BECK index

US Labor Unions & Railroads 1869-97

by Sanderson Beck

Unions & Knights of Labor
Great Railroad Strike of 1877
Debs & the American Railroad Union
Pullman’s Company & the 1894 ARU Strike

Unions & Knights of Labor

      On 2 November 1865 the abolitionist Wendell Phillips at a meeting of workers at Faneuil Hall in Boston said,

   We want it to be known that the workingmen of America
will in future claim a more equal share
in the wealth their industry creates in peace
and a more equal participation in the privileges
and blessings of those free institutions, defended
by their manhood on many a bloody field of battle.1

      On 26 March 1866 William H. Sylvis and ten other delegates in New York City organized the National Labor Union (NLU). At their first convention 60 delegates from 43 local unions, 11 trade assemblies, and 4 Eight-hour Leagues met on August 20 in Baltimore where they made the 8-hour workday their top priority. Ira Steward led the Eight-hour Leaguers from Boston and argued that a shorter workday would provide more leisure and increase consumption and prosperity. At that time the 6-day weeks with at least 10 hours of work were normal, and low wages for most workers barely met necessities. Sylvis persuaded the US President Andrew Johnson who issued an executive order mandating an 8-hour day for workers. In 1868 the US Congress required an 8-hour day in naval shipyards and for employees of federal contractors, and by then Wisconsin, Connecticut, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania had made the 8-hour day the law. When Illinois adopted it, the Attorney General Robert Ingersoll suggested that this would allow workers “to educate themselves until they become equals in all respects of any class.”
      These changes usually meant lower wages, and the NLU and Sylvis urged President Grant to decree that pay could not be reduced for an 8-hour day. Sylvis, had organized and founded the National Union of Iron Molders during the Civil War, and he supported the International Workingmen’s Association which had been founded at London in 1864. At the third NLU convention in New York City in August 1868 they elected him their president. He could not persuade them to admit blacks and women before his death at 41 in 1869. Then the NLU voted to admit black delegates to their convention, but most local unions ignored that example. The NLU also supported the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for keeping information on wages, prices, production, and other industrial data. Massachusetts established a Bureau of Statistics of Labor in 1869, and twelve other states did so by 1883.
      Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton had attended the NLU convention at New York City in 1868, and they urged hiring more women and “to do justice to women by paying them equal wages for equal work.” In January 1869 Sylvis began a three-month tour of the South with Richard Trevelick of the Ship Carpenters’ Union. They hoped to unite white and black workers. In September at Philadelphia the NLU adopted a platform that reserved the West for white settlers, but they passed a resolution saying, “The Indian has the same moral rights as any other type of people.”2 Some locals excluded blacks; but Andrew Cameron and Sylvis warned that if black Americans were not admitted, they would work as strike-breakers. The National Colored Labor Convention at Washington DC in December denounced the trade unions that excluded blacks as “an insult to God, injury to us, and disgrace to humanity.” The NLU’s Labor Reform Party rejected immigrant Chinese workers and declared they were “unalterably opposed to the importation of a servile race.” The NLU dissolved during the financial panic of 1873.
      After a strike by the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (WBA) of Schuylkill County from 5 May 1869 to June 16, a fire at the Avondale coal mine on September 6 killed 108 miners and two rescuers. As a result thousands of miners were persuaded to join the WBA. In a seven-year period in that county 565 miners were killed including 112 dead and 339 seriously injured in 1871.
      The Sovereigns of Industry began in January 1874, and in the first year they organized tens of thousands of workers in the Northeast and the Midwest; but they declined and dissolved in 1880. The Greenback movement organized a Labor Party and ran a national campaign in 1876. In 1878 the former Union General Benjamin Butler ran as their candidate for governor of Massachusetts calling for “Equal rights, equal duties, equal powers, equal burdens, equal privileges, and equal protection by the laws, to every man, everywhere under the Government, State or National.”
      On 6 September 1869 in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania a fire destroyed Avondale mine and killed 108 trapped miners because the Lackawanna & Western Railroad operating the mine had saved money by not providing ventilation and a second shaft as an escape route. Later the state legislature passed a law requiring two mine shafts in Pennsylvania’s coal fields. In December 1869 tailors led by Uriah Stephens and James L. Wright in Philadelphia founded the secret Noble Order of the Knights of Labor.
      On 3 January 1878 the Knights of Labor agreed to a Preamble written by Terence V. Powderly and Robert Schilling to their constitution of 1874. The Preamble begins,

The recent alarming development and aggression
of aggregated wealth which, unless checked,
will invariably lead to the pauperization
and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses,
render it imperative,
if we desire to enjoy the blessings of life,
that a check should be placed upon its power
and upon unjust accumulation, and a system adopted
which will secure to the laborer the fruits of his toil;
and as this much-desired object can only be accomplished
by the thorough unification of labor,
and the united efforts of those
who obey the divine injunction that
“In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,”
we have formed the (Knights of Labor)
with a view of securing the organization and direction,
by cooperative effort, of the power of the industrial classes;
and we submit to the world the objects
sought to be accomplished by our organization,
calling upon all who believe in securing
“the greatest good to the greatest number”
to aid and assist us:3

There follows 15 purposes that included “making knowledge a standpoint for action,” securing to workers “a proper share of the wealth that they create,” “establishment of bureaus of Labor Statistics,” “cooperative institutions,” “substitution of arbitration for strikes,” “prohibition of the employment of children” under the age of 14, abolishing the system of contracting the labor of convicts, securing “for both sexes equal pay for equal work,” and “reduction of the hours of labor to eight per day.”
      In 1878 the Knights of Labor issued a “Declaration of Principles” that asserted “industry and moral worth,” not wealth, the true standard of greatness. They called for sufficient leisure, bureaus of labor statistics, public lands for settlers, equal laws for capital and labor, measures for health and safety with indemnification, unions and orders to protect rights, abolishing governmental contracts, prohibiting work by children under 15 and convict labor, a graduated income tax, a national monetary system, no importing of foreign labor, governmental financial exchanges, government taking over telegraphs, telephones, and railroads, establishing cooperative associations, equal pay for equal work by both sexes, limiting work to eight hours, and arbitration between employers and employees.
      The Knights of Labor founder Uriah Smith Stephens resigned in 1879. Their secrecy continued until their General Assembly at Chicago in 1879 elected Terence Powderly as their leader. He was also Mayor of Scranton 1878-84. He urged them to recruit openly railroad workers, coal miners, and many other workers and farmers. In 1879 the Knights of Labor began accepting women and blacks and their employers as members. Like the Grange, they developed cooperative stores and businesses. As more Catholics joined, the Knights reduced their rituals. By the mid-80s they were the largest union with 12,000 local assemblies. Women could join with men or in separate assemblies. In the South the Knights had separate white and black assemblies.

      On 12 August 1881 Peter J. McGuire and Gustav Luebkert organized the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and that month they held a convention in Chicago with 36 delegates from 11 cities.
      On 1 July 1882 the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers went on strike at the Homestead Steel Works in Pittsburgh. On the 18th martial law was declared, and 16 strike leaders were arrested for conspiracy. Both sides dropped their charges, and support for the strike diminished in September. The state militia left on October 13, and the bankrupted men went back to work on November 20.
      The International Working People’s Association (IWPA) held a convention at Pittsburgh in October 1883 and agreed on a Manifesto. They complained that laws were directed against working people and that schools helped the children of the wealthy to dominate the lower classes while children of the poor received little education. The Church promised a better life after death, and the capitalist press confused them. Working people needed to work for their own liberation and should unite. IWPA had 5,000 members in Chicago and published newspapers in five languages, and 22 Unions had formed the Central Labor Union of Chicago.
      On 14 February 1883 New Jersey passed legislation legalizing labor unions. In July about 8,000 operators in the Brotherhood of Telegraphers, who were affiliated with the Knights of Labor, went on strike for higher pay, an 8-hour day, and equal pay for women, but they ended the strike after a month without gaining their goals. The Knights of Labor in June 1884 demanded a national 8-hour work day, incorporating labor unions, and prohibiting work by children under the age of 14.
      That year the Chinese were about half of California’s farm laborers, and they made dikes at the mouths of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers that enabled them to reclaim millions of acres of farmland.
      In January 1885 the Knights of Labor leader Terence Powderly toured the South with Richard Trevellick who had accompanied Sylvis on a similar venture in 1869. Powderly hoped to reconcile northerners and southerners where whites excluded blacks. When he returned, the General Assembly founded the Blue and Gray Association of the Knights of Labor. Thomas Green of Arkansas became the commander, and their motto was “Capital divided; labor unites us.”
      The Republican Martin Foran of Ohio opposed too many immigrants because they often worked as strike breakers, and on 28 February 1885 the US Congress passed the Alien Contract Labor Act that prohibited employers from making contracts with immigrants by paying for their passage in exchange for a period of indentured service.
      In November the Knights joined a strike by white longshoremen in Galveston, Texas who wanted to bar blacks from waterfront jobs. In Savannah, Georgia white Knights opposed the hiring of black workers on the local railroad. In spring of 1886 Timothy Thomas Fortune in his black newspaper, The New York Freeman, protested that Knights excluded blacks in workshops, manufacturing, and trades while white Knights maintained separate assemblies.
      Mrs. Leonora Barry for the Knights of Labor (KOL) investigated a corset factory in Newark, New Jersey and on December 10 reported that they imposed fines of 10 cents on workers for eating, laughing, singing, or talking while working. She continued her investigating and made reports to the KOL General Assembly in 1887, 1888, and 1889.
      By 1887 the Knights of Labor had 90,000 black members with many in Richmond, Virginia and in New Orleans. On 25 January 1890 the United Mine Workers of America was organized at Columbus, Ohio, by merging the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union. In 1893 the Knights elected James Sovereign over Powderly, and he toured the South in the spring of 1894. Sovereign advocated deporting black Americans to Liberia or the Congo. Some whites favored the proposal that was rejected by most blacks.

      About 1875 the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union was started in the South and was called the Southern Alliance. Grange members in the state of New York founded the National Farmers’ Alliance on 21 March 1877, and it became known as the “Northern Alliance” and spread to the Midwest. Both alliances opposed national banks and monopolies. The Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union began in 1886, and by 1891 they claimed they had 1.2 million members. That summer black cotton pickers in the Arkansas Delta went on strike to increase the 50 cents paid for 100 pounds of cotton to one dollar, but in September white vigilantes lynched the strike leader Ben Patterson and fourteen others.
      The Populist Party called for Federal warehouses to store the farmers’ excess crops until prices improved. Western territories and 17 states had farmers with 26 million cattle and 20 million sheep competing for pasture land.

      The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had been founded at Pittsburgh in 1881. In 1883 at the US Senate Committee on Education and labor hearings Samuel Gompers, who led the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, emphasized the importance of adopting an 8-hour work-day as a law for government employees. In 1886 they reorganized it as American Federation of Labor (AFL) with Samuel Gompers as president. The AFL supported the organization of local unions more than the Knights of Labor did. After a streetcar strike in New York City motormen agreed to $2 pay for a 12-hour day with a half-hour for lunch.

      On 2 March 1889 Kansas was the first state to regulate trusts. After two years of drought the people and legislators were persuaded by the National Farmer’s Alliance which criticized the wealthy tycoons in the East. On May 9 the New Jersey legislature enacted a law allowing holding companies to get charters in New Jersey.
      The National Farmers’ Alliance formed in March 1877, and it was called the “Northern Alliance.” In September 1891 the white Baptist R. M. Humphrey, who had founded the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union in 1886, called for a strike by Negro sharecroppers because the planters had agreed to pay only 50 cents per 100 pounds of cotton. Humphrey announced that 600,000 members would strike on September 12 asking for $1 per 100 pounds. Only in Lee County, Arkansas did workers led by Ben Patterson from Memphis go on strike against Col. H. P. Rodgers on September 20. They tried but could not get others to join the strike. On the 28th some strikers burned a cotton gin and killed the cruel planter Miller. A posse went after those strikers and killed two and captured nine. Patterson escaped on a steamboat, told his story, and was taken ashore and shot. A large lynching band wearing masks attacked the nine prisoners, who were being guarded by the sheriff’s posse, and they hanged all nine. After that the Colored Farmers' Alliance no longer functioned.
      In New Orleans on 24 October 1892 about 2,500 workers in the Triple Alliance had gone on strike for a 10-hour day and overtime pay. The New Orleans Board of Trade offered to settle with the packers and scalesmen but not with the mostly black teamsters. The Alliance held together, and a general strike by about 30,000 union members on November 8-12 resulted in the arbitration granting their two demands. About 80 people had been arrested.

Great Railroad Strike of 1877

      The United States Congress had chartered the Central Pacific Railroad in 1862 to start building a railroad east from Sacramento, California. Construction began in 1863, though little was accomplished until 1865. By 1868 they had hired 12,000 Chinese workers. On 10 May 1869 that railroad at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory completed the first Transcontinental Railroad by joining with the Union Pacific Railroad which had been built to the west from Council Bluffs, Iowa at the Missouri River. The Federal government provided $16,000 per mile, and that was increased to $48,000 in the mountains. The Central Pacific used liquid nitroglycerine instead of gunpowder as a more effective way of boring the tunnel through the High Sierra Mountains. The Transcontinental Railroad opened a new era when people could travel at 60 miles an hour while telegraph lines next to the tracks carried electronic messages instantaneously from coast to coast. For $150 for first class or $70 for the emigrant rate people could go from New York to San Francisco in seven days. The US Government had loaned $64,623,512 for the Transcontinental Railroad, and with interest it received back $167,746,490 by 1899. Brigham Young in September paid $588,460 for railroad equipment so that Mormons could have a railroad from Ogden to Salt Lake City. A bridge 250 feet long was completed over the Missouri River in March 1872. From 1865 to 1873 US railroad miles more than doubled to 70,384. The Interior Department estimated that they distributed land to the railroads worth $391,804,610 by November 1880. By then the US had invested a total of $4,653,609,000 for railroads.
      The Erie Railroad had financial problems in the 1850s and received loans from Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew. In 1859 it was reorganized as the Erie Railway. Drew made money in cattle and invested $2 million and began manipulating its price on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1866 Vanderbilt tried to corner the market on the Erie Railway and made Drew the treasurer. In the next two years Drew conspired with Jay Gould, and James Fisk began investing in it and caused the “Erie War” by “watering down” the stock. Gould and Fisk turned against Drew who then lost $1.5 million and even more in the panic of 1873. Drew declared bankruptcy in 1876.
      Cornelius Vanderbilt gained control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864 and the New York Central Railroad in 1867. He purchased the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in 1869, and that year he began construction of the Grand Central Depot in Manhattan that was completed in 1871, the year he donated $1 million to found Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Cornelius died on 4 January 1877 and left $95 million to his son William Henry Vanderbilt. He avoided a strike against the New York Central Railroad by announcing that he would share his inheritance with workers immediately. Their better steel rails and new bridges had reduced the journey from New York to Chicago from 50 hours to 24. Vanderbilt’s daughter Mary La Bau challenged the will, and the trial went on for 26 months. William won and added $200,000 to Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s trust fund. On 26 March 1883 his son William K. Vanderbilt and his wife Alva put on a fancy ball that cost $250,000 with $155,730 of it spent on costumes. William Henry Vanderbilt died on 8 December 1885 after doubling the fortune he inherited from his father to $200 million which he left mostly to his two sons Cornelius II and William K with $10 million each for the other six children.
      Thomas Scott’s Southern Railway Security Company controlled the railways from Baltimore to Atlanta, and he won over Democrats by hiring whites and using black convicts but not free blacks. Scott became president of the Texas & Pacific, and he hired as chief engineer General Grenville Dodge who had done that for the Union Pacific from 1866 to 1870. On 3 March 1871 the US Congress chartered the Texas Pacific Railroad Company, and they purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad Company on 21 March 1872.
      In San Francisco 2,000 Chinese went on strike for higher pay, but their efforts failed. On 25 June 1867 about 5,000 Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Railroad in California near the Nevada border went on strike for the $40 per month that was made by whites who were mostly Irish. In the spring the Chinese had gained a pay increase from $31 to $35. They went back to work on July 2 without another gain in pay. In June 1870 the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming hired Chinese workers for $32.50 per month to avoid paying whites $52 a month.
      William Cody was born in 1846 at Le Claire in the Iowa Territory, and his family moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1853. After his father’s death William began working as a freight carrier when he was 11. The next year he became a scout for the US Army in the Utah Territory. In 1860 he began riding for the Pony Express, and he fought for the Union with the Kansas Cavalry 1863-65. He scouted for Wild Bill Hickock and Lt. Col. Custer in 1866. The next year the Kansas Pacific Railway hired Cody to kill buffalo to feed meat to men building the railroad, and he claimed that in eight months he killed 4,280 buffalo. In 1868 General Sheridan made him Chief of Scouts for the 5th Cavalry. In 1872 Cody was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his scouting in the Indian Wars. That year white buffalo hunters shipped 1,200,000 hides to the East by railways. Called “Buffalo Bill” he went to Chicago that year and began appearing in Wild West shows. He would become famous after he founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1883.
      In 1872 P. T. Barnum’s Circus began in Brooklyn and grossed $400,000 in its first year.
      On 29 April 1872 the brothers Frank and Jesse James and three other men robbed the Deposit Bank in Columbia, Kentucky, killing a cashier and taking $200 from a cash drawer. In June the gang led by Jesse James robbed a passenger train for the first time hoping to take $75,000 in gold, but they got only $6,000 from passengers and an express messenger. On 21 July 1873 the James brothers and four Younger brothers wearing Ku Klux Klan masks stole about $3,000 from a Rock Island Line train west of Adair, Iowa. In 1874 the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was hired to catch or kill the James-Younger gang, but the outlaws were aided by former Confederate soldiers from Missouri. After a failed attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota on 7 September 1876, only Frank and Jesse James survived. Eventually Robert Ford killed Jesse James on 3 April 1882.

      Presidents of the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Erie, and Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroads had met in March 1877 and colluded to stop competing with each other and agreed to reduce wages. On July 1 the New York Central, the Erie, and other railroads cut wages. The B&O Railroad had already reduced wages eight months earlier, and workers had not been paid since May. Brakemen made $1.75 for a 12-hour day, most firemen about $1.90 a day, conductors $2.78, and engineers $3.25. Yet the Erie Railroad President Hugh Jewett got a 10-year contract for $40,000 per year with $150,000 in advance. The wage cuts reduced brakemen and firemen to $30 a month.
      The B&O Railroad President John W. Garrett gave stockholders a 10% dividend and cut wages 10% on July 16, and the employees went on strike that day at Camden, Maryland. Garret fired them and hired strikebreakers. The strike spread to Martinsburg, West Virginia where strikers and their supporters blocked freight trains from leaving until 600 freight trains filled the yards. West Virginia’s Gov. Henry Mathews asked President Hayes for 200 or 300 federal troops to disperse them on the 18th, and he sent 312 troops from Washington and Baltimore to keep the peace. Hayes was concerned about workers and did not want to support railroad plutocrats.
      At Baltimore on July 20 a mob threw stones at the Maryland militia who then shot dead ten men and boys and wounded others. The crowd of 15,000 people surrounded the depot and burned part of it and passenger cars, and then they attacked firemen and exchanged shots with the police. Hayes had more men sent from Fort McHenry to Maryland’s Gov. John Lee Carroll who was in the depot. The situation calmed down, and by Sunday the 22nd the soldiers were not needed.
      The Pittsburgh region had 158 coal mines, 73 glass factories, 33 iron mills, and 29 oil refineries. Workers in the freight yard reacted to the strikes, and on July 21 the Pennsylvania National Guard dispersed the crowd, killing about 15 people. On Sunday a mob destroyed 104 locomotives and 2,154 railroad cars. Hayes would not send troops without a request from Gov. John Hartranft. He was away on a junket with Pennsylvania Railway mogul Thomas Scott whose income that year was $22 million provided by a $312 million US Government subsidy for the Texas & Pacific Railroad. Pennsylvania called out 9,000 men in the National Guard and the Philadelphia militia. From Pittsburgh the strike spread to Altoona, Easton, Johnstown, Bethlehem, and Reading where General Winfield Hancock and 3,000 soldiers killed at least ten civilians and wounded many. In the state capital at Harrisburg the mayor persuaded the crowd to turn in their guns at city hall. On July 24 Texas & Pacific Railroad workers went on strike for their back pay and to reverse a 10% pay cut.
      Workers went on strike against the Erie Railroad which refused to make concessions, and at Buffalo strikers tore up tracks, raided saloons, and fought 1,600 militiamen and 1,800 soldiers. A socialist Workingmen’s Party organized nonviolent rallies in Chicago while others shut down railroad facilities on July 24 for three days. About 6,000 people demanded they nationalize the railroads and heard the socialist Albert Parsons give a rousing speech. That day the Chicago Times fired Parsons and blacklisted him. The crowd included many Germans who were demanding an 8-hour day. President Hayes had General Sheridan send to Chicago 12 companies of Federal troops led by Lt. Col. Frederick Dent Grant, the former President’s son. They attacked a crowd of 10,000, and 30 people were killed; 18 police were wounded, but none died.

      The Workingmen in Chicago began a strike on 26 July 1877. The next day at midnight in East St. Louis the German, English, French, and Bohemian workers crossed the Mississippi to join the railroad strike. That week the St. Louis sheriff used a posse of about 5,000 men to shut down factories. Strikers in that city persuaded corporations to raise pay and accept an 8-hour day; but after the declaration of martial law 79 strikers were arrested with 44 getting jail sentences, and those reforms were reversed. By August 2 the strikes in St. Louis had ended.
      The railroad strike also spread to Michigan on July 25 and to Iowa. In San Francisco the Workingmen’s Party called a meeting on July 26, and afterward a rowdy crowd rioted in Chinatown, burning a laundry and destroying 25 wash houses as police refused to protect the Chinese. Over 50,000 Chinese had been laid off from railroad building in the West, and many turned to farming, fishing, doing laundry, household service, and work in textile and shoe factories. Irish Denis Kearney helped organize the Workingmen of California in 1877, and in 1878 he especially opposed the Chinese immigrants. Frank Pixley had been in the Know-Nothing Party and was California’s Attorney General 1862-63. In April 1877 he started publishing The Argonaut which criticized the foreigners in the labor movement.
      The strikes were mostly over by July 30. Three federal judges charged strikers with contempt of court, thus outlawing strikes on financially struggling railroads. The Pennsylvania Railroad canceled its dividends, and Thomas Scott had to sell his oil assets to John D. Rockefeller. On July 31 the Hayes cabinet discussed railroad regulation. Management improved working conditions and tried no more wage cuts. The 7th US Circuit Court, which included Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, ruled that US marshals could protect railroad property and call on military aid. The striking workers did get the wage cuts reversed, and B&O introduced home passes during layovers and other reforms. At this time the United States had 75,000 miles of railroad tracks, and the strike affected about two-thirds of them. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 also stimulated a strike by 2,000 ribbon weavers, who were mostly immigrants in Paterson, New Jersey. On August 1 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad cut wages by 5% and reduced conductors’ salaries to $75 a month.
      William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (1853-1921) worked for a railroad contractor in 1872, and in 1873 he had to use his gun to get paid the $300 he and two others were owed. He fought Comanche with 27 other buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls in 1874. He moved to Dodge City in June 1877 and was elected sheriff of Ford County on November 6. On 1 February 1878 he captured two notorious train robbers. On April 9 his brother Ed Masterson, the Dodge City Marshal, was killed by the cowboy Jack Wagner who was then killed by Bat Masterson. He led a posse for the Santa Fe Railroad that fought the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in the Royal Gorge War in Colorado, and he was not re-elected in November 1879.
      In 1878 Santa Fe railroad workers made a 2,000-foot tunnel through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at 8,000-feet elevation in the Rocky Mountains.
      The Southern Pacific Railroad took over the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, and their tracks reached El Paso on 19 May 1881. The US Congress tried to alleviate some of this by improving the devices that coupled the cars. Tennessee in 1881 was the first state to pass a Jim Crow law segregating black passengers on railroads.
      On 24 September 1869 Jay Gould and James Fisk had tried to corner the gold market, causing a gold panic that was called “Black Friday.” On 6 January 1872 the business associate Edward Stokes, in a jealous quarrel over Josie Mansfield, shot financier Jim Fisk who died the next day. Stokes had three trials and ended up serving four years for manslaughter. The Erie Railway Company became bankrupt and was reorganized as the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railway Company. They converted those railroads to a standard gauge by June 1880.
      Jay Gould by 1879 had control over the Missouri Pacific Railroad and two other western railroads that had 10,000 miles of rails. He owned the elevated railways in New York City in 1881, and by 1882 he owned 15% of US railways. He owned or controlled twenty railroads, and in 1883 he sold his Union Pacific stock because of its debts to the Federal Government. He aimed to take over Western Union and started a telegraph company called American Union and had Western Union connections cut down. Gould also owned the New York World and urged other editors to criticize the Western Union monopoly. He then sold American Union to Western Union in a deal that gave him so much of the stock that he controlled the board.
      Gould in February and March 1885 cut his railroad workers’ pay by 10%. The strike began on the Wabash line and spread to Missouri, Kansas, and Texas extending to 4,500 workers and affecting 10,000 miles of track. Gould in September restored the pay and rehired the workers. The Knights of Labor were praised for providing $30,000 for the striking workers, and their membership of 111,000 increased to 729,000 by July 1886. Membership then fell to 260,000 in 1888. In 1889 Gould organized the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, but problems in St. Louis led to an antitrust lawsuit. Gould died in December 1892.

      On 8 September 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed at Gold Creek in the Montana Territory. US railroads began using the four time zones called the Eastern, Central, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific. Northern Pacific sent agents to Britain and northern Europe to stimulate immigration to the American northwest which would give the year peak immigration from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and China.
      On 26 July 1884 the East Cleveland Street Railway provided cars propelled by electricity from an underground third rail.
      Mark Hanna became a successful businessman in coal and steel and then was involved with the Pennsylvania Railroad. He bought the Cleveland Opera House in the late 1870s and leased it to Augustus Hartz in 1884. That year Hanna supported the candidacy of Senator John Sherman and founded the Union National Bank. In 1885 President Cleveland appointed Hanna a director on the board of the Union Pacific Railroad. He owned the Cleveland Herald for a while in the 1880s and supported Republicans.
      In 1885 the Pennsylvania Railroad connected New York with Washington DC using the Congressional Limited Express. The Texas Railroad established a line from Missouri and Kansas to Texas cow country, ending the need for long cattle drives. The Santa Fe Railroad reached Los Angeles, California, and the Orange Growers Protective Union of Southern California was organized.
      Arthur Twining Hadley taught political science and economics at Yale, and in 1885 he published Railroad Transportation, Its History and Its Laws and a Report on the Labor Question. He criticized Ricardo’s theory of free enterprise, noting that large industries have permanent investments with more fixed than variable costs which cause instability. This enables them to form combinations that can dominate markets.
      The New York financier Thomas Fortune Ryan organized the Southern Railway System by combining the Richmond and Danville, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia systems into a firm that took in the South Carolina and Georgia, Cincinnati Southern, Alabama Great Southern, New Orleans and Northeastern, Georgia Southern and Florida, and Northern Alabama into one system with 8,000 miles of track. In 1886 with his Metropolitan Traction Company in New York he formed the first holding company in the United States.
      That year Chicago financier Charles Tyson Yerkes was aided by corrupt politicians who enabled him to gain control of the streetcar lines and create a corporate empire. William C. Durant and Josiah D. Dort founded Flint Road Cart Company and manufactured the most buggies and 2-wheeled road carts.
      John Cooke was the secretary of the Knights of Labor assembly in Huntington, Oregon, and in March 1886 he demanded the dismissal of all the Chinese employees of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company, claiming that they were a “complete monopoly of the various branches of unskilled labor on the Pacific Coast.”4 The Chinese Exclusion Act had become law in May 1882 banning Chinese immigration for ten years, and it would be renewed by the Geary Act on 5 May 1892. The Foran Act of 1885 prohibited contracts with aliens, but it was difficult to enforce and was amended in 1887.
      James F. Hudson published The Railways and the Republic in 1887. That year passenger railway fares from Kansas City to Los Angeles dropped to $1, stimulating a land boom in southern California.
      The grievance committee of skilled railroad engineers, firemen, and switchmen asked for a more up-to-date pay scale on 15 February 1888, and on the 27th the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers were joined by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and the Switchmen’s Mutual Aid Association, and they went on strike against the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad which hired replacement workers. On March 5 the union persuaded workers on other railroads to boycott the CB&Q Railroad by not loading its freight, but on the 13th the CB&Q Railroad got a federal injunction issued against that. This greatly weakened the strike that went on for ten more months in western states. Eugene Debs worked on getting the skilled brotherhoods and unskilled workers to cooperate.
      On 23 January 1890 an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train traveled over 78 miles per hour. Accidents involving railroads in 1890, the first year such statistics were kept, killed 2,451 Americans and injured some 20,000. By then the US had 125,000 miles of railroad, and Britain was a distant second with 20,073 miles. Capital invested in US railroads went from $2.5 billion in 1870 to $10 billion in 1890.
      George Grinnell in the September 1892 issue of Scribner’s magazine described how since the Union Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, professional game hunters slaughtered so many buffalo that they were down to about 400 animals. He described how Indians used the buffalo for essential food, clothing, blankets, and sheets. Thousands of hunters had destroyed millions of buffalo, wiping them out in Kansas, Nebraska, the Indian Territory, and north Texas within six years. A few buffalo remained protected in the Yellowstone National Park
     In 1892 Chicago’s elevated railway began operating as a loop around the downtown area.
     On 6 January 1893 the Great Northern Railway was completed with the last spike at Seattle, Washington after three years of work without government assistance. That year the US Congress made air brakes mandatory on all US railroads.

Debs & the American Railroad Union

      Eugene Victor Debs was born on 5 November 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana to parents who had immigrated from Alsace, and they named him after the French novelists Eugène Sue and Victor Hugo. While in school Eugene worked in his parents’ store. At the age of 14 he left home to work on a railroad as a paint-scraper for 50 cents a day. He learned how to operate a steam engine and became a locomotive fireman within a year. During the panic of 1873 about 55 railroads became bankrupt, and Debs was laid off in September 1874. He went home and worked in his parents’ store as an accounting clerk; but he did not like the selfishness of business. He studied books on railroads and read French and German classics including Hugo’s Les Misérables.
      In February 1875 Debs heard a speech by Joshua Leach, who had co-founded the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF) in December 1873 and organized 31 lodges with 600 members. Gene Debs participated in the forming of Vico Lodge No. 16 and was elected recording secretary. The BLF motto was “Benevolence, Sobriety, and Industry.” He became an active member working for a wholesale grocery firm while studying at a business school at night. He criticized the great railroad strike of 1877 for being disorganized and violent. In 1878 he became an editor for BLF’s Firemen’s Magazine, and he was active in Democratic politics. He believed workers and capitalists are brothers and should be allied harmoniously. He supported the BLF when they decided to renounce their vow not to strike. He was elected the city clerk of Terre Haute from 1879 until 1883, the year he became master of his lodge. He believed in questioning authority. In 1884 Democrats elected Debs to the Indiana Assembly, and he served a two-year term starting in January 1885. He proposed an amendment to prohibit corporations from forcing employees to release the company from responsibility; it passed the Assembly 76-0, but the railroad lobby got the senators to remove it and other reforms.
      In June 1885 Debs married Katherine Metzel. The next year he joined the coalition working for an 8-hour day, and he was influenced by Henry George, the Marxist Lawrence Gronlund, and Edward Bellamy. In 1887 he refused to be re-nominated as the master of the Vigo Lodge, but he continued to be a labor spokesman for the Democratic Party. On 27 February 1888 the BLF participated with the engineers in the strike against the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad line from Burlington, Iowa to Denver. In the conflict with strikebreakers the strikers became divided. Several workers were killed, and a federal court issued an injunction on March 13. Debs began working on organizing a federated union to unite the various railroad workers.
      Debs became a strike leader when the Firemen and Engineers went out against the Burlington Railroad from February 1888 to January 1889; but the strike was weakened in March when replacement workers were hired. Debs called out the brakemen and switchmen on March 23. Burlington managers replaced most of them within a week.
      During this period Debs discussed several controversial issues with other labor advocates such as P. M. Arthur who led the Brotherhood of Engineers. Debs began working toward the federation of various railroad unions while still supporting local autonomy. Frank P. Sargent persuaded the Firemen meeting at Atlanta in the fall of 1888 to endorse federation, and the Switchmen and Brakemen in early October also voted for that plan; but Arthur and the Engineers convention at Richmond, Virginia rejected that.
      The Interstate Commerce Commission reported that during 1889 about 22,000 railroad workers were killed or seriously injured. In June the Firemen, Switchmen, and Brakemen officers met in Chicago and formed the Supreme Council of the United Order of Railway Employees with Sargent as president. Debs explained that what they all wanted was

fair pay for honest work,
and fair treatment at the hands of their employers.
With fair pay they can rear their families in respectability,
to lives of usefulness and honor.
With fair treatment they can maintain their independence
and maintain the dignity of American citizenship.5

At the second annual convention of the Supreme Council in Chicago on 16-17 June 1890 they were joined by Grand Chief George W. Howard and the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors. Debs near the end of June met with the Union Pacific in Denver and turned many of his critics into supporters.
      In the August 1890 issue of the United Labor journal Debs, despite the “debasing greed for gain” of that era, wrote,

There are men, thousands of them, whose hearts throb
with divine aspirations for the welfare of their fellowmen,
whose sympathies never congeal;
whose tongues are never still
when grand, noble words are to be spoken
for the poor, the friendless and the oppressed.6

He believed in fellowship with profound and active interest in human welfare. Debs defended the Women’s Department of the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (LFM) when Ida Husted Harper, whom he had appointed in 1884, advocated women’s equality in politics and marriage. He resigned as editor of the magazine in September 1892.
      In January 1892 Debs was the keynote speaker at a massive labor rally in Chicago and said,

If we can get rid of that idea of caste in labor organizations;
if we are capable of appreciating men
according to their necessities, according to their honesty,
we can establish an organization
that will not only be a protection of the employees,
but will be a guarantee to the officials that as long as
they mete out justice they will never have a strike.7

Debs reduced his responsibilities to the LFM journal and lowered his salary from $3,000 to $1,000 so that he would have more time for writing and speaking. In June he actively began working for a new organization of railroad workers. The Democratic ex-President Cleveland criticized the use of troops against the Homestead strike in the summer of 1892, and Debs supported him against President Harrison.
      At Chicago in February 1893 Eugene V. Debs, George Howard, and others organized the American Railway Union (ARU). During a week-long convention in mid-April at Chicago 24 delegates representing railway brotherhoods elected Debs as president and Howard as vice president. Debs wrote the Declaration of Principles they adopted on June 5. On the 21st he announced that they would accept all kinds of railroad employees to work on legislative and industrial action, and he said, “Labor can organize, it can unify, it can consolidate its forces. This done, it can demand and command.”8 He and his ARU directors began traveling around the country to recruit railroad workers and organize union locals, and by the summer of 1894 they would have 150,000 members in 465 locals.
      A good wheat crop in 1893 had enabled Great Northern Railroad’s owner James Hill to make large profits despite the depression as his competitors became bankrupt. The Federal Judge Elmer S. Dundy in Nebraska granted an injunction against a strike or even discussing the wage cut, and Debs called it a “deathblow to human liberty.” One month later the Federal Appeals Court Judge Henry C. Caldwell reversed Dundy’s decision. On 13 April 1894 in the morning the American Railway Union told the Great Northern Railroad’s General Manager Charles Case that they had until noon to rescind the workers’ pay cuts, or work would stop. After his refusal the work stopped at noon, and messages were wired to workers. About 9,000 Great Northern employees went on strike.
      Debs, his younger brother Theodore, and ARU vice president George W. Howard arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 18 and set up strike headquarters and a committee from all of Great Northern’s departments. Debs told the owner Hill that he could not divide the unions, and they could not agree.
      The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce listened to Hill and Debs and then asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to arrange arbitration. Hill and Debs agreed to that, and the capitalist Charles Pillsbury was named head of the panel. After listening to only Hill and Debs they decided on May 1 in favor of the employees on almost all their demands. Debs had shown that a large strike could be conducted without violence. Ignatius Donnelly and the Populist Party of Minnesota endorsed the American Railway Union (ARU). When Debs returned to Terre Haute on May 4, he was welcomed by over 4,000 people and spoke to them. He said that the strike against the Great Northern railroad workers was a clear victory. In the coming weeks about 2,000 workers joined the ARU each day until the union had 150,000 members.
      On April 21 the United Mine Workers of America president John McBride had his men stop working to reduce the surplus of coal and to raise prices and the miners’ pay. Mine operators sent in strikebreakers, and fighting killed four miners near Pittsburgh. Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld called in the National Guard. The strike with over 125,000 miners went on, and their families became desperate. In late June the union was forced to accept even lower pay than before.
      An odd assortment of the unemployed and utopian reformers led by the wealthy General Jacob S. Coxey, who spent $2,000 promoting the protest, began marching those he called “the industrial army of the Commonweal of Christ” from Massillon, Ohio on Easter Sunday (April 13) to Washington DC. Carl Browne was a labor reformer from California, and he had met Coxey at a silver convention at Chicago in 1893. They worked together to promote the march which had 44 reporters accompanying them. They began with little over a hundred people, but they had grown to 600 when they reached Homestead, Pennsylvania. New York City Police Superintendent Thomas Byrnes called Coxeyites “idle, useless,” and a serious danger, and President Cleveland sent two Secret Service agents to infiltrate their protest. Charles T. Kelly led another industrial army of 1,500 from San Francisco, but only 868 reached Ogden, Utah. They continued to Council Bluffs and Des Moines, but only a small number made it to Washington DC.
      May 1 had become International Workers Day in 1889. On April 30 about 500 unemployed people arrived in Washington which had 85,000 black Americans, and many joined Coxey’s movement. When they paraded, the police attacked them. Coxey had a plan for the US Congress to approve $500 million in paper money for improving infrastructure including roads to stimulate the economy. They demanded at least $1.50 for common labor for only 8 hours per day. He and Browne were arrested for speaking on the grass by the Capitol. During the trial on May 21 when the judge called Coxey a “dreamer,” he replied,

Twenty million people are hungry
and can’t wait two years to eat.
Four million people idle for nine months—
that is what Grover Cleveland has cost this country.9

They were fined $5 and sentenced to 20 days in jail.

      Others had tried to join them in marches from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), Tacoma, and Utah. William Hogan led 3,500 members of the Butte Miners’ Union from Montana. The US Attorney General Olney ordered US Marshal McDermott to hire deputies to defeat the Coxeyites. Railroad men helped the miners take over an engine with six coal cars and a boxcar, and they headed east to Bozeman. Deputy Hailey and his men encountered them near Billings. Shooting started, killing one man, and the sheriff arrested several men. The train moved on, and Montana’s Gov. John E. Rickards telegraphed President Cleveland and asked for federal troops. Hogan wired that his men would surrender to US soldiers. Judge Knowles sentenced Hogan to six months and followers to shorter terms.

Pullman’s Company & the 1894 ARU Strike

      George Pullman, like Eugene Debs, had worked in a retail store as a boy, and he liked making a profit. He helped his father lift and move buildings and became an expert at moving buildings away from the Erie Canal and then raising them above the swampy part of Chicago. Andrew Carnegie was a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he helped Pullman get a contract for the Central Transportation Company’s sleeping-cars. Pullman hired a substitute to avoid serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He went to Colorado and set up a crushing mill to extract gold from rock.
      After three years of business dealing Pullman had considerable capital which he used to hire a mechanic to construct a railway car that could be converted to a sleeper. He built luxury cars and a dining car. He designed the first railroad sleeper-car in 1863, and he and Andrew Carnegie merged companies to form the Pullman Palace Car Corporation at Chicago in 1867. Carnegie in 1872 visited England and learned about the Bessemer process for making steel, and his steel helped build railway cars. Instead of selling them Pullman maintained control over his cars by leasing them to railway companies for the wealthy and corporate executives. His company built a foundry, rolling-mill, paint-making factory, and a knitting mill. Railway passengers had to pay $2 extra to ride in a Pullman car. The transcontinental railroad shortened the coast-to-coast trip from one month or more to one week. Selling his Pullman cars for $20,000 cost four times as much as usual sleeper-cars and twice as much as locomotives. Pullman donated to Negro causes and hired blacks but only as porters at $10 a month for a 90-hour week while white conductors were paid $65 a month.
      Pullman’s luxury sleeping-car was on display at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, and by then his company had taken over most of the other sleeping-car manufacturers. He retained control of his sleeping cars and made contracts with the various railroads. The Exposition Flyer took passengers to Chicago from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington at 80 miles an hour. Chicago had become a city rife with filth from open sewers, pollution, vice, crime, poverty, and diseases such as typhoid that had killed 2,000 people in 1891. In Chicago many poor workers lived in squalid tenements, and 100,000 homeless and unemployed people were on the streets.
      Pullman had his factory built 14 miles south of Chicago with housing for the workers constructed with bricks, and the town was called Pullman. Their death rate was about half that of other American cities. His rents were 25% higher than comparable housing nearby. He bought water from Chicago for 4 cents per 1,000 gallons and charged his residents 10 cents. Prices at the Pullman store were higher than other retail markets. By 1892 the proportion of foreign-born people among Pullman employees was 72%. He donated 5,000 books to the Pullman library. Human waste was processed and used to fertilize the vegetable farm for the town. In February 1885 Richard Ely had published a detailed article about Pullman in Harper’s Weekly. After describing the town’s various facilities he noted that residents were reluctant to talk to him because everything was owned by the Pullman company. He concluded that the workers had a “gilded cage as a substitute for personal liberty.” Pullman did not sell homes because he wanted to control their habits. Occupants could be evicted without being given a reason. Pullman executives controlled the school board. Arrogant foremen and forewomen over the women were feared, and they watched how the men voted. Pullman hated labor unions and would not let labor organizers speak in his town.
      The Pullman Corporation in 1893 had 2,573 palace cars with a total of $62 million in assets. That year dividends were $2,500,000, and wages were $7,200,000. During the depression that started in May 1893 Pullman’s business declined. He fired workers and cut pay, and managers began demanding piece-work to speed up production. In December steamfitters and blacksmiths went on strike because of a 25% wage reduction. Pullman said they could work or quit, and most went back to work. Previously he had fired strikers and replaced them. Skilled mechanics had their salaries decreased by 60%. In 1894 his dividends rose $360,000 while wages went down by $2,700,000 or 25%. The average workday was between 10 and 11 hours. The 19-year-old seamstress Jennie Curtis had her pay cut from $2.25 for ten hours to 70 cents. More employees became debtors to the company. Some took in boarders. Tenants had to buy their food and other items in the company store where prices were higher. Secretly men and women at Pulman joined 19 locals in the American Railway Union (ARU).
      George Pullman worked 10 or 11 hours a day, and in March 1894 his wife Hattie said he was very tired and could only rest. At their mansion in Chicago they could entertain 400 guests at a party. They also had homes in Long Branch, New Jersey and Castle Rest on one of New York’s Thousand Islands. They returned from there to Pullman on May 4.
      The American Railway Union organizer George Howard sent a report about conditions at Pullman to Eugene Debs who advised him to work to prevent a strike. Pullman employees with families who had only 76 cents per day for food and clothing demanded a reduction in their rent. On May 7 Howard and an ARU committee of workers met with Pullman’s second vice president, Thomas Wickes. Thomas Heathcote spoke for the employees and asked for the same wage scale as the previous year and complained that rents were too high. He asked why a wall was built by the shops and why they had hired extra guards. Wickes claimed that the company was losing money and that they were not pressuring residents to pay the $70,000 they owed in back rent. One worker said he was pushed and that he made only $2 for two weeks work to feed eight children. When the idea of a strike was raised, Howard said that the ARU tries to prevent strikes. Heathcote complained that the foremen were incompetent and tyrannical. Wickes promised they would investigate and asked them to come back in two days with their complaints in writing.
      Several executives attended the meeting on May 9, and Mr. Pullman appeared. He explained that with the wages they wanted, his company would not win any contracts and that the plant would close, and he promised that he would not fire any who attended the meeting. That night the ARU members had a meeting. The next morning three members of the grievance committee were laid off. That evening Jennie Curtis criticized the company officials. They discussed issues and just before dawn they all voted for a strike. The company had spies, and the workers learned that they were going to shut down the company at noon; but before then all 3,000 workers went out on strike. That evening it was reported that Pullman had donated $100,000 to the museum in Jackson Park. Heathcote spoke for many when he said that they could not work for less wages than were needed to feed their families.
      On May 14 the Pullman Palace Car Company announced its usual 2% quarterly dividend, and Debs estimated that they were giving stockholders $600,000 in profit acquired in three months from the employees’ work. He believed the workers could win the strike if they stayed together. Jane Addams who was helping the poor at Hull House in Chicago came to Pullman to support the workers. She waited to talk with Wickes, and he eventually dismissed her as an irrelevant third party. Pullman himself kept repeating that he had “nothing to arbitrate.” Chicago Times editors defended the strikers and called the Pullman town condition “deplorable.”
      On June 12 about 400 American Railway Union delegates met in Chicago for its first national convention. Debs spoke in Ulrich’s Hall and noted that they had 425 locals representing all railroad men. He said they must not accept degrading conditions without resistance, or else one surrenders one’s honest convictions, loyalty to principle, and “ceases to be a man.” He advised using the virtue of patience to encounter difficulties. He said that when coalminers strike for honest wages, ARU men will not haul any coal “mined by non-union labor.” He commended Coxey’s Commonweal armies who were marching to Washington. He mentioned the hunger in the USA “where food is fabulously abundant.” He denounced the failure of the two main parties and urged better legislation to achieve peace and prosperity. He noted that advanced thinkers favor the 8-hour day which would provide employment for 1,250,000 more men. He criticized Pullman for robbing his employees and religiously cutting their wages. Debs condemned corporate greed, heartlessness, and fraud, and he suggested that the time was approaching when the government will be required to own the railroads in order to prevent the railroads from owning the government. He estimated that railroads own $10 billion of the nation’s $65 billion. Other nations own railroads and have shown it is feasible. Dividends could be shared with the public, and executive salaries could be more fairly shared with employees. The ARU has welcomed women as members, and justice demands they have a man’s pay. He reported that the Great Northern Railway strike after 18 days was victorious on May 1.
      On June 15 the convention met as a committee to discuss the Pullman strike. Jennie Curtis inspired the delegates with her economic struggle. That day she and eleven went to see Wickes who refused to arbitrate or even recognize the ARU, but he agreed to speak to Pullman employees the next day. Then Wickes told them they had quit and were no longer employees. The convention voted for $2,000 to relieve strikers and assessed 10 cents per week from members for the strike fund. The ARU action committee advised ARU members to “refuse to handle Pullman cars and equipment” starting on June 26. Debs closed the convention on the 23rd, saying the only thing he disagreed on was their excluding Negroes from the union. The next day the Chicago Tribune predicted that the ARU boycott would cause “serious complications” and “widespread disorders.”
      Debs set up headquarters at Ulrich Hall in Chicago and instructed car inspectors, switchmen, engineers, and brakemen not to handle Pullman cars. If they dismissed employees who disobeyed or replaced them with non-union men, ARU members were to stop work. On June 26 Illinois Central switchmen refused Pullman cars and were dismissed, and that morning 3,500 trainmen left their jobs. Debs offered to protect workers who were not ARU members. By the third day the New York Times reported that the Illinois Central, Chicago Great Western, Baltimore & Ohio, Chicago and Northern Pacific, and the Western Indiana System were immobilized. On June 28 the US Congress made Labor Day a national holiday on the first Monday in September. Debs allowed local union officials to make practical decisions on striking. The Knights of Labor and their Grand Master Workman James Sovereign supported the ARU. About 2,000 people gathered at Grand Crossing on the South Side of Chicago, and they helped Pullman strikers block suburban trains on June 29.
      On that day Pullman rode the Pennsylvania Railroad to his home in New Jersey. Railroad executives from 24 corporations had formed the General Managers Association (GMA) of Chicago in 1892. They controlled $818 million, 41,000 miles of railways, and 221,000 employees, and they appointed John M. Egan to command their response to the strike. He ordered companies to fire any employee who refused orders, and he sent out agents to hire replacements for strikers. The GMA refused to communicate or negotiate with the ARU. With so many unemployed because of the depression Egan believed he could hire 50,000 men. He directed 30 railroad detectives to investigate ARU leaders. He ordered strikers blacklisted for life while guaranteeing that replacement workers would have permanent employment.
      The American Railway Union’s boycott spread to railways in much of the nation bringing over 200,000 workers into the struggle. Nearly every western railroad had at least a thousand men on strike. Debs was sending out about two hundred telegrams a day. He called “the Christlike virtue of sympathy … the hope of civilization and the supreme glory of mankind.” The GMA leader Egan acknowledged that the railroads were losing some $250,000 per day. The strikebreakers on the Pan Handle Route of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad were persuaded to quit their new jobs. The Chicago Bugle and African-American Patriot publisher and other black journalists criticized the ARU for excluding colored men. Black workers in Chicago organized the Anti-Strikers Railroad Union that helped unemployed blacks replace white strikers, and the African-American League of East St. Louis offered the GMA 200 black workers as freight handlers. That city across the Mississippi River from St. Louis then had and now still has mostly black people.
      With little rail transport the price of food in many places greatly increased, and in the hot summer the price of ice in Chicago multiplied by four. To alleviate the suffering of passengers Debs ordered union men not to interfere with passenger trains already in transit, though often the Pullman cars used by the wealthy were still targets. For Debs his greatest concern was violence, and he appealed to strikers to restrain themselves from harming persons and from destroying property which he considered to be against the cause of labor.
      At 7 a.m. on June 30 workers on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad went on strike. That day Debs met with Chicago’s Trades and Labor Assembly in Ulrich’s Hall, and they asked Gov. Altgeld to order railroad officials to run trains without Pullman cars. The Assembly’s unions resolved to go on strike if necessary. Debs asked them to wait until they were called. Other strikers acted that day and evening in the Chicago area. The Chicago Tribune reported “acts of lawlessness and violence, and the New York Times called it the “GREATEST STRIKE IN HISTORY.”
      Debs and others defied the injunction which many considered outrageous. He had rested on Sunday, but the next day he ordered ARU men to help stop violence by having troublemakers arrested. Egan conceded that the railroads had been stopped. Chicago’s police commissioner Michael Brennan sent squads to quell disorder, and Sheriff Gilbert swore in 250 deputies to patrol Cook County outside the city. Debs advised strikers to ignore rumors and not be frightened by troops. Many businessmen and other people resented the railroads and supported the boycott against Pullman.
      The GMA and Egan wanted Federal troops sent from Fort Sheridan which had been built 25 miles from Chicago after the Haymarket riot so that troops would be stationed closer than Leavenworth, Kansas. Vicious and false rumors were spread about Debs, and fake interviews were even published. Joseph Pulitzer in the New York World warned that Federal intervention would be worse than any strike. Debs asked ARU members and supporters to boycott anti-union newspapers and their advertisers. He asked supporters to wear a white ribbon, and his wife Rosette made white rosettes for women.
      On July 2 Chief Marshal Arnold and Sheriff Gilbert sent 135 deputized men to the Blue Island yards where a train had been derailed. A crowd of 2,000 quickly gathered, and a brawl broke out around Arnold as men uncoupled train cars. After a passenger train arrived, people refused to obey Arnold’s order to disperse. Union men offered to let the passenger train go after they detached the Pullman cars; but Arnold ordered his men to clear a path. That night he wired US Attorney General Olney asking for the 15th Infantry because of 2,000 rioters and concluding, “Mail trains are in great danger.” The Pullman railroad strike was spreading from Chicago to San Francisco and from St. Paul to Santa Fe and Texas.
      Early on July 4 Debs learned that Cleveland had sent troops to Chicago. That day he spoke at public meetings encouraging strikers and warning everyone to avoid violence. People were afraid to use the railroads, which missed out on $500,000 in revenues that day. That evening Col. Crofton arrived with eight companies of infantry and the 7th Cavalry. US troops came to protect property and the railway mail service. Debs spoke to reporters warning that soldiers firing at mobs could start a civil war. He said, “It is corporation greed and avarice alone that have brought us to the verge of revolution.”10 Egan expected the US troops and the American Railway Union (ARU) “to fight it out.” By the stockyards about 25,000 strikers and their supporters confronted 150 soldiers who with bayonets forced the strikers to retreat. Several thousand deputy marshals goaded the strikers who were decoupling trains. That night vandals pushed over boxcars and a few passenger cars.
      On July 5 rioters burned or overturned freight cars, and General Miles asked General Schofield to send more troops. Chicago’s Mayor Hopkins had proposed a settlement, but the railroad managers refused arbitration by the Chicago City Council. Hopkins asked Gov. Altgeld to send the Illinois National Guard. Instead Altgeld mobilized 3,000 state militia, and he advised the soldiers to keep their rifles unloaded. Later he would deploy 3,000 more. General Miles had a thousand men. There were also 3,000 police officers, 500 sheriff deputies, and several thousand deputy marshals who were mostly railroad employees including detectives. When a crowd surrounded a locomotive, a detective with a revolver shot dead a switchman. Debs said, “Labor will stand by labor,” and he considered a general strike. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) leader Samuel Gompers was supporting the workers. That night a fire burned the deserted White City that had been set up for the 1892-93 Columbian Exposition including the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, the biggest structure in the world. Debs noted that their strike against the railroad corporations had become “a conflict in which the organized forces of society and all the powers of the municipal, State, and Federal governments were arraigned against us.”11

      On Friday July 6 the nation’s largest labor conflict escalated as mobs overturned at least 150 boxcars while fire destroyed 250 on sidings. Outside the stockyards about 700 freight cars of the Panhandle Railroad were burned. Some 200 open cars with coal were set aflame. Debs reported, “We have it upon reliable authority that thugs and toughs have been employed to create trouble so as to prejudice the public against our cause.”12 Property damage in Chicago on that day was estimated at $1 million. City officials found that railroad losses that day were $340,000 while on no other day during the strike had they been over $4,000. The railroad’s chief detective Gerald Stark, acting as a deputy marshal, mortally wounded William Anslyn with three bullets. That evening Ulrich Hall was filled with workers and their delegates, and they discussed a general strike. Debs proposed calling off the strike if they agreed to take back the employees. The Building Trades Council, which represented 25,000 workers, proposed asking Pullman for arbitration; if he refused, then they would stop all industries. They agreed to meet again on Sunday. The union used bicycles to get intelligence in Chicago, and they learned that most factories were on the verge of closing which would make a hundred thousand unemployed.
      On Saturday the Federal troops were directed to shoot anyone who set fires, destroyed property, threw objects, or attacked marshals of trainmen. State militia and police were given similar instructions. When a stone hit a policeman, he fired his revolver at the crowd. A return shot came from a shed. Then Captain Mair ordered the Illinois National Guard to aim and shoot at the crowd. After a few volleys he told them to charge with their bayonets. On that bloody day residents fired rifles and pistols from their houses, and soldiers and police shot back. Rioting went on all night as 15 freight cars were overturned.
      George Pullman still refused negotiation, and he retreated to his island home. Delegates from over a hundred local unions met again. John McBride represented mine workers, James J. O’Connell machinists, and William B. Prescott typographers. People were going hungry, and Debs proposed a general strike to force Pullman and the General Managers Association (GMA) to rehire the strikers. McBride said that he had 45,000 miners who could strike keeping coal from railroads and others. They learned at midnight that President Cleveland had sent troops to Illinois and that his proclamation had outlawed “unlawful obstructions, combinations, and assemblages.” The delegates voted to send $1,000 to the Pullman strikers’ relief fund. They sent a committee to ask Mayor Hopkins for arbitration. If their request was denied, the general strike would begin on July 11.
      A New York World reporter wrote that Debs was declaring war on the state, and the New York Times called him an “enemy of the human race.” The London Daily News said that rioting mobs had become a “madman’s dream.” Debs agreed with Victor Hugo who said that an invading army can be resisted but that a spreading idea could not. He did not think railroads would be able to hire many strikebreakers, but during the depression they could get skilled men and other desperate workers.
      On July 9 union leaders went to see the Chicago City Council’s Commission on Arbitration, and chairman John McGillen with three aldermen and three union men called on Pullman vice president Wickes. He wired Pullman and then said they had nothing to arbitrate; Pullman would not let employees manage the business. Knights of Labor Grand Master James Sovereign urged every labor union in the nation to go on strike. AFL leader Gompers called a meeting of his Executive Council for July 12, the day after the general strike would begin.
      The arbitration deadline passed on July 10, and at 5 p.m. Chief US Marshal Arnold and deputies arrested Eugene Debs for conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce, obstruct mail, and hinder US law enforcement. US Attorney Milchrist also wanted to arrest three other American Railway Union (ARU) officers. Federal Judge Robert Grosscup presided over a grand jury. Evidence was presented, and the ARU officers were indicted. Bail was set at $10,000 per person, and the trial was set for October. Debs protested the confiscation of his records, personal papers, and unopened mail. His brother Theodore Debs arranged for their bail, and the young lawyer Clarence Darrow offered to defend them. Reporters asked US Attorney Milchrist why they were not investigating railroad managers for not delivering mail.
      As the general strike began on July 11, incidents in Illinois and California resulted in a few people being killed. McBride had not called out coalminers; the Chicago Building Trades Council postponed the strike until Saturday; and 40 unions in Milwaukee only expressed sympathy with the ARU. In Chicago cigar makers put off the strike for a day, and plumbers provided $1,200 for Pullman strikers. Their fund was down to $1,500, and $500 was needed for all the families to have one meal. About 25,000 workers in Chicago had joined the strike.
      Samuel Gompers believed that including unskilled laborers diluted the power of the union; his union was for skilled workers. He arrived from New York that evening. At their AFL meeting on July 12 the Ladies Federal Labor Union delegate Fanny Kavanaugh was not allowed to participate and left. Gompers invited the officers of the skilled railroad brotherhoods even though they were not affiliated with the AFL. Charles Dodd urged the general strike, and Gompers questioned him. They could only agree to send a telegram inviting President Cleveland to come to Chicago. He did not respond.
      That evening Debs spoke at the AFL conference, and he asked Gompers to mediate between the ARU and the General Managers Association (GMA). Debs then said that ARU members would return to work if their positions were restored without prejudice; he accepted that they would be justified in denying a job to any employee who had been convicted of a crime. If the GMA rejects the offer, then the general strike would again be called. The AFL board voted to give $1,000 to the defense fund for the ARU officers. The AFL statement described Pullman as an avaricious tyrant and the ARU boycott as “an impulsive, vigorous protest against the gathering, growing forces of plutocratic power and corporation rule,” but they considered a general strike then as “inexpedient, unwise, and contrary to the best interests of the working people.”13 Debs blamed Gompers for crushing the strike.
      Debs and James Sovereign called on Chicago’s Mayor Hopkins and asked him to tell the GMA to take back the men on strike, and then the union would call off the boycott. This offer was intended to help Cleveland’s commission arbitrate the conflicts. Hopkins told the GMA chairman Everett St. John that keeping the militia in Chicago was costing the state $18,000 a day. John Egan told the mayor that the GMA would not acknowledge anything coming from Debs or the American Railroad Union (ARU). On July 14 the Chicago Tribune headline read DEBS’ STRIKE DEAD, and Chief Marshal Arnold dismissed 500 deputies. General managers refused to dismiss any strikebreakers they hired in order to take back penitent strikers.
      On July 17 Debs, Howard, and two other ARU officers were charged again, this time with contempt of court for violating the injunction. In court Debs said, “We will test the question as to whether men can be sent to jail without trial for organizing against capital.”14 Bail was set for $3,000 each, and they decided to go to jail. On July 23 they appeared before judges Grosscup and Woods. After two days of discussion they postponed the case until September because the prosecutor Walker was ill; they increased the bail of each man by $7,000. A bond was posted, and Debs went home to his wife at Terre Haute.
      By the end of August the Pullman Company had rehired 1,900 employees and 800 new workers. Those returning had to sign a “yellow dog” contract that they would be in no union and would accept their previous pay and rent.


1. Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896 by Charles Postel, p. 180-181.
2. Ibid., p. 193.
3. The Annals of America, Volume 10, p. 391.
4. Railroaded: The Transcontinental and the Making of Modern America by Richard White, p. 298.
5. Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (July 1889) p. 585 in Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist by Nick Salvatore, p. 92.
6. Ibid., p. 88.
7. Ibid., p. 110 and Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (Feb. 1892).
8. The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America by Jack Kelly, p. 18.
9. Ibid., p. 71.
10. Ibid., p. 172.
11. Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist by Nick Salvatore, p. 134.
12. The Edge of Anarchy by Jack Kelly, p. 193.
13. Ibid., p. 231.
14. Ibid., p. 240.

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