George Mortimer Pullman invented the sleeping car in 1865. His first train compartments designed for overnight journeys were fairly simple, but later models became increasingly luxurious. Some sources suggest that Pullman – already a successful entrepreneur in the business of raising and moving buildings – first had the idea to develop sleeping cars for railways while spending an uncomfortable night aboard a train traveling across New York.
Birth of an Industry
Prior to the introduction of sleeping and dining cars – the latter another Pullman invention – long-distance travel by railroad was generally boring, hungry and uncomfortable. Pullman's first sleeping car, the Pioneer, featured fold-down upper bunks and expandable seats for lower bunks. In 1867, Pullman rolled out the President and Delmonico sleeping cars, offering kitchens and luxury dining cars attached to sleeper cars with increasingly lavish accommodations, including waitstaff, porters and entertainment.
Pullman's Business Model
Rather than selling his sleeping cars to the railroad companies or individuals, Pullman leased them. He was thus able to collect "rent" every time the railways charged premium rates for the luxury accommodations. He later built a town, named after himself, near Chicago, where many of his employees were expected to rent housing from his company, pay for city water and shop in stores he owned. Pullman – the town and the man – fell into decline in the 1890s after Pullman reduced worker wages while maintaining their rent levels, then refused to negotiate with them, leading to a violent strike and Pullman's departure from the railroad car business.
Dell Markey is a full-time journalist. When he isn't writing business spotlights for local community papers, he writes and has owned and operated a small business.