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Sleeping car

The sleeping car is a railroad car on a train with sleeping facilities. The more luxurious types have real beds and compartments not shared with strangers, while the couchette car with berths is more basic, with compartments for four or six people, where seats convert into double- or triple-level bunk-beds, respectively.

The cars made long-distance travel by train more comfortable and popular since it allowed sleeping on the train. George Pullman invented the sleeping car in 1864.

The Pullman company owned and operated most such cars in the United States, attaching them to passenger trains operated by the railways. All-Pullman trains included the Chief and Super-Chief on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad and the various Zephyrs operated by other western railroads. Pullman cars were normally a dark Pullman green although some were painted in the host railroad's colors; they were also named, and did not carry visible numbers.

After World War II the American railroads bought out the Pullman company's sleeping car business and operated the cars themselves, though they were still named rather than numbered and carried the word 'Pullman' on them. Pullman, as Pullman-Standard, continued in the manufacture of railroad cars until 1980. With the abandonment of passenger service by American railroads, all remaining passenger operations but a few were transferred to Amtrak which now operates the remaining sleeping car services.

One unanticipated social consequence of the sleeping car was its convenience as a rendezvous for lovers, anonymous, and, by definition, away from the constraints of home. Important scenes in such films as Some Like It Hot and North by Northwest take place in Pullman cars.

Another unanticipated consequence was the effect of the Pullman on civil rights and African American culture. Each Pullman car came to be managed by a uniformed porter. These were almost always African-Americans and, by convention, were all called "George". Although this was servant's work, it was relatively well paid and Pullman porters became leaders in the black communities where they lived, forming a nucleus of the middle class. And, since all other railroad trades were unionized, the porters were unionized as well. Their union became an important source of strength for the burgeoning civil rights movement in the early 20th century, notably under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph.

Because they moved all across the country and stayed in local black communities between shifts, Pullman porters also became an important means of communication for news and cultural information of all kinds. The black newspaper Chicago Defender gained a national circulation in this way. In particular, porters used to sell phonograph records bought in the great metropolitan centers greatly adding to the distribution of jazz and blues and the popularity of the artists.

In Europe the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, named after the French word for sleeping car, first focused on these, but later operated whole trains, including the Simplon-Orient Express, Nord Express, Train Bleu, Golden Arrow, and the Transsiberien (on the Trans-Siberian railway). Today it restricts itself again to sleeping cars, as well as catering in the train.

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