August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
Private Pullmans Were Once the Hallmark of Affluence and Social Success
The rising tide of wealth and the gratification of the social ambitions of the well to do that characterized the post Civil War years in the United States asserted themselves in a number of forms: seagoing steam yachts, villas at Newport, titled sons-in-law, collections of old masters and libraries of first editions, membership in the United States Senate, mistresses of notorious beauty, diamond tiaras, boxes at the Metropolitan Opera, and mansions on Fifth Avenue or Nob Hill.
These might do well enough for the run-of-the-mine millionaire, but the supremely desirable authentication of social acceptance and economic well-being was the private railroad car “outshopped” to the owner’s personal specifications by the Pullman Palace Car Company, by Webster Wagner, or by one of several less celebrated carbuilders of the era. The private car was for two entire generations of Americans the capstone of financial and social achievement; no other ostentation was quite in its class.
Its cost rose with the years from a mere $50,000 in the mid-eighties to $300,00 in 1929. Its incidentals of décor and maintenance might run to English butlers, Venetian crystal chandeliers, marble handbowls, French chefs, table services from Tiffany, powdered footmen, wine cellars filled with rare vintages, and king-size brass beds in the master staterooms. The late Mrs. E. T. Stotesbury, queen of Palm Beach society and wife of a Morgan partner, pointed to her gold plumbing fixtures as a genuine measure of economy. “They require no polishing, you know.”