Built in the 1880s by railroad magnate George Pullman, Historic Pullman was a company town designed by architect Solon Spencer Bemen. All workers’ needs were met in the immediate vicinity: grocery stores, heating, indoor plumbing—Pullman had designed the town so that his renowned Pullman Porters (and the rest of his employees) would never have to go anywhere else. When the Panic of 1893 turned into an economic depression, however, Pullman production slowed and workers were laid off—but rents and prices in Pullman were not lowered. Further wage cuts lead to the Pullman Strike in 1894, a battle between the railways and labor unions that eventually involved some quarter of a million workers across 27 states. An all-out boycott—workers refused to load Pullman cars onto trains, or operate them—effectively halted travel west of Chicago. The conflict only ended when President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops in to end the strike, an arguable infringement of his constitutional authority. A national commission later found Pullman’s paternalistic town to be partially responsible for the national incident, and decreed it “un-American.”
In recent days, the Chicago district has fallen on difficult economic times, but Mayor Richard M. Daley expects a new Wal-Mart store in the neighborhood will bring tax revenue and jobs to the area.