The Wisconsin Railroad Car within the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, in 2019.

(Jackdude101, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Pullman logo, green, white, black outline of a Pullman Sleeper railcar.


The Wisconsin was built by the Pullman Company in Pullman, Illinois. Its cost of $11,325.23 was only about half the price of a comparable Pullman train car of the time, as it was outfitted with walls taken from other railroad cars. The wooden observation car weighs 65 tons (59 metric tons) and is 79 feet (24 m) long, 14 feet (4.3 m) tall, and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide. It is divided into an observation room, three staterooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and servants' quarters. The interior is made of mahogany and other woods, intricate moldings, gold-leaf stencils, and stained glass. The 10-foot high ceilings are painted viva gold, baize green, and fiery brown.

John Ringling, owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, owned the private railroad car and used it from 1905 to 1917 to travel with his circus, take vacations, and conduct business trips. Ringling named it after his home state of Wisconsin, which was also where his circus was quartered.

When New York City banned wooden train cars from its tunnels, John Ringling decided to sell the Wisconsin. Later, the Norfolk Southern Railroad purchased the train car and renamed it Virginia; the railroad used it as a business car for its officials. It was then sold to the Atlantic & East Carolina Railway, which renamed it Carolina, adapted it into a fishing lodge, and placed it in Morehead City, North Carolina. The North Carolina Transportation Museum became the next owner of the train car and kept it in covered storage on its grounds in Spencer, North Carolina.

The Wisconsin's next and current owner became the John and Mable Ringling Museum. A $417,240 federal grant awarded to the Florida Department of Transportation helped pay for the restoration of the Wisconsin's exterior, which was carried out by the Edwards Rail Car Company in Montgomery, Alabama. An anonymous donation of $100,000 then brought the Wisconsin's interior back to its Gilded Age state, the work for which was done at the museum. The Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department donated railroad tracks, which became available as part of the Rails to Trails project, for the train car. The rails were laid by volunteers from the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Florida.