Workers at the Pullman factory on what became the Far Southeast Side of Chicago walked off the job on this date, and, in the protracted strike that followed, one man's dream of a better tomorrow fell apart even as another's was born.
George Pullman, in addition to building railroad sleeping cars, was a visionary who thought he had solved the problems of modern industrial society.His factory was surrounded by a village--entirely owned by Pullman--located 9 miles south of what was then the Chicago city limits to insulate his workers from the city's baleful influences.
Instead of living in tenement slums, 20,000 Pullman employees and their families lived in carefully planned row houses and town homes.
Nearby were markets, shops and schools. Taverns were banned. Upon its opening in 1881, Pullman Town was saluted by editorial writers across the nation as a picture-book example of modern city planning.
When Chicago was host to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, special trains carried visitors from around the world to witness Pullman's handiwork.
But when the 1893 depression caused business to plummet, Pullman sharply reduced wages to cut costs. Yet he held firm on rents, which paymasters subtracted from employees' shrinking paychecks.
Desperate, the Pullman workers appealed to the American Railway Union, which was holding its national convention in Chicago. The union voted to support the Pullman strike, instructing its members not to handle any trains containing Pullman cars.
By July, sympathy strikes were under way in 23 states. Episodes of violence led President Grover Cleveland to order federal troops to intervene, however, and the strike collapsed.
Eugene Victor Debs, the union's president, was imprisoned, an experience that radicalized him. Afterward, he became a founder of the American Socialist Party and ran for president five times on a platform promising working men and women a better society in which to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Pullman died three years after the strike and, his name by then synonymous with hostility toward the working class, was buried at Graceland Cemetery.
In 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered Pullman Town sold off, ruling that a company town was incompatible with the spirit of America.