President Barack Obama at Brooks!

Wed, 02/18/2015

On Thursday, February 19, President Barack Obama defied the ice cold of minus zero temperatures to announce the designation of Pullman Village (three blocks east of Brooks) as a National Park. Other two sites, Browns Canyon in Colorado and the Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawaii, were also designated. (View a photo gallery of the event here.)


George Pullman established the factory which manufactured the Pullman Palace Train Cars in 1862. All around the factory buildings, he built an entire village for his workers. At the time, the Pullman Village was located south of Chicago proper and was isolated from many services, so workers rented their dwellings from the Pullman Company. But Pullman had in mind to create a utopian society founded on his own moral values and he added a church and an entertainment building where workers could spend their spare time. All profits, of course, went back to his company.

Everything seemed to work according to his vision until 1894, the year after the Chicago Columbian Exposition: the United States economy entered a recession and thousands of workers who had helped built the Exposition had no job, after being lured to Chicago by its promises of wealth. Tension rose. As a response to lower sales, the Pullman company cut wages and laid off workers. After unheeded demands from the workers that, with lower wages, rents should also be reduced, workers went on strike. Pullman would not budge. The various railroad unions around the country refused to service trains which hauled Pullman cars, and this eventually resulted in the paralisis of much of the train traffic and commerce west of Detroit.

President Cleveland called in the Army and federal marshalls to break the strike and after a few violent clashes and the death of some workers, the strike was finally lifted. Most of the workers who had participated in the strike lost their jobs.

Eventually, a judge ordered George Pullman to sell his stakes in the Pullman Village citing a conflict of interest. After Pullman's death, the company slowly lost its egemony in the market of railroad cars and eventually closed its doors.

The Pullman District remains today one of the most interesting examples of industrial utopian societies in the world, where everything, even morality, was controlled by the company that built it.


Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy also has ties to the Pullman story: The school opened its doors in 1915 as the George Pullman School of Manual Labor. It was funded by a donation by George Pullman who had envisioned it as a school for the children of the Pullman Village. The school itself occupies what used to be space in front of the factory, where a large artificial lake stood.

As the student population grew, the endownment from the Pullman family was not sufficient anymore to sustain the school and the school closed its doors in 1950. The Augustinian friars immediately reopened the school as Gregor Mendel High School. It operated until 1988, when it was sold to the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Archdiocese reopened the school as St. Martin de Porres High School and managed it until 1997, when the school closed its doors again and it was sold to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 1998 CPS reopened the school as Southside College Prep Academy. In 2001, the school was rechristened Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep Academy in honor of past United States Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks, who had spent much of her time on the south side of the city.