Railway millionaire George Pullman built a utopian town for his employees, but it was really a prison to exploit them. It got so out of control that federal troops had to be called in. Yet only two years later it was voted the ‘world’s most perfect town’ at the 1896 Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition! Paradise or prison? Heaven or hell? Read on and decide for yourself.
Pullman named the town after himself and called it a true worker’s paradise – it had new houses, a bank, library, church, theater, post office, green spaces, fresh air, and even an evening school. It all sounded wonderful.
But this paradise was built for profit, not for people. Pullman had total control of every aspect of life here – residents were born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shop, taught in the Pullman school, and buried in the Pullman cemetery. The town was set up to make him money, as the residents soon found out:
All houses were leased – and the rent controlled by Pullman.
Wages were below subsistence rates and paid in Pullman Scrip, not real money.
The Scrip could only be spent in Pullman, where shop prices were kept high.
City water and gas was sold to the residents at inflated prices.
The rent for the church was set so high that no one could afford it.
Taverns and drinking were banned.
Independent newspapers and public meetings were banned.
Residents’ houses were searched in compulsory ‘cleanliness inspections.’
Things got worse. Pullman cut his worker’s wages by 30% but kept the rent the same, leaving workers only 7 cents to feed their families. They went on strike, but he refused to negotiate. Railroad workers joined them and blocked the federal mail. Troops were called in and violence, vandalism and property destruction followed.
Pullman was hated so violently that when he died he was buried in a lead coffin under concrete so that workers could not get to his body. A presidential commission later castigated Pullman for the hardships he had inflicted on his captive workers. But despite all this, only two years after the strike Pullman was voted the ‘world’s most perfect town’ at the 1896 Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition!