Magazine article Financial History

President Lincoln of the Pullman Company

Magazine article Financial History

President Lincoln of the Pullman Company

Article excerpt

Abraham Lincoln II was dead. Jack, a nickname given to him by his father, had suffered a cut to his leftarm in November of 1889. He had been studying French at Madame Passa's school in Versailles, France, and disciplinary measures taken by his instructor may have been the cause of his wound. Infection soon set in, and a telegram was sent to his parents informing them that Jack was very ill.

Robert Todd Lincoln, Jack's father, had just begun serving as US minister to Great Britain. He and his wife, Mary, rushed to Jack's side and hired the best physicians available to care for Jack. A large abscess had begun to grow below his leftarmpit, and he developed blood poisoning after the abscess was drained. Jack's condition fluctuated over the next several weeks, but it had improved enough by early December that his father decided to return to London. One week later, Jack's condition worsened, and his father was called back to Versailles. In January, after losing confidence in the French physicians, the Lincolns decided to move Jack to London where he could be cared for by Dr. H. Webster Jones, a well-regarded surgeon from Chicago. Unfortunately, Jack's health failed to improve, and he died in the Lincoln's London home on March 5, 1890.

Death was no stranger to the oldest son of Abraham Lincoln. His younger brother, Eddie, died of tuberculosis when he was four years old. Brother Willie died of typhoid fever while his father was President of the United States, and Tad Lincoln died of pleurisy at the age of 18. Robert was in Washington, DC visiting his parents when his father was assassinated; he was present in the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington, DC when President Garfield was fatally shot; and he was also very close at hand in Buffalo, NY when President McKinley was assassinated.

Jack's death, however, had a far deeper impact on Robert than even his own father's assassination.

To be sure, the assassination of President Lincoln changed Robert's life dramatically. Instead of studying law at Harvard as he had planned, Robert, who was now responsible for his mother and his only surviving brother Tad, was forced to read law at a prominent Chicago law office in order to expedite his entrance into the legal profession. In a few years, the law firm of Isham & Lincoln was regarded as one of Chicago's finest, and Robert was making a decent living as a lawyer. Robert hoped his only son would one day join the firm and eventually take it over, but now that Jack was dead, he began to lose interest in the law. He confided to Henry White, the chargé d'affairs of the US in London, that "all his interest in the law was for Jack's sake, and to keep the place open for him."

In spite of the devastating loss of their only son, the Lincolns chose to stay in London instead of returning home to the United States. Robert continued as the US minister to Great Britain and turned in his resignation only after Democrat Grover Cleveland defeated the incumbent Republican President Benjamin Harrison in the election of 1892.

After his resignation, Robert did not return to his law firm, but took an extended vacation. By early 1894, with his bank account rapidly dwindling, he knew that it was time to go back to work. He was hired that spring to be George M. Pullman's personal legal advisor.

The relationship between the Pullman Palace Car Company and the Lincolns was a long one. According to company lore, the initial success of the firm came about because Robert's mother, Mary Lincoln, rode in the first Pullman car prototype from Chicago to Springfield as a part of her husband's funeral train. Many years later, a Pullman employee who claimed to have heard the story from Pullman himself, reported that, "Mr. Pullman's car became the subject of universal comment. From that moment on its success was assured."

Although many Lincoln scholars doubt that a Pullman car was part of the Lincoln funeral train, it is clear that Robert developed a long-lasting relationship with George Pullman that began back in the 1870s. …

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