Railway magnate George Pullman may have been a fabulously wealthy industrialist, but he fancied himself more enlightened than his 19th-century peers. So when it came time to build a new headquarters for his Pullman Palace Car Company, he dreamed of something more than the standard factory surrounded by tenements. Instead, he built a model community for his workers, a place where they could live in houses with indoor plumbing and abundant natural light—amenities almost unheard of for industrial workers in the 1880s. Pullman didn’t do all this solely from the goodness of his heart: He hoped that the town, named after him, would attract the most skilled workers (who would be so happy that they wouldn’t go on strike). As one of the first “factory towns,” Pullman caused an international sensation and was seen as a model for other companies to follow. The happy workers that Pullman envisioned did go on strike in 1894, however, frustrated by the company’s control of every aspect of their lives.
Today the Pullman district makes a fascinating stop for anyone with a historical or architectural bent. Although most of the homes remain private residences, a number of public buildings (including the Hotel Florence, the imposing Clock Tower, and the two-story colonnaded Market Hall) still stand. You can walk through the area on your own (stop by the visitor center for a map), or take a guided a tour at 1:30pm on the first Sunday of the month from May through November ($10 adults, $7 seniors and students). Allow 1 1/2 hours for the guided tour.