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George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897) was the American inventor-industrialist who created the luxury "Pullman car" railway carriages that became a feature of the US, British and Continental European railway networks.

Coffins and hotels and railways

George Pullman's career was a fairly improbable one that let him combine an odd set of specialisms to become a railway-carriage mogul.

Pullman got his start building coffins for the funeral trade, and also helped his father with work on the Erie Canal project. Since the canal needed to be level, this involved raising the ground level in some areas with embankments, and this meant that some nearby buildings had to be "lifted". This was achieved by physically "jacking them up" on extendable supports - the buildings were "cut" horizontally and physically raised up off their foundations, and the gap then filled in with brickwork or other architectural work.

George Pullman then moved from New York to Chicago just as the city needed to put in a long-overdue sewerage system. Chicago's problem was that ground level wasn't too much higher than the level of the river that ran through the city, which meant that underground sewers (or basements) weren't possible. However, Chicago was experiencing a glut of money from its business as a railway hub and meat-processing centre, and the city's extreme solution was to use a similar "jacking up" method to raise its city buildings by one storey, and then raise the level of the roads running between them to match. As one of the few people with previous experience of this sort of work, Pullman became one of the engineers responsible for "lifting" hotels and civic buildings.

As an inventor, Pullman was naturally attracted to the engineering possibilities offered by the booming railway business. Seeing businessmen coming and going at Chicago's main station to do deals, and spending a lot of money to stay at expensive hotels, he realised that these long-distance business travellers would be happy to spend a fair amount of money to make the long journey to Chicago less arduous, so that they could arrive refreshed and in the right state of mind to make deals. Could one not turn a set of railway carriages into a hotel on wheels? Pullman's study of hotel buildings for the Chicago project, combined with a personal familiarity with wood-panelling (and perhaps, a recollection of the long, thin, "packet boats" that ran on the Erie canal) resulted in his designing the first of the new Pullman railway cars based on the concept of a mobile hotel on rails, the Palace Car of 1864. His knowledge of the funeral industry also came in handy when President Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, and Pullman scored the public relations coup of organising the President's body to be slowly moved across the country "in state" as a sort of funeral procession, in a special train, in a Pullman railway car.

Developing the concept

Pullman's business flourished, and he introduced other "non-railway" concepts to the railway industry. A hotel would be inefficient without passageways that let staff and guests move between its parts, so why couldn't the same be done for Pullman cars? And a great hotel often had a great restaurant, so why not include one of those, too? Pullman introduced and patented the concept of vestibuled sections connecting carriages together, and introduced a sleeper car with an attached Kitchen and restaurant section, the President, in 1867. This was followed by the Delmonico restaurant car, manned by staff from Delomonico's restaurant, New York.

Pullman joined the board of Union Pacific in 1871, and as the business expanded, Pullman set up a private town for his employees, named Pullman, but labour unrest when the business contracted, coupled with the authoritarian method in which the town was administered, led to civil unrest, the Pullman Strike of 1894 that paralysed the country's rail network, and a investigating Government commission that concluded that the town should be released from Pullman's control and allowed to merge with the rest of the growing city of Chicago.

The Pullman company became Pullman-Standard in 1930.

Pullman in Britain (and Brighton)

George Pullman was invited to Britain in 1873 by the Midland Railway, who added eighteen Pullman cars to their rolling stock, and the Great Northern Railway followed with a Pullman Car on one of their services, with other railways "dipping a toe" into the idea of a Pullman option on some services, including the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) in 1875.

The LBSCR embraced the Pullmans and introduced a four-car all-Pullman Pullman Limited Express in 1881. They added new vestibuled "Pullman Pups" cars, and the 1898 London-Brighton Pullman service became the Brighton Limited in 1899. This was followed by the seven-car Southern Belle in 1908 ("The Most Luxurious Train in the World"), which originated the classic brown and cream Pullman livery (Pullmans had previously normally been brown with gold lining).

The Southern Belle was also the first British Pullman train to be built in the UK (rather than assembled in the UK from parts shipped from America), and other all-Pullman services started to spring up around the country, including the Bournemouth Belle, the Flèche d'Or (Golden Arrow), the Continental Boat Express, and many others. Brighton's Southern Belle was replaced by the new all-electric Brighton Belle in 1934.

British Pullman carriages were serviced at a works just up the line from Brighton Station, at Preston Park.

1925 advertising text:

The Maximum of Luxury at the Minimum of Cost


are synonyms when they refer to Car Building, in which art the Pullman Car Company leads the world. In elaborate design, substantial construction, and luxurious finish, Pullman Cars represent the highest standard of excellence.

Ingenuity and skill are constantly being applied to the improvement of details with a view to adding to the comfort of travel. Every car is in charge of an experienced well-trained Conductor, whose services are always at hand from start to finish of a journey, and invalids and ladies with children can always rely upon ready attention to their comfort and convenience.

Cleanliness is also a special feature, coupled with perfect ventilation and good lighting, thus making travelling a real luxury.

Pullman Drawing Room, Buffet, Dining and Observation Cars are in operation on the following important lines:–
Southern Railway
L.B.&S.C.R Section: Victoria and London Bridge to Brighton, Hove, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor, Newhaven, Portsmouth, &c.
S.E. & C. Section: Victoria and Charing Cross to Dover and Folkestone in all the Continental Services. Also Deal, Ramsgate, Margate, and Kent Coast Towns.
London and North Eastern Railway
Gt. Eastern Section: Buffet cars from Liverpool Street. First Class on Continental Trains.
Gt. Northern and North-Eastern Section: King's Cross to Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon, Bradford, Darlington, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
London, Midland and Sottish Railway
Glasgow & Edinburgh to Aberdeen, Oban, Perth, Stirling, Gleneagles, Danblane, Forfar, Callander, Lockerbie, Loch Awe, Carstairs, Beattock, Carlisle, Ayr, Turnberry and Stranraer, Blair-Atholl, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Kincraig, Aviemore, &c.
Metropolitan Railway
Buffet cars are run between Aldgate, Liverpool Street, Baker Street, Aylesbury, Chesham, and Verney Junction.

— , The Pullman Car Company Ltd., , The Railway Magazine, , January 1925


IN George Stephenson's time railway carriages were built on somewhat similar lines to road coaches. Stephenson's first carriage, which he appropriately named the "Experiment", was more like a bathing machine than a railway carriage! It is difficult for travellers of the present day to realise the immense improvements that have taken place since the time when outside passengers were carried, and the tops of the coaches were heaped with luggage.

In this connection one of the most interesting of recent railway developments in Great Britain is the considerable increase in the number of Pullman cars. There are now more than 185 trains to which Pullman cars are attached, and some of these trains undoubtedly represent the height of luxury in railway travelling.

Pullman cars were originated by an American inventor, George Mortimer Pullman, who built the first sleeping car at Chicago in 1859. Four years later he produced the forerunner of the now famous type of railway coach which bears his name. Pullman cars were first introduced in this country by the Midland Railway in 1874.

— , Meccano Ltd., , The Hornby Book of Trains, , 1925

1935 description:

Luxury accommodation is provided in Great Britain by the independent Pullman Car Company, which owns a large number of cars, both first-class and third-class, and pays a rental to the railway companies concerned for their inclusion in the trains. The Pullman Car Company then charges a small supplement to all passengers using the cars, and also derives revenue from the catering. The only trains composed exclusively of Pullman stock in Great Britain are the "Queen of Scots Pullman" and the "Yorkshire Pullman" on the L.N.E.R., and the "Brighton Belle" and the "Bournemouth Belle" on the Southern Railway. The "Brighton Belle" is claimed to be the only electrically-operated multiple-unit Pullman car train in the world. But the majority of the express trains between London and Margate, Ramsgate, Folkestone, Dover, Deal, Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, and Worthing carry Pullman cars in their formations. They are run, also, in the boat trains of the L.N.E.R. to and from Parkeston Quay (Harwich), in those of the Southern to and from Southampton, Dover, and Folkestone, and on certain other services.

— , -, , MODERN PASSENGER ROLLING STOCK: Luxury and Comfort in Today's Rail Transport, , Railway Wonders of the World, , 1935

Further reading

  • Charles Fryer British Pullman Trains: A tribute to all Britain's steam, diesel and electric Pullman services (Silver Link Publishing Ltd., 1992) ISBN 0947971785
  • Antony M Ford Pullman Profile No 1, The 12-Wheel Cars (Noodle Books, 2008) ISBN 9781906419004
  • George Behrend Pullman in Europe (Ian Allan Ltd)
  • Don Carter, Joe Kent and Geoff Hart Pullman Craftsmen: Life in the Pullman Car Company's Preston Park Works, Brighton 1947-1963: A view from the shop floor (QueenSpark Book 27) ISBN 0904733505
  • Ivan Broadhead Pullman Past and Present Meccano Magazine, October 1961

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