Parlor cars came about on United States railroads to address the absence of separate class accommodations. In the United Kingdom and Europe, passenger trains carried first-, second- and third-class coaches, with the first-class coaches offering the best seating and costing the most money. In contrast, American trains offered a flat rate and standard accommodations. For nineteenth century writers this represented a difference between class-bound Europe and the democratic United States.:224:331
Parlor accommodations were appreciated by those who used them because of their exclusivity. H. L. Mencken called the parlor car "the best investment open to an American":
He not only has a certain seat of his own, free from intrusion and reasonably roomy; he also rides in a car in which all of the people are clean and do not smell badly. The stinks in a day-coach, even under the best of circumstances, are revolting. The imbecile conversation that goes on in parlor-car smoke-rooms is sometimes hard to bear, but there is escape from it in one's seat; the gabble in day-coaches is worse, and it is often accompanied by all sorts of other noises.:130
Most parlor cars were found on daytime trains in the Northeast United States. In comparison to a standard coach, a parlor car offered more comfortable seating and surroundings, as well as food and beverages, but it was far inferior to a sleeping car for an overnight trip.:287
Elevated service survives on Amtrak although the term "parlor car" has fallen into disuse. One recently discontinued example was the "Pacific Parlour Car" on the Coast Starlight, converted Hi-Level lounges which featured a mixture of 1x1 swivel-chair seating and cafe-style seating. In contrast to past usage this car was provided as a sleeping car passenger-only lounge and was not itself bookable. Amtrak discontinued the Pacific Parlour in February 2018. The Acela Express offers First Class service, including at-seat service and improved seating. Other Amtrak trains offer a "Business Class", which includes roomier seating and, on some routes, a complimentary beverage and newspaper.
- Muirhead, James Fullarton (1898). The land of contrasts: a Briton's view of his American kin. John Lane: The Bodley Head.
- Wells, H. G. (1914). Social forces in England and America. Harper & Brothers. OCLC 1512217.
- Mencken, H. L. (2006) . Minority Report. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801885337. OCLC 76892903.
- White, John H. (1985) . The American Railroad Passenger Car. 1. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-2722-8.
- Amtrak. "First Class Seat". Retrieved 2009-12-29.
- Amtrak. "Business Class Seat". Retrieved 2009-12-29.
- Bramhall, Frank J. (December 1898). "Luxury in American Railway Travel". Cassier's Magazine. 15 (2): 91–107.
- Ivory, Karen (2000). Eight Great American Rail Journeys: A Travel Guide. Globe Pequot. ISBN 0762707488.
- Terry, Ellen (1908). The story of my life. London: Hutchinson & Co.
- Walker, Sydney F. (July–December 1904). "Recent Developments in Electric Traction". The Railway Magazine. 15: 385–391.