Tasteful Inventions: George Mortimer Pullman

Monday, March 3, 2008

George Mortimer Pullman

Today is the birth anniversary of George Mortimer Pullman. George Mortimer Pullman was an American inventor and industrialist. He is responsible for developing the railroad passenger sleeping car business. The Pullman sleeping car revolutionized the sleeping arrangements for overnight travel on trains. Before Pullman's invention, passengers had to sleep in their seats which were pulled together for long trips. Below are some resources to explore about George M. Pullman...

George Mortimer Pullman, inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, was born on March 3, 1831 in Brocton, New York. He dropped out of school at age 14, but he had a natural knack for business. He began working with a merchant and then took on an apprenticeship in cabinet-making at age 17. source
The railroad sleeping car was developed during the industrial revolution. Within a few years, its success created huge increases in the transportation industry. This national need for labor provided free African-Americans with new employment opportunities in a new industry. The passenger railroad industry provided national travel for people even before the invention of the automobile and construction of the national highway system, and the advent of commercial air flight. The Pullman Palace Car Company built, owned, and operated the majority of the passenger trains during this era. These luxurious trains were known as "hotels on wheels" because passengers could amuse themselves with social activities and conversation in the lounge cars, eat meals in the dining cars, and rest comfortably overnight in the sleeping cars. Train travel was truly revolutionary because it allowed the common person a higher level of personal freedom and traveling comfort than ever before in history. source

The San Francisco Railroad History website has information about Pullman's invention and also includes a vintage brochure which details the assets of modern travel by Pullman. Unfortunately, the Pullman Porter Museum doesn't mention anything about a chef on Pullman's train who invented the first biscuit mix. Nor, does it mention A. P. Ashbourne an African American who invented the biscuit cutter. In my travels, I did locate a bit of information about Rufus Estes, a Pullman chef who wrote a book in 1911 titled Good Things To Eat. Here is an excerpt from his book which is available at the Gutenberg Project.

In 1883 I entered the Pullman service, my first superintendent being J. P. Mehen. I remained in their service until 1897. During the time I was in their service some of the most prominent people in the world traveled in the car assigned to me, as I was selected to handle all special parties. Among the distinguished people who traveled in my care were Stanley, the African explorer; President Cleveland; President Harrison; Adelina Patti, the noted singer of the world at that time; Booth and Barrett; Modjeski and Paderewski. I also had charge of the car for Princess Eulalie of Spain, when she was the guest of Chicago during the World's Fair.

There are quite a few resources available on the internet in search of George M. Pullman. Here is one from The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum which has a newspaper which highlights an excursion taken across the continent on a Pullman car dated June 18, 1869. Very Cool!

In 1868, Pullman introduced a dining car, equipped with a kitchen. This was the first passenger car designed exclusively for cooking and serving meals. The passengers took this new innovation immediately. For them it was more comfortable and convenient. Before dining on the trains was made available, passengers had to wait for the train to stop at a designated station and literally run off the train as they usually only had about 20 minutes to eat. Most stations they stopped at were not equipped for such an influx of traffic and those who got to the preset tables first usually got the better food. Dinner served in a dining car was very exclusive. The "hotel car" was equipped with a kitchen for preparing meals, with tables for serving meals and with berths for sleeping, so that passengers could actually live in the car like they could in a home or a hotel. source

Pullman's designs for sleeping cars and dining cars, set the standard for comfortable railroad travel and many other future innovations in railroad delivery.