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Chicago’s Taxpayer-Funded Ode to Robber Barons

The Chicago Park Service is sponsoring a national monument on the site of an autocratic old company town.

Pullman workers during the Pullman Railroad strike of 1894, outside the Arcade Building in Pullman, Illinois. (Photo: Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project/Wikipedia)

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History, as the old adage goes, is written by the winners. Even though many “winners” are losers as human beings.

For a clear example of this irony, check out the new national monument to corporate greed created by our Park Service in Chicago. It’s on the site of what had been Pullman, a company town created by the feudalistic 19th-century profiteer George Pullman. He amassed a fortune as a rail car manufacturer, infamously suppressing the wages of his 5,000 factory workers.

Yet Pullman considered himself a beneficent employer, having built a 600-acre town for the workforce and vaingloriously named the place for himself. It included houses he rented to workers, churches, schools, a bank, a library, and parks – all owned by his company.

Indeed, when officials announced this year that Pullman’s town was becoming an honored part of America’s park system, officials attested to his generosity by hailing it as a place he created “to provide his employees a good life.”

Back in the day, however, Pullman’s workers were less charmed. He ruled the burg as autocratically as he did his factories. No saloons or “agitators” were allowed, nor did he allow any public speeches, town meetings, independent newspapers, or even open discussions.

Here’s how one resentful resident summed up the surreal feel of the place: “We are born in a Pullman house. We are fed from a Pullman shop, taught in a Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when we die, we shall be buried in a Pullman cemetery and go to Pullman hell.”

In 1894, the workers got Pullman’s hell on Earth when he drastically cut their wages but refused to lower their rent. He’d guaranteed a 6 percent return to the wealthy investors who financed the town, he explained – and their needs came first.

Now, 120 years later, we taxpayers are financing a monument to this loser’s greed?

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