Homestead Strike - Summary, Causes and Impact

Homestead Strike - Summary, Causes and Impact

In July 1892, a dispute between Carnegie Steel and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers exploded into violence at a steel plant owned by Andrew Carnegie in Homestead, Pennsylvania. In what would be one of the deadliest labor-management conflicts in the nation’s history, some 12 people were killed when striking workers attacked 300 Pinkerton detectives hired by the plant’s management as security guards.

Carnegie Steel vs. Steelworkers’ Union

By 1892, Andrew Carnegie had worked his way up from his poor childhood in Scotland to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful industrialists in the United States. He was the majority shareholder of Carnegie Steel, the nation’s largest steelmaker, as well as a leading philanthropist who voiced public support for labor causes, including the right of workers to unionize.

But when Henry Clay Frick, chairman and chief executive of Carnegie Steel, wanted to cut workers’ wages at the plant in Homestead, located near Pittsburgh on the south bank of the Monongahela River, Carnegie supported Frick’s efforts despite his public pro-labor stance. Homestead was one of the most important of Carnegie Steel’s vast network of iron, steel and coke works, and Frick’s efforts would pit him against the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, one of the largest unions in the country.

Beginning of the Homestead strike

With the union’s three-year contract with Carnegie coming to an end in June 1892, Frick announced pay cuts for hundreds of Homestead workers. After refusing to negotiate with the union, he shuttered the Homestead steel mill on June 29, locking 3,800 workers out. Only around 725 of those workers belonged to Amalgamated, but all of them voted to strike, surprising Frick, who had assumed only union members would strike.

After Frick had a high fence topped with barbed wire built around the mill itself, leading workers to dub it “Fort Frick,” armed workers surrounded the plant and sealed off the town. In order to protect the strikebreakers he planned to hire, Frick followed the example of many industrialists battling unions and called in the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton detectives had become known for infiltrating unions and breaking strikes nationwide, including at another Carnegie plant a few years earlier.

Arrival of the Pinkertons and Outbreak of Violence

Early on the morning of July 6, around 300 Pinkerton detectives arrived on barges pulled by tugboats along the Monongahela River. When word arrived of their approach, thousands of striking workers and their families rushed to the river to keep them from coming ashore at Homestead. The two groups exchanged gunfire, with the Pinkertons armed with Winchester repeating rifles and the workers on higher ground firing down on the barges with ancient guns and even an old cannon.

After the Pinkertons repeatedly raised a white flag, the workers finally accepted their surrender by early evening. Nearly a dozen people had been killed by then, and a crowd of men, women and children brutally beat the Pinkertons who came ashore after their surrender. At Frick’s request, the governor of Pennsylvania soon sent 8,500 National Guard forces to Homestead, who quickly secured the steel mill and placed the plant and the surrounding town under martial law.

While the conflict at Homestead was playing out, Carnegie was vacationing at a remote castle in Scotland, where he spent much of each year. Though workers and members of the press tried to reach him, he remained inaccessible but stayed in communication with Frick, whose actions he endorsed.

Impact of the Homestead strike

Though the Homestead workers initially enjoyed widespread public support, this changed after their brutal treatment of the Pinkertons, as well as an attempt made on Frick’s life in late July by the anarchist Alexander Berkman, who had no connection with the union. Homestead resumed operations in full by mid-August 1892, thanks to some 1,700 strikebreakers, including some of the state’s first Black steelworkers.

Many of the striking workers had returned to work by mid-October, and the union admitted defeat the following month. The strike’s leaders were charged with murder, and others with lesser crimes. None were convicted, but the damage to unionized labor at Homestead had been done. With Amalgamated out of the way, Carnegie slashed wages across the board, implemented a 12-hour workday and cut hundreds of jobs in the years to come.

The Homestead debacle helped turn public opinion against the use of hired help like the Pinkertons in labor disputes, and 26 states passed laws outlawing it in the years following the strike. Carnegie’s own reputation suffered irreparable damage, with critics branding him a hypocrite and a coward for hiding out in Scotland and allowing Frick to do the dirty work.

Still, profits at Carnegie Steel continued to rise as its productivity outpaced its competitors, even as membership in the Amalgamated dropped from more than 20,000 in 1892 to 8,000 by 1895. The Homestead strike broke the power of the Amalgamated and effectively ended unionizing among steelworkers in the United States for the next 26 years, before it made a resurgence at the end of World War I.


The Strike at Homestead Mill. PBS American Experience.
The 1892 Battle of Homestead. The Battle of Homestead Foundation.
Leon Wolff, “Battle at Homestead.” American Heritage. Volume 16, Issue 3, April 1965. 1892 Homestead Strike.

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

Thousands of women took advantage of the Homestead Act (1862) that offered free land in the American Great Plains. Women who were single, widowed, divorced, or deserted were eligible to acquire 160 acres of federal land in their own name. The law discriminated against women who were married. A married woman was not allowed to take land in her own name unless she was considered the head of the household. The majority of homesteading women were young (at least twenty-one), single, and interested in adventure and the possibility of economic gain.

Lucy Goldthorpe told how she got caught up in the excitement of the times. "Even if you hadn't inherited a bit of restlessness and a pioneering spirit . . . it would have been difficult to ward off the excitement of the boom." Pauline Shoemaker remarked, "I've done everything else, I might as well try homesteading." Louise Karlson was looking for a good investment: "When in 1908 I heard about the homestead land one could get . . . I thought, here is my chance." A few women homesteaded land to help a male relative expand his acreage. This was the exception rather than the rule, and even in these cases the women usually received some compensation for their efforts.

Homesteading provided widows with an economic opportunity often denied them elsewhere. Many had children to support. Tyra Schanke, when widowed, was left with three children, ages three, four, and five. Kari Skredsvig brought up her seven children on a homestead near Bowbells, North Dakota. Even the elderly women took part in this venture. Anna Hensel was sixty-seven when she immigrated to the United States from Bessarabia in southern Russia. A year later, in 1903, she declared her intent to become a citizen and applied for a homestead in Hettinger County, North Dakota. Women from almost all ethnic groups took advantage of homesteading opportunities. An extensive but not all-inclusive list would include Anglo-Americans, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Hollanders, Icelanders, Germans, Germans from Russia, Bohemians, Poles, Ukrainians, Lebanese, Irish, English, Scottish, Italian, African Americans, and Jewish Americans.

Although the initial experiences of homesteaders varied considerably, few women or men struck out on such an undertaking by themselves. Settlers usually came with family or friends, but a few managed alone. Kirsten Knudsen left Norway with two other young women, but she came to Mountrail County, North Dakota, by herself. She knew no one and could not speak English. She carried only a letter of introduction to an attorney from a mutual friend.

The length of time it took to "prove up," or receive title to the land, varied over the years. The Homestead Act of 1862 required a five-year residence, but the definition of residence was ambiguous. Some homesteaders left their land for lengthy periods of time to earn money, visit family, or escape severe weather. Others remained on the land most of the time. Shortly after the initial Homestead Act was passed, amendments provided for other ways of "commuting" the claim. One such option allowed the homesteader to reside on the claim for only fourteen months and then pay $1.25 an acre to receive title.

Women who took homesteads tended to "work out" as well. Many of them pursued careers as teachers, nurses, seamstresses, and domestic workers, but a few followed less traditional paths such as journalism or photography. Many eventually married, but some remained single. Those who achieved economic success used their resources in a variety of ways. Some stayed on their homestead and accumulated additional land. Others sold their holdings and invested elsewhere. In some cases homesteaders rented out the land and used the proceeds for personal or family needs. Ida Popp sold her land in Bowman County, North Dakota, and bought land adjoining her husband's claim. Lucy Gorecki traded her 160 acres for a commercial building in Fordville, North Dakota. Anna Mathilda Berg traded her homestead for a boardinghouse in Warwick, North Dakota.

In many ways, women who homesteaded resemble contemporary women. Their schedules were demanding, requiring flexibility, ingenuity, and endurance. Most would be considered community movers and shakers, as their initiatives were instrumental in building schools, churches, and other community institutions.

The homesteading period of history usually brings to mind stories of blizzards, prairie fires, and other catastrophic events. Yet tragedy is but one dimension of human life. To dwell on that aspect is to distort reality. In spite of their heavy demands, many homesteaders found time to devote to music, art, literature, and even poetry. A sense of humor was important in shaping their outlook on life.

Visitors to the homestead of Kirsten Knudsen likely were amazed to hear musical strains from the scores of operas such as La Traviata and Aida come floating through the prairie air. When Kirsten arrived on her homestead she brought with her the operas, memorized when she had spent time as a chorus girl in the National Theater in Oslo, Norway. Women as well as men were proficient in violin, piano, organ, and other instruments. Anna Zimmerman told of playing for dances with her brother. They both played accordion, violin, and guitar. Anna often played the harmonica and danced at the same time. Homesteading was more than tears and suffering.

A closer look at the lives of women who homesteaded does not reaffirm the old descriptions that characterized them as secondary "helpmates" or reluctant pioneers. Rather, they, along with men, were main characters in the settlement drama.

H. Elaine Lindgren North Dakota State University

Fairbanks, Carol. Prairie Women: Images in American and Canadian Fiction. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

Lindgren, H. Elaine. Land in Her Own Name. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Muhn, James. "Women and the Homestead Act: Land Department Administration of a Legal Imbroglio, 1863�." Western Legal History 7 (1994): 283�.

Chronicling America is a searchable digital collection of historic newspaper pages from 1777-1963 sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.

Included in the website is the Directory of US Newspapers in American Libraries, a searchable index to newspapers published in the United States since 1690, which helps researchers identify what titles exist for a specific place and time, and how to access them.

The Causes and Effects of the Homestead Strike

The Homestead Strike was a very violent, but important event to the people of the American Business Industry. The violent act of a desperate businessman, in attempt to retain peace, killed many men. The infamous story of the Pinkertons changed the ways of American business agreements. The Homestead Strike changed the traditional American business environment by creating new laws and the awareness of the need for peace in business world.

The Carnegie Steel Company was a successful factory, which employed many hundred of workers. Andrew Carnegie, who was the owner of the company, wanted a large successful business, which he had achieved already, but he was always looking for ways to save and make more money. By 1892, unions had been formed (Gardner p. 70). The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, founded in 1876, it quickly became the largest union with some 24,000 workers (Ciment p. 33). The union prevented Andrew Carnegie from lowering cost and wages.

By 1900, Carnegie's steel was cheap. Suddenly bridges and skyscrapers were not only possible but also affordable. Steel fed national growth, accelerating the already booming industrial area. Steel meant more jobs, national stature, and a higher quality of life for many. For Carnegie's workers, however, cheap steel meant lower wages, less job security, and the end of creative labor. Carnegie's drive for efficiency cost steel workers their unions and control over their own labor.

Only 325 of the 3,800 workers of the Carnegie Steel Company were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. The small group of high-paid workers that belonged to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers helped battled the company over wages and rights of workers. They fought over working conditions. One of the worst working conditions of the Carnegie Steel Company was the fact that they paid absolutely no hazard pay. Approximately 300 men were killed and another 2,000 were injured while working there. The Carnegie Steel Company offered no reimbursement whatsoever to the families of the men killed or to the injured men themselves (Gardner p. 65). The Amalgamated members at Homestead also "badgered the company into acceding to most of its demands." (Gardner p. 65)

The company was forced into many decisions by the Amalgamated members at Homestead. The union (Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers) was a very powerful force, and Andrew Carnegie wanted the union gone (Ciment p. 33). Without the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers the company would've been able to change wages without confrontation.

The union and the rest of the workers contracts' were set to expire on June 30, 1892. In 1889, workers had won a strike and negotiated a three-year contract for fluctuating scale depending on profit (Goldner p. 1). Andrew Carnegie left Henry Clay Frick in charge of battling the contract dispute. Henry Clay Frick was known for his anti-union policy. The two sides disputing the contract agreement continued to have meetings and could not reach an agreement. The workers tried to hang Frick and superintendent J.A. Potter on mill property to express their disgruntlement (Goldner p. 1). The workers were extremely irritated and felt that the company was not reasonable, practical, or rational.

The union and non-union workers tried hard together under the management of Hugh O'Donnell, an active member of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, to reach an agreement. Three more conferences between the two sides took place between March and June. "Frick then announced that he would no longer work the Amalgamated and that work would commence as usual on July 6th, without recognition of the Union (Goldner p. 1). This angered the workers and in a meeting, 3,800 workers voted to strike (Goldner p. 1). This was a surprisingly larger amount of strikers then the company was prepared for.

The Homestead strike, 1892

An account of a militant strike of steel workers of the Carnegie company in the US defending their organisation and conditions against the bosses, the police and hired armed mercenaries.

The Robber Baron Andrew Carnegie precipitated the Homestead Strike of 1892 with his attack against the standard of living of the workers and his bid to break the union representing the highest skilled workers. Carnegie announced his intention to impose an 18 percent pay cut and issued a statement saying that the real issue was whether the Homestead steel workers would be union or non-union. He ordered a 12 foot high fence to be built around the plant – 3 miles in length – with 3 inch holes at shoulder height every 25 feet, signalling preparation for an armed fight with the workers. At the same time Carnegie hired the notorious Pinkerton company to provide armed thugs for the upcoming struggle. An ultimatum was issued for workers to accept the wage cut by June 24th or face mass layoffs.

The workers did not take these provocations lightly. They were not about to abandon the union and submit to Carnegie’s dictates without a fight. The Amalgamated Union, which represented the skilled workers, about 750 of the plant’s 3,800 employees, established an Advisory Committee, comprised of five delegates from each lodge, to coordinate the struggle against Carnegie’s attacks. A mass meeting of 3,000 workers from all categories, union and non-union voted overwhelmingly to strike.

The Advisory Committee took responsibility for organising an elaborate network to track the company’s manoeuvres, to monitor the possibility of an anticipated transport of Pinkerton goons by river boat from Pittsburgh. Workers rented their own vessel to patrol the river. Every road within a five mile radius of Homestead was blockaded, and a thousand strikers patrolled the river banks for ten miles. The Committee assumed virtual control of the town, assuming authority over the water, gas, and electricity facilities, shutting down the saloons, maintaining order and proclaiming ad hoc laws. An attempt by the county sheriff to move against the strikers fell flat on its face when he proved unable to raise a posse. The workers offered the sheriff a tour of the plant and promised to guarantee the security of the facility from any trespassers. Sympathy for the strikers was high.

On July 5th a steam whistle sounded the alarm at 4am. Two barges transporting more than 300 Pinkertons left Pittsburgh. By the time the thugs arrived at Homestead, 10,000 armed strikers and their supporters were gathered to "greet" them. An armed confrontation erupted. Thirty workers were wounded, and three killed in the early fighting. Armed proletarians from nearby towns rushed to the scene to reinforce their class brothers. The shoot-out continued throughout the day. Finally the demoralised Pinkertons, trapped in debilitating heat on the barges, outnumbered and outgunned, mutinied against their superiors.

Most were not regular agents, but reservists who had been recruited under false pretences they were prepared to do some bullying, intimidating and terrorising, but did not have the stomach to confront armed, organised class resistance. Once the Pinkertons surrendered, the workers debated what to do with their despised prisoners. Angered by the casualties inflicted by the Pinkertons – a total of 40 wounded, 9 killed - some wanted to execute the thugs, but the Committee reasoned that a mass execution would be used against the strikers by the bosses. Instead the Pinkertons were forced to run a gauntlet. In the end the casualties suffered by the Pinkertons were 20 shot, seven killed and 300 injured running the gauntlet.

In retaliation for the deaths of strikers, a young Russian anarchist called Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate the Carnegie boss Henry Clay Frick. He shot Frick twice and stabbed him, but Frick remarkably survived. Berkman was subsequently imprisoned for 14 years.

The strike continued for four months. Eventually federal troops were brought in to crush the struggle, and 160 strikers were arrested and charged with murder and assault. But the bosses’ repressive apparatus could not find a jury anywhere in the Pittsburgh region that would convict a single striker. All were acquitted. Hugh O’Donnell, one of the strike leaders, was first charged with treason. Following his acquittal on those charges, he was immediately rearrested and tried for murder. And following acquittal on that charge, he was rearrested and tried for assault – again successfully beating back the state's prosecution.

However, despite beating back the criminal charges, the strike morale was broken, and the union driven out. Throughout the country workers were sympathetic to the struggle at Homestead, and needless to say, the spokesmen of the capitalist class were furious. Strikers were referred to as a "mob." The New York Times granted that the company had provoked the battle, nevertheless maintained solidarity with its class brother and insisted that the obligation of the state was "to enforce law and order at Homestead, to quell the mob, to put the property of the Carnegie Steel Company in possession its owners and to protect their lawful rights."

Despite ending in defeat, Homestead was an important moment in the history of class struggle in America. What happened at Homestead was not a riot. It was organised class violence, consciously controlled by the workers, as part of the struggle. Homestead demonstrated clearly the capacity of workers to organise their struggles, to resist the attacks of the capitalist class, to achieve an active solidarity in struggle, to organise their own power to rival that of the local state apparatus during the struggle, to organise class violence and exercise it judiciously.

Edited and altered by libcom from an article called Historical legacy of the working class - History Demonstrates the Power of Workers’ Struggles by the International Communist Current.

The Causes and Effects of the Homestead Strike

The Homestead Strike was a very violent, but important event to the people of the American Business Industry. The violent act of a desperate businessman, in attempt to retain peace, killed many men. The infamous story of the Pinkertons changed the ways of American business agreements. The Homestead Strike changed the traditional American business environment by creating new laws and the awareness of the need for peace in business world.

The Carnegie Steel Company was a successful factory, which employed many hundred of workers. Andrew Carnegie, who was the owner of the company, wanted a large successful business, which he had achieved already, but he was always looking for ways to save and make more money. By 1892, unions had been formed (Gardner p. 70). The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, founded in 1876, it quickly became the largest union with some 24,000 workers (Ciment p. 33).

The union prevented Andrew Carnegie from lowering cost and wages.

By 1900, Carnegie's steel was cheap. Suddenly bridges and skyscrapers were not only possible but also affordable. Steel fed national growth, accelerating the already booming industrial area. Steel meant more jobs, national stature, and a higher quality of life for many. For Carnegie's workers, however, cheap steel meant lower wages, less job security, and the end of creative labor. Carnegie's drive for efficiency cost steel workers their unions and control over their own labor.

Only 325 of the 3,800 workers of the Carnegie Steel Company were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. The small group of high-paid workers that belonged to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers helped battled the company over wages and rights of workers. They fought over working conditions. One of the worst working conditions of the Carnegie Steel Company.

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Several suspects, including the speakers at the protest, were arrested. The blame for the riot was put entirely on the anarchists and the labor organizations. Some leaders and their newspaper offices were searched and raided by the police. The trials were accused to be concluded in a biased manner. The sentences of Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab (assistant editor to August Spies) were commuted by Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby to life in prison on November 10. 1887. The next day, on November 11, George Engel (believed to be at home during the riot), Adolph Fischer (type setter of the newspaper ‘Arbeiter Zeitung’, August Spies, and Albert Parsons were executed.

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Carnegie Steel made major technological innovations in the 1880s, especially the installation of the open-hearth system at Homestead in 1886. It now became possible to make steel suitable for structural beams and for armor plate for the United States Navy, which paid far higher prices for the premium product. In addition, the plant moved increasingly toward the continuous system of production. Carnegie installed vastly improved systems of material-handling, like overhead cranes, hoists, charging machines, and buggies. All of this greatly sped up the process of steelmaking, and allowed the production of vastly larger quantities of the product. As the mills expanded, the labor force grew rapidly, especially with unskilled workers. However, while Carnegie Steel grew and progressed, workers at Homestead were seeing their wages drop. [9]

The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA) was an American labor union formed in 1876. It was a craft union representing skilled iron and steelworkers.

The AA's membership was concentrated in ironworks west of the Allegheny Mountains. The union negotiated national uniform wage scales on an annual basis helped regulate working hours, workload levels and work speeds and helped improve working conditions. It also acted as a hiring hall, helping employers find scarce puddlers and rollers. [10]

The AA organized the independently-owned Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works in Homestead in 1881. The AA engaged in a bitter strike at the Homestead works on January 1, 1882, in an effort to prevent management from including a non-union clause in the workers' contracts, known as a "yellow-dog contract". The violence occurred on both sides, and the plant brought in numerous strikebreakers. The strike ended on March 20 in a complete victory for the union. [11]

The AA struck the steel plant again on July 1, 1889, when negotiations for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement failed. The strikers seized the town and once again made common cause with various immigrant groups. Backed by 2,000 townspeople, the strikers drove off a trainload of strikebreakers on July 10. When the sheriff returned with 125 newly deputized agents two days later, the strikers rallied 5,000 townspeople to their cause. Although victorious, the union agreed to significant wage cuts that left tonnage rates less than half those at the nearby Jones and Laughlin works, where technological improvements had not been made. [12]

Carnegie officials conceded that the AA essentially ran the Homestead plant after the 1889 strike. The union contract contained 58 pages of footnotes defining work-rules at the plant and strictly limited management's ability to maximize output. [13]

For its part, the AA saw substantial gains after the 1889 strike. Membership doubled, and the local union treasury had a balance of $146,000. The Homestead union grew belligerent, and relationships between workers and managers grew tense. [14]

The Homestead strike was organized and purposeful, a harbinger of the type of strike which marked the modern age of labor relations in the United States. [15] The AA strike at the Homestead steel mill in 1892 was different from previous large-scale strikes in American history such as the Great railroad strike of 1877 or the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886. Earlier strikes had been largely leaderless and disorganized mass uprisings of workers.

Andrew Carnegie placed industrialist Henry Clay Frick in charge of his company's operations in 1881. Frick resolved to break the union at Homestead. "The mills have never been able to turn out the product they should, owing to being held back by the Amalgamated men," he complained in a letter to Carnegie. [16]

Carnegie was publicly in favor of labor unions. He condemned the use of strikebreakers and told associates that no steel mill was worth a single drop of blood. [17] But Carnegie agreed with Frick's desire to break the union and "reorganize the whole affair, and . . . exact good reasons for employing every man. Far too many men required by Amalgamated rules." [18] Carnegie ordered the Homestead plant to manufacture large amounts of inventory so the plant could weather a strike. He also drafted a notice (which Frick never released) withdrawing recognition of the union. [19]

With the collective bargaining agreement due to expire on June 30, 1892, Frick and the leaders of the local AA union entered into negotiations in February. With the steel industry doing well and prices higher, the AA asked for a wage increase the AA represented about 800 of the 3,800 workers at the plant. Frick immediately countered with a 22% wage decrease that would affect nearly half the union's membership and remove a number of positions from the bargaining unit. Carnegie encouraged Frick to use the negotiations to break the union: ". the Firm has decided that the minority must give way to the majority. These works, therefore, will be necessarily non-union after the expiration of the present agreement." [20] Carnegie believed that the Amalgamated was a hindrance to efficiency furthermore it was not representative of the workers. It admitted only a small group of skilled workers. It was in its own way an elitist, discriminatory organization that was not worthy of the republic, Carnegie felt. [21]

Frick announced on April 30, 1892 that he would bargain for 29 more days. If no contract was reached, Carnegie Steel would cease to recognize the union. Carnegie formally approved Frick's tactics on May 4. Then Frick offered a slightly better wage scale and advised the superintendent to tell the workers, "We do not care whether a man belongs to a union or not, nor do we wish to interfere. He may belong to as many unions or organizations as he chooses, but we think our employees at Homestead Steel Works would fare much better working under the system in vogue at Edgar Thomson and Duquesne." [22]

Frick locked workers out of the plate mill and one of the open hearth furnaces on the evening of June 28. When no collective bargaining agreement was reached on June 29, Frick locked the union out of the rest of the plant. A high fence topped with barbed wire, begun in January, was completed and the plant sealed to the workers. Sniper towers with searchlights were constructed near each mill building, and high-pressure water cannons (some capable of spraying boiling-hot liquid) were placed at each entrance. Various aspects of the plant were protected, reinforced, or shielded. [23]

At a mass meeting on June 30, local AA leaders reviewed the final negotiating sessions and announced that the company had broken the contract by locking out workers a day before the contract expired. The Knights of Labor, which had organized the mechanics and transportation workers at Homestead, agreed to walk out alongside the skilled workers of the AA. Workers at Carnegie plants in Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Union Mills and Beaver Falls struck in sympathy the same day. [24]

The Declaration of the Strike Committee, dated July 20, 1892 reads in part,

The employees in the mill of Messrs. Carnegie, Phipps & Co., at Homestead, Pa., have built there a town with its homes, its schools and its churches have for many years been faithful co-workers with the company in the business of the mill have invested thousands of dollars of their savings in said mill in the expectation of spending their lives in Homestead and of working in the mill during the period of their efficiency. . . . "Therefore, the committee desires to express to the public as its firm belief that both the public and the employees aforesaid have equitable rights and interests in the said mill which cannot be modified or diverted without due process of law that the employees have the right to continuous employment in the said mill during efficiency and good behavior without regard to religious, political or economic opinions or associations that it is against public policy and subversive of the fundamental principles of American liberty that a whole community of workers should be denied employment or suffer any other social detriment on account of membership in a church, a political party or a trade union that it is our duty as American citizens to resist by every legal and ordinary means the unconstitutional, anarchic and revolutionary policy of the Carnegie Company, which seems to evince a contempt [for] public and private interests and a disdain [for] the public conscience. . . . [25]

The strikers were determined to keep the plant closed. They secured a steam-powered river launch and several rowboats to patrol the Monongahela River, which ran alongside the plant. Men also divided themselves into units along military lines. Picket lines were thrown up around the plant and the town, and 24-hour shifts established. Ferries and trains were watched. Strangers were challenged to give explanations for their presence in town if one was not forthcoming, they were escorted outside the city limits. Telegraph communications with AA locals in other cities were established to keep tabs on the company's attempts to hire replacement workers. Reporters were issued special badges which gave them safe passage through the town, but the badges were withdrawn if it was felt misleading or false information made it into the news. Tavern owners were even asked to prevent excessive drinking. [26]

Frick was also busy. The company placed ads for replacement workers in newspapers as far away as Boston, St. Louis and even Europe. [27]

But unprotected strikebreakers would be driven off. On July 4, Frick formally requested that Sheriff William H. McCleary intervene to allow supervisors access to the plant. Carnegie corporation attorney Philander Knox gave the go-ahead to the sheriff on July 5, and McCleary dispatched 11 deputies to the town to post handbills ordering the strikers to stop interfering with the plant's operation. The strikers tore down the handbills and told the deputies that they would not turn over the plant to nonunion workers. Then they herded the deputies onto a boat and sent them downriver to Pittsburgh. [28]

Frick had ordered the construction of a solid board fence topped with barbed wire around mill property. The workers dubbed the newly fortified mill "Fort Frick."

Frick's intent was to open the works with nonunion men on July 6. Knox devised a plan to get the Pinkertons onto the mill property. With the mill ringed by striking workers, the agents would access the plant grounds from the river. Three hundred Pinkerton agents assembled on the Davis Island Dam on the Ohio River about five miles below Pittsburgh at 10:30 p.m. on the night of July 5, 1892. They were given Winchester rifles, placed on two specially-equipped barges and towed upriver. [29] They were also given badges which read "Watchman, Carnegie Company, Limited." [30] Many had been hired out of lodging houses at $2.50 per day and were unaware of what their assignment was in Homestead. [31]

The strikers were prepared for the Pinkerton agents the AA had learned of the Pinkertons as soon as they had left Boston for the embarkation point. The small flotilla of union boats went downriver to meet the barges. Strikers on the steam launch fired a few random shots at the barges, then withdrew—blowing the launch whistle to alert the plant. The strikers blew the plant whistle at 2:30 a.m., drawing thousands of men, women and children to the plant. [32]

Pinkertons attempt to land Edit

The Pinkertons attempted to land under cover of darkness about 4 a.m. A large crowd of families had kept pace with the boats as they were towed by a tug into the town. A few shots were fired at the tug and barges, but no one was injured. The crowd tore down the barbed-wire fence and strikers and their families surged onto the Homestead plant grounds. Some in the crowd threw stones at the barges, but strike leaders shouted for restraint. [33]

The Pinkerton agents attempted to disembark, and more shots were fired. Conflicting testimony exists as to which side fired the first shot in this encounter. (Shooting having begun earlier when the barges were being towed up the river) John T. McCurry, a boatman on the steamboat Little Bill (which had been hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to ferry its agents to the steel mill) and one of the men wounded by the strikers, said: "The armed Pinkerton men commenced to climb up the banks. Then the workmen opened fire on the detectives. The men shot first, and not until three of the Pinkerton men had fallen did they respond to the fire. I am willing to take an oath that the workmen fired first, and that the Pinkerton men did not shoot until some of their number had been wounded." [34] But according to The New York Times, the Pinkertons shot first. [35] The newspaper reported that the Pinkertons opened fire and wounded William Foy, a worker. [35] Regardless of which side opened fire first, the first two individuals wounded were Frederick Heinde, captain of the Pinkertons, [36] and Foy. The Pinkerton agents aboard the barges then fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding eleven. The crowd responded in kind, killing two and wounding twelve. The firefight continued for about 10 minutes. [37]

The strikers then huddled behind the pig and scrap iron in the mill yard, while the Pinkertons cut holes in the side of the barges so they could fire on any who approached. The Pinkerton tug departed with the wounded agents, leaving the barges stranded. The strikers soon set to work building a rampart of steel beams further up the riverbank from which they could fire down on the barges. Hundreds of women continued to crowd on the riverbank between the strikers and the agents, calling on the strikers to 'kill the Pinkertons'. [38]

The strikers continued to sporadically fire on the barges. Union members took potshots at the ships from their rowboats and the steam-powered launch. The burgess of Homestead, John McLuckie, issued a proclamation at 6:00 a.m. asking for townspeople to help defend the peace more than 5,000 people congregated on the hills overlooking the steelworks. A 20-pounder brass cannon was set up on the shore opposite the steel mill, and an attempt was made to sink the barges. Six miles away in Pittsburgh, thousands of steelworkers gathered in the streets, listening to accounts of the attacks at Homestead hundreds, many of them armed, began to move toward the town to assist the strikers. [39]

The Pinkertons attempted to disembark again at 8:00 a.m. A striker high up the riverbank fired a shot. The Pinkertons returned fire, and four more strikers were killed (one by shrapnel sent flying when cannon fire hit one of the barges). [40] Many of the Pinkerton agents refused to participate in the firefight any longer the agents crowded onto the barge farthest from the shore. More experienced agents were barely able to stop the new recruits from abandoning the ships and swimming away. Intermittent gunfire from both sides continued throughout the morning. When the tug attempted to retrieve the barges at 10:50 a.m., gunfire drove it off. More than 300 riflemen positioned themselves on the high ground and kept a steady stream of fire on the barges. Just before noon, a sniper shot and killed another Pinkerton agent. [41] A Pinkerton agent on one of the barges was A.L. Wells, a Bennett Medical College student, who had joined the "expedition" to earn enough money during the summer months. During the fighting, he played a vital role and attended to the injured on the barge. [42]

After a few more hours, the strikers attempted to burn the barges. They seized a raft, loaded it with oil-soaked timber and floated it toward the barges. The Pinkertons nearly panicked, and a Pinkerton captain had to threaten to shoot anyone who fled. But the fire burned itself out before it reached the barges. The strikers then loaded a railroad flatcar with drums of oil and set it afire. The flatcar hurtled down the rails toward the mill's wharf where the barges were docked. But the car stopped at the water's edge and burned itself out. Dynamite was thrown at the barges, but it only hit the mark once (causing a little damage to one barge). At 2:00 p.m., the workers poured oil onto the river, hoping the oil slick would burn the barges attempts to light the slick failed. [43]

Calls for state intervention Edit

The AA worked behind the scenes to avoid further bloodshed and defuse the tense situation. At 9:00 a.m., outgoing AA international president William Weihe rushed to the sheriff's office and asked McCleary to convey a request to Frick to meet. McCleary did so, but Frick refused. He knew that the more chaotic the situation became, the more likely it was that Governor Robert E. Pattison would call out the state militia. [44]

Sheriff McCleary resisted attempts to call for state intervention until 10 a.m. on July 6. In a telegram to Governor Pattison, he described how his deputies and the Carnegie men had been driven off, and noted that the workers and their supporters actively resisting the landing numbered nearly 5,000. Pattison responded by requiring McCleary to exhaust every effort to restore the peace. McCleary asked again for help at noon, and Pattison responded by asking how many deputies the sheriff had. A third telegram, sent at 3:00 p.m., again elicited a response from the governor exhorting McCleary to raise his own troops. [45]

Pinkerton surrender Edit

At 4:00 p.m., events at the mill quickly began to wind down. More than 5,000 men—most of them armed mill hands from the nearby South Side, Braddock and Duquesne works—arrived at the Homestead plant. Weihe wanted to prevent further trouble at Homestead, so he pleaded with Frick to confer with representatives of the Amalgamated to return to Homestead and stop the armed conflict. [46] [ page needed ] Weihe urged the strikers to let the Pinkertons surrender, but he was shouted down. Weihe tried to speak again, but this time his pleas were drowned out as the strikers bombarded the barges with fireworks left over from the recent Independence Day celebration. Hugh O'Donnell, a heater in the plant and head of the union's strike committee, then spoke to the crowd. He demanded that each Pinkerton be charged with murder, forced to turn over his arms and then be removed from the town. The crowd shouted their approval. [47]

The Pinkertons, too, wished to surrender. At 5:00 p.m., they raised a white flag and two agents asked to speak with the strikers. O'Donnell guaranteed them safe passage out of town. Upon arrival, their arms were stripped from them. With heads uncovered, to distinguish them from the mill hands, they passed along between two rows of guards armed with Winchesters. [48] As the Pinkertons crossed the grounds of the mill, the crowd formed a gantlet through which the agents passed. Men and women threw sand and stones at the Pinkerton agents, spat on them and beat them. Several Pinkertons were clubbed into unconsciousness. Members of the crowd ransacked the barges, then burned them to the waterline. [49]

As the Pinkertons were marched through town to the opera house (which served as a temporary jail), the townspeople continued to assault the agents. Two agents were beaten as horrified town officials looked on. The press expressed shock at the treatment of the Pinkerton agents, and the torrent of abuse helped turn media sympathies away from the strikers. [50]

The strike committee met with the town council to discuss the handover of the agents to McCleary. But the real talks were taking place between McCleary and Weihe in McCleary's office. At 10:15 p.m., the two sides agreed to a transfer process. A special train arrived at 12:30 a.m. on July 7. McCleary, the international AA's lawyer and several town officials accompanied the Pinkerton agents to Pittsburgh. [51]

But when the Pinkerton agents arrived at their final destination in Pittsburgh, state officials declared that they would not be charged with murder (per the agreement with the strikers) but rather simply released. The announcement was made with the full concurrence of the AA attorney. A special train whisked the Pinkerton agents out of the city at 10:00 a.m. on July 7. [52]

William Pinkerton in his testimony before Congress stated that three Pinkerton agents died in the strike—two because of injuries [53] and a third injured agent committed suicide. [54] [55] The total number of Pinkertons, according to the agents themselves, who died was seven and who were wounded was eleven. [56] [57] According to one newspaper report, an agent under cannon fire jumped off a barge and drowned. [58] [59] John Shingle, the captain of the steamboat Little Bill was killed. [60] Between thirty-three to thirty-five agents and one crewman of the Little Bill were reported in the hospital injured. [61] [62] The total number of captured Pinkertons was 324. [63] A roster of 266 names [64] and 360 Winchester rifles and enough provisions to feed a regiment for a week were also taken from the barges. [65]

On July 7, the strike committee sent a telegram to Governor Pattison to attempt to persuade him that law and order had been restored in the town. Pattison replied that he had heard differently. Union officials traveled to Harrisburg and met with Pattison on July 9. Their discussions revolved not around law and order, but the safety of the Carnegie plant. [66]

Pattison, however, remained unconvinced by the strikers' arguments. Although Pattison had ordered the Pennsylvania militia to muster on July 6, he had not formally charged it with doing anything. Pattison's refusal to act rested largely on his concern that the union controlled the entire city of Homestead and commanded the allegiance of its citizens. Pattison refused to order the town taken by force, for fear a massacre would occur. But once emotions had died down, Pattison felt the need to act. He had been elected with the backing of a Carnegie-supported political machine, and he could no longer refuse to protect Carnegie interests. [67]

The steelworkers resolved to meet the militia with open arms, hoping to establish good relations with the troops. But the militia managed to keep its arrival to the town a secret almost to the last moment. At 9:00 a.m. on July 12, the Pennsylvania state militia arrived at the small Munhall train station near the Homestead mill (rather than the downtown train station as expected). Their commander, Major General George R. Snowden, made it clear to local officials that he sided with the owners. When Hugh O'Donnell, the head of the union's strike committee attempted to welcome Snowden and pledge the cooperation of the strikers, Snowden told him that the strikers had not been law abiding, and that "I want you to distinctly understand that I am the master of this situation." [68] More than 4,000 soldiers surrounded the plant. Within 20 minutes they had displaced the picketers by 10:00 a.m., company officials were back in their offices. Another 2,000 troops camped on the high ground overlooking the city. [69]

The company quickly brought in strikebreakers and restarted production under the protection of the militia. Despite the presence of AFL pickets in front of several recruitment offices across the nation, Frick easily found employees to work the mill. The company quickly built bunk houses, dining halls and kitchens on the mill grounds to accommodate the strikebreakers. New employees, many of them black, arrived on July 13, and the mill furnaces relit on July 15. When a few workers attempted to storm into the plant to stop the relighting of the furnaces, militiamen fought them off and wounded six with bayonets. [70] But all was not well inside the plant. A race war between nonunion black and white workers in the Homestead plant broke out on July 22, 1892. [71]

Desperate to find a way to continue the strike, the AA appealed to Whitelaw Reid, the Republican candidate for vice president, on July 16. The AA offered to make no demands or set any preconditions the union merely asked that Carnegie Steel reopen the negotiations. Reid wrote to Frick, warning him that the strike was hurting the Republican ticket and pleading with him to reopen talks. Frick refused. [72]

Frick, too, needed a way out of the strike. The company could not operate for long with strikebreakers living on the mill grounds, and permanent replacements had to be found.

On July 18, the town was placed under martial law, further disheartening many of the strikers. [73]

National attention became riveted on Homestead when, on July 23, Alexander Berkman, a New York anarchist with no connection to steel or to organized labor, plotted with his lover Emma Goldman to assassinate Frick. He came in from New York, gained entrance to Frick's office, then shot and stabbed the executive. Frick survived and continued his role Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison. [74]

The Berkman assassination attempt undermined public support for the union and prompted the final collapse of the strike. Hugh O'Donnell was removed as chair of the strike committee when he proposed to return to work at the lower wage scale if the unionists could get their jobs back. On August 12, the company announced that 1,700 men were working at the mill and production had resumed at full capacity. The national AFL refused to intervene, the East European workers ignored the union and it had no strategy left. The union voted to go back to work on Carnegie's terms the strike had failed and the union had collapsed. [75]

Legal battles Edit

The company had waged a second front in state court, and was winning. On July 18, sixteen of the strike leaders were charged with conspiracy, riot and murder. Each man was jailed for one night and forced to post a $10,000 bond.

The union retaliated by charging company executives with murder as well. The company men, too, had to post a $10,000 bond, but they were not forced to spend any time in jail. One judge issued treason charges against the Advisory Committee on August 30 for making itself the law. Most of the men could not raise the bail bond, and went to jail or into hiding. A compromise was reached whereby both sides dropped their charges. [76]

Support for the strikers evaporated. The AFL refused to call for a boycott of Carnegie products in September 1892. Wholesale crossing of the picket line occurred, first among Eastern European immigrants and then among all workers. The strike had collapsed so much that the state militia pulled out on October 13, ending the 95-day occupation. The AA was nearly bankrupted by the job action. Weekly union relief for a member averaged $6.25 but totaled a staggering $10,000 per week when including 1,600 strikers. With only 192 out of more than 3,800 strikers in attendance, the Homestead chapter of the AA voted, 101 to 91, to return to work on November 20, 1892. [77]

In the end, only four workers were ever tried on the actual charges filed on July 18. Three AA members were found innocent of all charges. Hugh Dempsey, the leader of the local Knights of Labor District Assembly, was found guilty of conspiring to poison [78] nonunion workers at the plant—despite the state's star witness recanting his testimony on the stand. Dempsey served a seven-year prison term. In February 1893, Knox and the union agreed to drop the charges filed against one another, and no further prosecutions emerged from the events at Homestead. [79]

The striking AA affiliate in Beaver Falls gave in the same day as the Homestead lodge. The AA affiliate at Union Mills held out until August 14, 1893. But by then the union had only 53 members. The union had been broken the company had been operating the plant at full capacity for almost a year, since September 1892. [80]

The Homestead strike broke the AA as a force in the American labor movement. Many employers refused to sign contracts with their AA unions while the strike lasted. A deepening in 1893 of the Long Depression led most steel companies to seek wage decreases similar to those imposed at Homestead. [81]

An organizing drive at the Homestead plant in 1896 was suppressed by Frick. In May 1899, three hundred Homestead workers formed an AA lodge, but Frick ordered the Homestead works shut down and the unionization effort collapsed.

De-unionization efforts throughout the Midwest began against the AA in 1897 when Jones and Laughlin Steel refused to sign a contract. By 1900, not a single steel plant in Pennsylvania remained unionized. The AA presence in Ohio and Illinois continued for a few more years, but the union continued to collapse. Many lodges disbanded, their members disillusioned. Others were easily broken in short battles. Carnegie Steel's Mingo Junction, Ohio, plant was the last major unionized steel mill in the country. But it, too, successfully withdrew recognition without a fight in 1903. [82]

AA membership sagged to 10,000 in 1894 from its high of over 24,000 in 1891. A year later, it was down to 8,000. A 1901 strike against Carnegie's successor company, U.S. Steel collapsed. By 1909, membership in the AA had sunk to 6,300. A nationwide steel strike of 1919 also was unsuccessful. [83] The AA maintained a rump membership in the steel industry until its takeover by the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1936. The two organizations officially disbanded and formed the United Steelworkers May 22, 1942.

In 1999 the Bost Building in downtown Homestead, AA headquarters throughout the strike, was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is used as a museum devoted not only to the strike, but also the steel industry in the Pittsburgh area. A railroad bridge over the Monongahela River near the site of the battle is named Pinkerton's Landing Bridge in honor of the dead. Two sites were each designated with a Pennsylvania state historical marker: the site where Pinkerton attempted to land, and the two adjoining cemeteries of St. Mary's and Homestead where are buried the remains of six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers that were killed. [6] The Pinkerton landing site was also named a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark. [7]

The pumphouse where the gunfight occurred remains as a museum and meeting hall. There are several historical markers as well as a metal commemorative sign with the US Steel logo that reads "In honor of the workers".

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TODAY IN HISTORY: The Homestead Strike

As bedrock businesses, like the auto industry, are being transformed in the current economy, and American workers come under intense pressure, here’s some “Hidden History” of another financial meltdown. In the late 19th century, labor and industry were fraught with conflict as American business soured. Only back then, the conflict turned deadly. On July 6, 1892, 3,800 striking steelworkers fought with strikebreakers in a daylong battle that left ten men dead. Their story is a somber reminder of the harsh history of American labor.

The Homestead Strike was a labor lockout and strike that began in late June 1892 in the town of Homestead, near Pittsburgh, at the Carnegie Steel Works.Owned by Andrew Carnegie, the plant was managed by Henry Frick, a Pittsburgh industrialist who made his fortune producing coke needed for steelmaking. The strike was organized by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, an early trade union, which had some success in organizing workers and negotiating contracts with other steel factories.

During a severe economic downturn, Frick and Carnegie determined to break the union. Carnegie left the country and Frick was given control of the union-busting effort. He surrounded the plant with a 12-foot high fence, three miles long, and equipped with guard towers and sniper posts from which guns could be fired. The strikers renamed the plant “Fort Frick.” Frick then brought in a private army of Pinkerton Detectives, often used in that time as strikebreakers.

When hundreds of Pinkerton men, armed with Winchester rifles, were moved toward the factory on river barges in the middle of the night, striking union members raced from house to house –in Paul Revere fashion– raising an alarm. The strikers attacked the barges with burning oil and dynamite. And on July 6, a pitched gun battle raged for more than twelve hours between the Pinkertons and strikers. When it was over, three Pinkerton men and seven to nine workers lay dead or mortally wounded.

Pennsylvania’s governor called out the state militia to put down the Homestead strike. The soldiers took over the plant, and strikebreaking workers were shipped in by railroad car. The strike was crushed, and with it, the Amalgamated Association collapsed. Carnegie and Frick slashed wages, instituted a 12-hour workday and fired hundreds of workers. Union members were blacklisted and unable to return to work.

In a bizarre aftermath to the strike, anarchist Alexander Berkman tried to assassinate Frick in revenge for the dead steelworkers. Berkman had plotted this attack with his lover, Emma Goldman. (In her memoirs, Goldman wrote of an unsuccessful attempt at prostitution to earn money to fund their plan.) A few weeks after the strike began, on July 23, 1892, Berkman shot Frick, but only wounded the businessman. Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison and served 14. There was no evidence to connect Emma Goldman to the plot and she went on to become a noted speaker, writer and publisher. She was jailed for opposing the draft during World War I and the government later deported her and Berkman to Russia during the first “Red Scare” in 1919.

Frick, an avid art collector (and named in April 2009 by financial network CNBC as one of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time”), later moved to New York where he built a Fifth Avenue home occupying a full city block to house his art collection. (The home is now the Frick Collection

Carnegie later sold his steel business to J.P. Morgan, who told the Scottish-born, poor-boy-turned-industrialist that he was now “the richest man in the world.”

Steelworkers were left without a union until the 1930s. Most labor laws protecting workers were not enacted until the 1930s. (A monument to the dead steelworkers was erected in 1941.)

Watch the video: Homestead Strike HM