Last month, we shared a shrimp cocktail recipe from the Milwaukee Road with you. As we journey into the last month of summer, we thought you might enjoy a cocktail of the beverage kind for this month’s posting. Today, we are exploring the history and Pullman service standards for a Tom Collins cocktail, complete with Pullman’s recipe for making this 19th Century creation. We hope you enjoy one in these dog days of summer!

Figure 1 Bartender Jeremiah “Jerry” Thomas.

Before going into the Pullman instructions for serving a Tom Collins, we thought it would be fun to explore the history of the drink itself. A gin-based cocktail, the Tom Collins has been around for nearly 150 years. The first written appearance of the Tom Collins was in 1876 in Jerry Thomas’s Bar-Tender’s Guide, also known as How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion. Jeremiah “Jerry” Thomas was known as the father of American mixology, having been the first bartender to create a written book of cocktail recipes in the United States (the first edition of his Bar-Tender’s Guide was published in 1862). The “Tom” portion of the name may have come from the use of Old Tom Gin in the recipe.

Figure 2 A copy of Jerry Thomas’s Bar-Tenders Guide, 1862.

A British precursor to the Tom Collins was the John Collins, supposedly named for the headwaiter at Limmer’s Hotel in London in the 1870s and 1880s who invented a similar gin concoction. However, many comparable gin cocktails, mostly referred to as gin “punches,” were popular in America from the 1830s on.

In 1874, there was a popular prank related to the Tom Collins. The prank involved a person telling a friend that there was a ne’er-do-well named Tom Collins in a local tavern who was spouting nonsense about said friend. The friend (in this case, the victim of the prank) would then be encouraged to confront this Tom Collins at the local tavern. Once the victim reached the tavern and asked the bartender where to find Tom Collins, the bartender would then serve the drink and the joke would be revealed that there was no person named Tom Collins. This prank became so widespread in the United States that it became known as the “Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.”

Figure 3 Denver & Rio Grande Western dining car menu with Tom Collins, 1975. Colorado Railroad Museum Collection.

With the popularity of the Tom Collins at the time, George Pullman could have featured it as a beverage option aboard his dining cars. Pullman revolutionized rail travel in the mid-19th Century with the debut of his famous dining car, the Delmonico. Named after the famous New York steakhouse, the Delmonico made its debut in 1868, not long after Jerry Thomas published his first Bar-Tender’s Guide. Based upon the very specific and detailed directions from the 1939 Commissary Instructions: Broiler-Buffet-Club and Lounge Car Service, Pullman’s exceptional standards of service continued long after he died in 1897.

We invite you to try a Tom Collins, perhaps using the 18 steps provided in the Commissary Instructions, listed below. If you try it, please share your experience on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages!

Figure 4 Commissary Instructions: Broiler-Buffet-Club and Lounge Car Service, 1939. Colorado Railroad Museum collection.

The following is reproduced from Commissary Instructions: Broiler-Buffet-Club and Lounge Car Service, published by the Pullman Company in 1939.


  1. Ask guest if bottled water is desired. If not, serve syphon seltzer.
  2. Arrange setup in buffet; place on bar tray: individual bottle of gin; bottled water standing upright (or syphon seltzer); glass (No. 12, 14 oz.); cap knife; bottle opener; bar spoon; and paper cocktail napkin. Attendant should carry clean glass towel on his arm with fold pointing towards his hand while rendering service.
  3. Place juice of ½ lemon in glass (No. 12).
  4. Add 1 teaspoonful sugar in glass (No. 12).
  5. Stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add one red cherry.
  6. Put in glass (No. 12) containing mixture, finely chopped ice – 2/3 full.
  7. Proceed to passenger with above setup.
  8. Place bar tray with setup on table (or etc.).
  9. Place paper cocktail napkin on table in front of passenger.
  10. Present individual bottle of gin to passenger, displaying label, strip tax stamp, and Goldy seal, by holding bottle on sides between index finger and thumb.
  11. Open individual bottle of gin with cap knife in presence of passenger, pointing neck of bottle away from passenger; wipe top of bottle with clean glass towel.
  12. Pour contents of individual bottle of gin into glass (No. 12).
  14. Fill glass (No. 12) with bottled water or syphon seltzer. (If bottled water is used, present bottle to passenger and open in presence of passenger, pointing neck of bottle away from passenger; wipe top with clean glass towel before pouring.)
  15. Stir lightly with bar spoon and return bar spoon to bar tray.
  16. Place glass (No. 12) containing drink on paper cocktail napkin; wipe bar spoon with clean glass towel and place alongside of drink.
  17. Remove bar tray with equipment not needed by passenger.
  18. If bottled water is used, do not remove bottle until drink is finished.


Condensed recipe for Tom Collins:
2 ounces of Old Tom or London Dry Gin
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
Soda water
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Shake gin, syrup and juice with ice until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge and a cherry.


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