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They Call Me George

Meet George Pullman — the man at the centre of the offensive railway porters' moniker.

Watch this dramatic monologue about George Pullman, an American Engineer and inventor of Pullman Sleeping Cars. Performed by Laurence Dean Ifill.

Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) black porter, [ca. 1925], RG 2-71, I0004294, Archives of Ontario

Passengers initially saw porters as domestic workers offering good house-keeping services for the owner of the first sleeping car service, George Pullman. It was as if the passengers were visiting Pullman’s luxurious home on wheels and his attendants, like butlers of old, were serving them. Pullman had started sleeping car services as a way to encourage passengers to travel long distances—particularly across the entire North American continent—without having to break up their trips with overnight stays at hotels along the route. 

Passengers could embark at one station and stay onboard the train until they got off at their destinations—a trip that might last several days. Pullman devised a business system of offering a quick luxury train service. He offered sleeping services—bed, washrooms, meals, drinks, the kind of aristocratic service guests would expect at a luxury antebellum home—on their uninterrupted train journey.


Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) black porter, [ca. 1925], RG 2-71, I0004295, Archives of Ontario

Pullman recruited Black men—starting first with those newly freed from enslavement in the United States but otherwise unemployed—to cater to the needs of white passengers. While travelling, it was the job of the porters to offer the best in luxury to the passengers entrusted to them by the “Boss Man”, George Pullman. Generally the porters were all called George, or George’s Boy. Porters hated that passengers tended not to call them by their names, even though each porter’s name had to be prominently displayed in the carriage.

Three railway porters posing, Toronto, Ontario, 1925. Courtesy of Evelyn Turner. Multicultural History Society of Ontario, BLA-200488.tif.

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