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The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age

George Pullman in The Gilded Age

George Pullman (1831-1897) was an industrialist, the designer of the Pullman Palace sleeping car, and the developer of a set of labor practices labeled "industrial paternalism." Born in New York, Pullman left school when he was fourteen to help support his family. He eventually became a cabinet maker and a contractor. He began experimenting with a sleeping car before the Civil War, but his business did not experience much success until after the war.

Pullman moved his manufacturing plant from Detroit to Chicago in 1880. There, troubled by the poor quality of housing available to his workers, he built his own worker village, complete with homes, schools, churches and parks. While Pullman's intentions were partially philosophical and humanitarian—he believed that improved conditions would raise worker morale and generate positive labor relations—his village was also designed to operate at a profit. Consequently, the rents and utility prices he charged his workers to live there tended to be higher than in surrounding areas. When Pullman reduced wages at his plant in 1894, he rejected worker requests that rent and utility bills also be reduced; the workers then went on strike.

The Pullman strike, supported by the American Railway Union, crippled America's railroads for more than a month. Rioting in Chicago killed 30, and the strike ended only after a court order backed by 14,000 federal and state troops forced workers back to work. Among the many losers in the strike were George Pullman and his labor theories; the model of "industrial paternalism" Pullman had long advanced failed miserably to prevent the exact type of desperate labor conflict it was designed to avoid.

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