The Electric Pullman
A History of the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company
Publication Year: 2013
Entering an already crowded and established industry, the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company in Ohio began business with surprising success, producing well over 1,000 electric and steam railway cars—cars so durable they rarely needed to be replaced. That durability essentially put the company out of business, and it vanished from the scene as quickly as it had appeared, leaving little behind except its sturdy railway cars. The story of this highly regarded company spans just 16 years, from Niles’s incorporation in 1901 to the abandonment of railway car production and sale of the property to a firm that would briefly build engine parts during World War I. Including unpublished photographs and rosters of railway cars produced by the company and still in existence in railroad museums, Electric Pullman will appeal to railroad enthusiasts everywhere.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Railroads Past and Present
High Voltage. Pullman. Two words that imply high energy, quality, excitement. While not widely adopted in the traction industry, the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company participated in building high-voltage cars for electric railways in several states. Although the electrical specification for the cars was developed by others...
Historical research is seldom a solo effort, and this account is certainly not. Uncovering the life of the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company would not have been possible without the generous assistance of a number of individuals, including members of many traction museums throughout the United States. Among those who graciously...
By 1901, the year that the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company was formed, the interurban era was well on its way, although its greatest growth still lay ahead. The Niles company was entering the industry at the right time. Why interurbans were so quickly and widely accepted can best be understood from studying the photo postcards...
1. The Curtain Rises
The year was 1901. William McKinley, the favorite son of Niles, Ohio, began his second term in office as president of the United States. National unemployment was at 4 percent, and Marconi demonstrated his wireless by sending messages through the air from England to Newfoundland. The electric railway era was well along and...
2. The Catalog
The Niles Car & Manufacturing Company entered a business that was already crowded with well-established car builders, many of which had evolved from carriage-, horse-, and cable-car building. There were three other large car builders in Ohio alone, which was not surprising because there were soon to be more miles of electric...
3. The Cars Roll Out
No company records have survived the more than one hundred years since the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company began producing railway cars, so newspapers, trade journals, and traction line histories have been relied upon to determine what cars were built, and when. Often orders would be placed and reported in the trade journals...
4. The Slow Decline
After an auspicious start in 1902–1903, the next two years of very low production must have been somewhat disheartening. During the business slump after the 1903 financial crisis, car builders everywhere were hurting and a proposal surfaced in 1905 to combine twenty car builders, including Niles, into one giant car-building syndicate...
5. A Look Back
While the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company was a good civic booster and even fielded a works baseball team each year, it was not very generous in reporting to the public, or to the industry for that matter, about its financial affairs. Except for advertisements in industry trade journals and announcements of cars orders...
The cars Niles built were used in a variety of service modes: city, suburban, and interurban, as well as freight. In some cases they were called upon to run almost constantly, particularly in city and suburban service, but in others only at night, which became the rule for freight service when cities balked at having them on the streets in daylight. The Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon ...
7. The Survivors
A number of cars produced by the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company have survived into the twenty-first century in various conditions, from derelict car bodies to fully functional cars. They are located in trolley museums from coast to coast...
Among traction enthusiasts, the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company seems to have developed a kind of cult following. Yes, the cars were certainly handsome and many of them provided long dependable service. They were found on rails from New Jersey to California and from Canada to Cuba. But the fact that Niles had a very short...