“The Sons of Pullman Porters . . . ride their Father’s Magic Carpets made of Steel”

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
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George Pullman didn’t invent a sleeper car made exclusively for a railroad car. Sleepers had been around in America as early as the 1830’s. Pullman perfected the sleeper car. After a rather uncomfortable train ride in 1858, he put some thought into what he could design to create the most desirable ability to sleep while his passengers were aboard his trains. His background as a cabinet maker and engineer gave him an advantage that eventually led to him creating a luxury model traveling hotel that became known as the Pullman Sleeper Car.

It wasn’t until the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln where he gained fame with his new and luxurious method of transportation. It turns out, the government decided to use the Pullman car for transporting Lincoln on the last leg of his journey. To accomplish this, every station and bridge between Chicago and Springfield had to be renovated in order to accommodate the slightly larger car. The publicity on the use of the Pullman sleeping car was . . priceless.

With a more extravagant method of travel, Pullman needed to “up his game” and he accomplished this when in 1867 he began hiring former slaves to serve on his cars. He had racial stereotypes in his hiring practice:

“He reasoned that former slaves would know best how to cater to his customers’ every whim, and they would work long hours for cheap wages. He also thought that black porters (especially those with darker skin) would be more invisible to his white upper- and middle-class passengers, making it easier for them to feel comfortable during their journey.” {2}

They were hired to make travel as comfortable as possible for the clients. They were expected to set up and clean the sleeping berths; carry luggage and to serve their passengers.​

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Despite the racial undertones of Pullman’s original hiring practices, the job of a Pullman porter became a coveted job. Many men turned it into their career and family members followed in their footsteps. It was common to see brothers, sons and even grandsons seeking employment in the industry. They traveled the country when many black Americans were unable to do so.

In time the Pullman porters were famous for their “superior service”. Former Porter, J.W. Mays served President William McKinley in his sleeping car. Mr. Mays went on to serve more than four decades serving presidents from McKinley to Truman.

Porters generally worked roughly four hundred hours a month and were given little time off. Although they received low wages, compared to other black Americans, their salary was envied. Tipping became a popular practice to enhance they small paychecks.

Unfortunately they were subjected to prejudice and disrespect. A common slur was being called “George” reminding them of the old slavery practice of naming slaves after the men that owned you. In this case George Pullman.

In 1890 the American Railway Union had organized most Pullman employees but unfortunately it did not include black workers.

“Due to strong opposition by the Pullman Company, Randolph [A. Philip Randolph,the founder of the. .] and the BSCP [Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters] had to fight for more than a decade before securing their first collective bargaining agreement—and the first-ever agreement between a union of black workers and a major U.S. company—in 1937. In addition to a big wage hike for porters, the agreement set a limit of 240 working hours a month.” {2}

George Pullman died in 1897. Despite his reasoning for hiring his Pullman Porter’s he ended up providing a career during a time when others would not hire former slaves. At the turn of the century the Pullman Company was the largest single employer of black men in the United States.

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Sources
1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/traveling-style-and-comfort-pullman-sleeping-car-180949300/
2. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/pullman-porters
 

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Here is one of my favorite pieces in my RR collection
Thank you for the pictures - it’s an interesting period of American history and railroads certainly brought economic opportunities after the war.

On a side-note: I was “inspired” to research this topic after I heard the song written by Chicago native Steve Goodman and sung into history by Arlo Guthrie “City of New Orleans”.

“The sons of Pullman Porters - the sons of Engineers - ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel”.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Here is one of my favorite pieces in my RR collection. The drum sign is from the Dixie Limited which ran from Chicago to Miami in the winter time as was only Pullman cars. It had to use 5 different RR to get there.
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I've always thought it cool the lure or romanticism of the old RR's has about every named train in song.

 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Thank you for the pictures - it’s an interesting period of American history and railroads certainly brought economic opportunities after the war.

On a side-note: I was “inspired” to research this topic after I heard the song written by Chicago native Steve Goodman and sung into history by Arlo Guthrie “City of New Orleans”.

“The sons of Pullman Porters - the sons of Engineers - ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel”.

Steve Goodman was a rare talent as a songwriter. Unknown to many listeners today, his lyric about the sons of Pullman Porter and the sons of Engineers was a way of embracing the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The Pullman Porters were exculsively black and the Engineers were exclusively white, so the idea that their sons share a ride together on a magic carpet is an expression of hope for a future of racial harmony. Great song, Steve!
 
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