Pullman Rail Strike

Rail Strike

This was a major strike against the Pullman Railroad Car Company. The strike was led by Eugene Debs, President of the Railway Union. Railroad workers began to boycott trains containing Pullman cars, causing a nearly total stoppage of rail service in some parts of the United States. Cleveland ordered Federal troops to intervene and end the strike.


The Pullman rail strike began as a strike solely against against the Pullman company. Pullman built an entire town around its factories, complete with company stores and company rented housing. With the advent of economic difficulties, the Pullman company reduced wages five times in one year, without once reducing the rents it charged its workers for their houses. Finally, the workers decided to strike.

Pullman workers received support from the American Railway Union. Under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs, the union agreed to boycott all trains containing Pullman coaches. The boycott centered around Chicago, where rail service came almost to a complete halt.

President Cleveland responded by issuing an injunction against the strikers, under the pretense that they were restraining trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The workers refused to end their strike. Cleveland ordered federal troops to forcibly put an end to the strike, arguing that the strikers were holding up the mail. Over 14,000 troops were ordered to Chicago.

In the rioting and looting that followed, 12 people were arrested, including Debs. Debs was convicted of defying the federal injunction, and served six months in jail.