Pullman Strike


The Pullman Strike ()

The great Pullman Strike of 1894 occurred when three-thousand Pullman Palace Car Company workers went on a "wildcat" (without Union approval) strike in Illinois starting on May 11 of that year.

George Pullman, the owner of his eponymous railcar company, was a unique kind of welfare capitalist. Hoping to prevent labor discontent, but not willing to grant high wages, Pullman housed his workers in a company town by Lake Calument in what is today Chicago's far South Side. The town of Pullman was intended to be a kind of utopia. Instead of living in awful tenements like other industrial workers of the day, Pullman workers lived in attractive company-owned rowhouses, with indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers.

Pullman seemed a perfect town to some, but the labor harmony could not withstand the major economic downturn of the 1890s. The strike began when George Pullman cut hours and jobs without an equivalent decrease in rents, utility charges and the cost of products to his workers living in the company town. The strike, effectively shut down passenger (and much of freight) rail and cut off supplies to Chicago after the unions of many railroads decided to block Pullman (and, subsequently, Wagner Palace) cars from traveling, was eventually broken-up by federal troops sent in by President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland claimed the strike interfered with delivery of U.S. mail. In the end, 13 strikers were killed and 57 wounded. The height of the violence came around July 6 and July 7, 1894, when strikers set fire to yards full of non-Pullman railcars. Before this peak, on July 5, somebody put the buildings of the World Columbian Exposition around the exposition's Court of Honor to the torch, burning down the administrations hall, the manufacturer's hall, the electricity hall, the machinery hall, the mining hall, the agricultural hall, and the fair's train station. Some contemporaries, such as W.T. Stead, the author of Chicago To-day, or the Labour War in America (printed in London, 1894, by William Clowes and Sons, and reprinted in New York, 1969, by Arno Press and the New York Times), have blamed the strikers for the destruction of the Columbian Exposition's buildings, and that destruction may have influenced people to burn the railcars.

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