Rails and Recruitment: The Pullman Company's Employment Legacy

Rails and Recruitment: The Pullman Company's Employment Legacy

The historic hiring process for Pullman Company's porters, attendants, and bus boys, particularly during the height of the company's operations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was characterized by specific criteria, practices, and challenges. Here's an overview of the process:


The Pullman Company actively recruited African American men for porters, attendants, and bus boy positions, seeking individuals known for their courtesy, manners, and excellent service. The recruitment process was complemented by a detailed employee handbook. This handbook served as a guide, outlining expectations on appearance, conduct, and responsibilities. It emphasized professionalism, customer service excellence, and challenged stereotypes by portraying African American employees as skilled professionals capable of delivering top-notch service. The handbook became a crucial resource, shaping a collective identity for the Pullman workforce and empowering African American individuals within their integral roles in the success of Pullman service.

Application and Interview

Prospective employees entered the hiring process by submitting applications to the Pullman Company, a critical initial step that involved providing details about their personal and employment history. The application served as a snapshot of the candidate's qualifications and experiences, enabling the company to assess their suitability for service-oriented roles. Following the application submission, candidates underwent a rigorous interview process. These interviews, conducted by Pullman representatives, aimed to delve deeper into the applicant's background and skills. Crucially, the assessment went beyond just qualifications, placing a strong emphasis on communication skills, demeanor, and the ability to embody the courteous and well-mannered conduct essential for service positions. This thorough interview process ensured that individuals selected not only met the practical requirements of the job but also embodied the professionalism and customer-centric focus that were integral to the Pullman Company's commitment to excellence.


Successful applicants underwent training programs conducted by the Pullman Company. Training focused on the specific duties and responsibilities of the roles, including customer service, proper etiquette, and the handling of the equipment used in their work. The training sessions not only provided practical insights into the day-to-day operations on Pullman trains but also fostered a deep understanding of the company's commitment to maintaining the highest standards of service excellence. This immersive training experience not only shaped competent and skilled professionals but also instilled a sense of pride and dedication in the workforce, aligning them with the Pullman Company's vision of providing unparalleled service to passengers.

Uniforms and Grooming Standards

Once hired, employees were provided with uniforms that they were required to wear during their shifts. Grooming standards were often specified, emphasizing a neat and professional appearance.

Onboard Service Standards

Porters, attendants, and bus boys were trained to provide high-quality service to passengers. This included maintaining cleanliness in sleeping cars, assisting passengers with luggage, making beds, and ensuring a comfortable and pleasant journey.

Racial Segregation

Throughout a significant portion of the Pullman Company's history, especially during the era marked by racial segregation, hiring practices were characterized by the exclusive recruitment of African American individuals for service roles. This deliberate hiring approach aligned with the prevailing racial norms of the time, where discriminatory practices were pervasive across various industries. The company's adherence to these norms underscored the systemic challenges African Americans faced in securing diverse employment opportunities, emphasizing the broader societal context that shaped the employment landscape during that period.

Code of Conduct

Employees were expected to adhere to a code of conduct outlined by the company. This included professional behavior, respect towards passengers, and compliance with company policies.

Despite the challenges and limitations imposed by racial segregation, working as a porter for the Pullman Company provided economic opportunities for many African American men during a time when employment options were limited. The positions allowed individuals to travel, build communities, and, in some cases, become influential figures in the civil rights movement, as seen in the activism of A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

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