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The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Power: Taming the Octopus
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Images of the Octopus, five cartoons
Text 2. Standard Oil
Text 3. The Octopus in the West
Text 4. The Populist Party Platform [Omaha Platform]
Text 5. The Pullman Strike
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Text 6. Jack London, South of the Slot
Text 7. The Boss and the Reformer
Text 8. Images of Big City Politics
Text 9. Social Policy: Social Darwinism vs. the Social Gospel
Text 10. Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism
Text 11. African American Strategies
Text 12. Women and Power

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Reading Guide
Pullman Co., 1893
Pullman Co., 1893
The Pullman Strike, 1894
- Richard T. Ely, excerpt, "Pullman: A Social Study," Harper's Magazine, February 1885
- Statement of the Pullman Strikers, in Report and Testimony on the Chicago Strike of 1894 (U.S. Strike Commission), 1895, excerpts
- Reply of the Pullman Company, in Report and Testimony . . . , 1895, excerpts
- Daniel De Leon, "A New Era," The People, editorial, 22 July 1894

In an era of widespread labor unrest and numerous and violent strikes, the Pullman Strike stands out. George Pullman, president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, built for his workers a model town that offered them amenities unavailable to most American workers at the time. The product of the new science of urban planning, it sought to inculcate values and shape behavior through the manipulation of the worker's living environment. It also sought to meld communal and corporate values. The Pullman Company controlled everything in the town. When, during the severe depression of 1893-94, George Pullman cut wages but retained the high rents in Pullman, his workers struck. For help they turned to the American Railway Union and its president Eugene V. Debs. Pullman turned to the General Managers Association, a group of railroad executives, who promptly fired all workers who struck in sympathy with the Pullman employees. Debs eventually declared a boycott against all Pullman cars, which brought a halt to rail traffic in much of the nation and impeded the flow of the mail. The executives appealed to President Grover Cleveland, who dispatched federal troops to Chicago, which resulted in the deaths of strikers and onlookers. Defeated, the workers returned to work. A federal conspiracy charge against Debs was dropped, but he served time in jail for ignoring an injunction against the strike.

Richard T. Ely was an economist who taught at various universities and wrote widely on land use. His Harper's article describes the town of Pullman and attempts to measure its success as a social experiment. The workers' statement of grievances was delivered at the Chicago convention of the American Railway Union in June of 1894. The Company's response appeared in the Chicago Herald that same month. The editorial in The People, the Socialist Labor Party journal, suggests that the strike signaled to many a fundamental shift in the meaning of America. 18 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. What assumptions about working men and women lie behind the design of Pullman?
  2. What values does the town of Pullman represent?
  3. Why does Ely mention the Welsh brass workers he met in Baltimore?
  4. What was George Pullman seeking to do in constructing his model town?
  5. What is Ely's verdict on the town of Pullman?
  6. What values underlie the workers' statement?
  7. What, in their view, is the purpose of the strike?
  8. How do they characterize themselves?
  9. What values underlie Pullman's statement?
  10. How does he characterize himself and his actions?
  11. Compare the rhetoric of the workers' statement with that of Pullman's.
  12. What meaning does the People editorial ascribe to the Pullman strike?
  13. Compare that meaning to Henry Adams's reflection on the meaning of the 1893 Columbian World's Exposition. (See MEMORY.)

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Topic Framing Question
  •  How did Americans respond to the shifts in economic and political power that occurred during this period?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
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