation of union organizers in the 1920s, labor union negotiations, federally mediated disputes, and employee claims and grievances. Demographic and work histories of thousands of individual employees appear in employee service records of porters (almost exclusively African American), conductors, attendants, maids, and laundry, yard, shop, and clerical employees. There are also a few service records of Pullman Car Works employees who resigned from 1918 to 1929, and application files of conductors and porters. More information on workers can be found in the files compiled to administer pensions, railroad retirement payments, life insurance, and other benefits, and in disability, discharge, and injury records.
From the beginning of railroad ownership of the company until its demise in 1969, voluminous administrative files of the President, Vice President Operating, Director of Employee and Labor Relations, General Counsel, Chief Mechanical officer, and other executives evidence the twenty-two year final decline of the firm. On the hopeful side, the files show attempts to reverse the downward slide in consultants’ recommendations, advertising, and investment in new equipment such as the Slumbercoach. But there is also much information about the closing of shops, laundries, and other facilities, the storage and sale of cars and equipment, and the final separation of employees from the firm. Records of corporate governance and finance include minutes of the railroad owner Advisory Committee and files documenting negotiation and fulfillment of operating agreements with the railroads. There are also files regarding the activities of the skeleton central office staff from 1969 to 1981 as they tied up loose ends and conducted a defense in the Denver Case.
The Archives are arranged within a hierarchical organizational framework or record group structure based upon the Pullman Company corporate organization. Files are placed in fifteen record groups representing the company’s larger divisions or departments, and special formats such as artifacts, scrapbooks, and audiovisual materials. Within the record groups are subgroups representing smaller departments or offices, and categories of materials (e.g., photographs are a subgroup of the audiovisual record group). Record series within each subgroup (or record group if no subgroup has been assigned) bring together related records in a logical arrangement. There are a total of 148 record series in the Archives, comprising 2,069 cubic feet.
All record groups, subgroups, and series are assigned two-digit numbers that when placed together constitute a unique identification or call number for a particular body of records. For example, Car Drawings, Specifications, etc., are given the number 05/02/03, representing the Operating Department (Record Group 05) and the Office of the Chief Engineer (Subgroup 02). The series number 03 means that Car Drawings, Specifications, etc., is the third record series in that particular subgroup. This identification number, along with a container number and folder or volume number, is necessary to retrieve a particular set of records from the Library stacks.
- Creation: 1859-1982
- Pullman Company (Organization)
Materials are in English.
The Pullman Company records are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).
Medical records and records of disciplinary action are closed for a period of fifty years after the creation of the record. Such records may be disclosed only to the named individual or his legal representative. Application and service files that may contain medical and disciplinary information will be reviewed and records removed before the files are supplied to a researcher.
Personnel records less than fifty years old and not specified in (1) above are open for research with the user's written assurance that information from the records will be used for statistical or summary purposes only and that no specific names or individually identifiable information will be disclosed. Such information may be revealed only if the individual or his legal representative agrees to its release, or if the individual is deceased.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Pullman Company records are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of Pullman Company
In its century of operation the Pullman’s Palace Car Company and later Pullman Company rose quickly, employing thousands in the manufacture and operation of sleeping cars on railroads throughout North America. But the firm fell victim just as suddenly in the decades after World War II to the convenience, comfort, and speed of road and air travel. During its heyday, Pullman systematized railroad car construction, building the largest car plant in the world at Pullman; attempted to improve the living conditions of its workers by applying business principles to the construction and operation of a model company town; revolutionized rail travel, operating the largest hotel in the world, at its peak accommodating 26,000,000 passengers a year; and dramatically increased employment opportunities for African Americans, who served as porters on its cars. Beyond that, Pullman had a significant effect on the American labor movement and on the economies of the many cities where it operated shops and yards.
Recognizing a market for luxurious rail travel, George M. Pullman, who had earlier experimented with sleeping car construction and was wealthy from the provisioning and transporting of Colorado miners in the early 1860s, incorporated the Pullman’s Palace Car Company in 1867. By the 1870s his operations were already national and included the operation of sleeping cars under contract with the nation’s railroads, the manufacture of cars at the Detroit Works, and the creation of subsidiary firms serving Great Britain and Europe. In the three decades before the turn of the century, the prosperous company grew enormously and included a much heralded model company town adjacent to the new car works at Pullman, Illinois. Acclaim turned to condemnation following the nationwide strike that originated at the Pullman Car Works in 1894. Pullman died soon after in 1897, two years before his company absorbed its last major competitor, the Wagner Palace Car Company, which had been financed by the Vanderbilts.
The Pullman’s Palace Car Company entered the twentieth century with a new name, the Pullman Company, and a new President, Robert Todd Lincoln. An extremely profitable virtual monopoly, the Pullman Company began replacing its wood cars with safer all steel bodied models (heavyweights) in its newly segregated Manufacturing Department and at the same time (1906) came under the regulation of the Interstate Commerce Commission. From 1918 to 1920, the United States Railroad Administration, citing the war emergency, assumed control of the operating arm of the firm, renamed the Pullman Car Lines for the duration of federal control.
The Pullman Company reached its peak during the 1920s, manufacturing new heavyweight cars at a rapid pace. Seeking to expand its freight car production, Pullman merged with the Haskell and Barker Car Company in 1922. Edward F. Carry and his Haskell and Barker associates assumed the presidency and other executive positions in the enlarged Pullman Company. More reorganization took place in 1924 when the Pullman Company Manufacturing Department became a distinct firm, the Pullman Car and Manufacturing Corporation, and in 1927, when a parent or holding company, Pullman Incorporated, was created to oversee the two subsidiary firms. In 1929, following Carry’s death, President David A. Crawford engineered the merger of the Pullman Car and Manufacturing Corporation with the Standard Steel Car Company, forming the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company.
During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Pullman sought to impede the unionization of its workers by offering new benefits including a Pension Plan in 1914, a death benefit plan in 1922, and a Plan of Group Insurance in 1929. F. L. Simmons’ Industrial Relations Department, created in 1920, also directed the formation of company-sponsored, occupationally-based unions under the Plan of Employee Representation. A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and other unions would not successfully organize company workers until the New Deal Railway Labor Act of 1934 forbade corporate interference in union matters.
The Depression marked the end of Pullman prosperity. Both the number of car orders and sleeping car passengers declined precipitously. The firm laid off car plant and service workers, reduced fares, and introduced such innovations as the single occupancy section in an effort to fill its cars. During this decade the firm built fewer new cars, but it added air conditioning to its existing heavyweights and remodelled many into compartment sleepers.
In 1940, just as orders for lightweight cars were increasing and sleeping car traffic was growing, the United States Department of Justice filed an anti-trust complaint against Pullman Incorporated in the U. S. District Court at Philadelphia (Civil Action No. 994). The government sought to separate the company’s sleeping car operations from its manufacturing activities. In 1944 the court concurred, ordering Pullman Incorporated to divest itself of either the Pullman Company (operating) or the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company (manufacturing). After three years of negotiations, the Pullman Company was finally sold to a consortium of fifty-seven railroads for around 40 million dollars. Carroll R. Harding was named President of this new Pullman Company.
The new Pullman Company started out optimistically in 1947 with good passenger traffic figures, but the years following brought steady and marked decline. Regularly scheduled lines were cancelled, all shops except St. Louis and Chicago were closed, employees were furloughed, and major railroad owners such as the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad totally or partially withdrew from service. On January 1, 1969, at the age of 102, the Pullman Company ceased operation, though it maintained a small central office staff to wind up affairs and handle an equal pay for equal work lawsuit (Denver Case) that continued in the courts until 1981.
2132.3 Linear Feet (776 boxes, 830 record cartons, 22 oversize boxes, 69 oversize folders,1687 volumes, 9 film reels, 3 filmstrips, and 1 steel locker)
Records of this railroad sleeping-car operator and manufacturer. The Pullman Company (originally Pullman's Palace Car Company) revolutionized rail travel, dramatically increased employment opportunities for African Americans who served as porters on its cars, and had a significant impact on the American labor movement. Records for the entire firm are included until the mid-1920s division into operating and manufacturing companies; after that date, records mainly chronicle the activities of the operating company. Included are voluminous individual employee records and labor relations documents; the records of individual Pullman cars (e.g., drawings, specifications, photographs); scrapbooks documenting nineteenth-century operations, including the Town of Pullman and the Strike of 1894; records of subsidiary and absorbed companies; administrative, legal, financial, and securities records; and much more.
Papers are organized in the following record groups:
- Record Group 01: President, 1867-1982
- 73.5 linear feet (21 boxes, 43 record cartons, and 26 volumes)
- Record Group 02: Secretary and Treasurer, 1862-1980 (bulk 1867-1980)
- 182.5 linear feet (99 boxes, 42 record cartons, 4 oversize boxes and 186 volumes)
- Record Group 03: Office of Finance and Accounts, 1867-ca. 1980 (bulk 1867-ca. 1970)
- 531.4 linear feet (42 boxes, 141 record cartons, 5 oversize boxes, and 967 volumes)
- Record Group 04: Law Department, 1878-1980 (bulk 1888-1980)
- 67.1 linear feet (1 box, 51 record cartons, 3 oversize boxes, and 11 volumes)
- Record Group 05: Operating Department, 1870-1971
- 355 linear feet (56 boxes, 171 record cartons, 1 oversize box, 65 oversize folders, 103 oversize rolls and 94 volumes)
- Record Group 06: Employee and Labor Relations Department, 1875-1980
- 718.3 linear feet (451 boxes, 340 record cartons, 3 oversize boxes, and 75 volumes)
- Record Group 07: Manufacturing Department, 1873-1964
- 25 linear feet (31 boxes, and 125 volumes)
- Record Group 08: Passenger Traffic Department, 1871-1970
- 63.6 linear feet (11 boxes, 30 record cartons, and 54 volumes)
- Record Group 09: Public Relations Department, 1860-1968
- 10.8 linear feet (4 boxes, 5 record cartons, 5 oversize boxes, and 1 oversize folder)
- Record Group 10: Subsidiary and Acquired Companies, 1865-1940 (bulk 1865-1921)
- 29.9 linear feet (15 boxes, 2 record cartons, 1 oversize folder, and 86 volumes)
- Record Group 11: Pullman Incorporated, 1927-1949
- 5.8 linear feet (2 boxes, 3 record cartons, and 1 oversize box)
- Record Group 12: Scrapbooks, 1865-1947
- 35.8 linear feet (84 volumes in 86 boxes, and 7 oversize boxes)
- Record Group 13: Audio-Visual, 1872-1976
- 15.4 linear feet (25 boxes, 9 film reels and 3 filmstrips)
- Record Group 14: Artifacts, 1859-1969
- 5.8 linear feet (4 boxes, 2 record cartons, 2 oversize folders and 1 steel locker)
- Record Group 15: George Mortimer Pullman Estate, 1877-1932
- 12.4 linear feet (14 boxes and 34 volumes)
Collection Stack Location
1 57-82, 4a 45
Gift of Pullman Family and Pullman Company, 1948-1981
Martha T. Briggs and Cynthia H. Peters, 1995.
- Inventory of the Pullman Company records, 1859-1982
- Martha T. Briggs and Cynthia H. Peters
- Language of description
- Script of description