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The Smoke Stack

An unfortunate event that helped publicize train travel

Posted on July 14, 2017

Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 helped publicize train travel. George Pullman, who had made a name for himself during the 1850s as a self-trained engineer and building mover in Chicago, began tinkering with the idea of a comfortable railroad “sleeping car” after a particularly uncomfortable train ride in upstate New York. By 1863, he had produced his first two models, the Pioneer and the Springfield, named for the Illinois hometown of then-President Abraham Lincoln.

Pullman’s cars were indeed comfortable, but they were also prohibitively expensive and few railroad companies were interested in leasing them—until President Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. After Lincoln’s death, a Pullman car was used as part of the cortege that travelled through several Northern cities before returning his body to Illinois.


The funeral train was front-page news, and when Pullman also temporarily loaned one of his beautiful sleeper cars to a grief-stricken Mary Todd Lincoln, the publicity poured in. Two years later, he established the Pullman Palace Car Company, which would revolutionize train travel around the world.

Curiously enough, when Pullman died in 1897, his replacement as head of the company was none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, the slain president’s eldest son. (from “8 Things You May Not Know About Trains by Barbara Maranzani”)

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