This Labor Day Weekend, Honor The Legacy Of The Pullman Strike

Brick Pull Administration Building

Just south of Chicago, the Pullman District was one of the first and most famous company towns in America. Developed by the Pullman Company, a major manufacturer and operator of railroad cars in the 19th century, the area was also the site of the violent Pullman Strike of 1894 — a watershed event that foreshadowed the labor and Civil Rights movements of the coming century.

In 2015, the district was preserved as Pullman National Monument, the nation's 406th national park. Given that the area’s history is inextricably linked with that of American workers, Labor Day weekend is a good time to appreciate and learn about one of our newest national monuments.

Early beginnings

Hotel Florence in the Pullman Historic District

The Hotel Florence is a former hotel located in the Pullman Historic District

NPS Photo

Now preserved as part of the national monument, the buildings where Pullman sleeping cars were manufactured and workers were housed were built at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The Pullman Strike began on May 11, 1894, in the midst of a severe economic depression. Pullman factory workers walked out after negotiations to get higher wages and acceptable living conditions failed, and the American Railway Union announced that its personnel would no longer operate trains that included Pullman cars — a move that essentially crippled rail travel across the country. 

Violence and vandalism broke out as soldiers were dispatched to aid local authorities in getting the trains running. Although the strike was eventually quelled by an injunction from the Supreme Court, its effects were far-reaching.

The Pullman workers garnered considerable support, which marked a major step toward widespread unionization and government regulation in an age of rapidly growing industry. 

The Making of the Pullman Monument

two people look at a painted mural depicting factory workers

WPA-style mural was painted by local students in the 1990s in the Pullman Historic District

NPS Photo

The Pullman Strike highlighted the discord between the rich and the working poor in the late 1800s, and made the potential power of labor unions clear for all to see. It also led to the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American labor union, in 1925. 

The buildings and landmarks of the Pullman area have been recognized for their historical and cultural importance for some time. Parts of the district have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognized as Chicago Landmarks, and incorporated into a State Historic Site over the years. 

By a proclamation from President Barack Obama in February 2015, the area was designated a national monument under the protection of the National Park Service. 

See and Do

Brick building on executive row with green foliage on a sunny day at Pullman National Monument

Row homes in the Pullman Historic District

The Pullman National Monument is growing and changing, and there's plenty to see and do, including:

  • Exhibits at the temporary Pullman National Monument Visitor Information Center, located at Cottage Grove and 112th Street.
  • Tours and programs at the Pullman State Historic Site and the National A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.
  • Outdoor recreation at Arcade Park and West Pullman Park, both part of the Pullman community.

On Labor Day, a day dedicated to the achievements of American workers, take a trip to Pullman National Monument to see one of the places where the labor movement took shape. 

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