The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 Essay

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The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in the month of July and started off in a town called Martinburg which was located in the state of West Virginia. What lead up The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was a depression that started in September of 1873. The depression had a hold on the country that included wage cuts, evictions, breadlines, and layoffs. Many Americans suffered for the rest of the year as well as throughout the year of 1874. Even though 1874 was a hard year for Americans it was also the year that the union began to try and demand higher wages for the working class, as well as organize workers and the union even tried to make shorter work days. The result came to little or no success, because at that time the second largest employer in America was the railroad system, the first was agriculture.

By the year of 1877, roughly 27 percent of Americas working population was unemployed. The people who were able to hold onto their jobs worked only half of the year (6 months) and their income had been cut by almost 45 percent, which came out to about a dollar a day. In response to the second wage cut of the year, the employers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads (B&O) went on strike due to Baltimore and Ohio Railroad wage cut. The strikers refused to go back to work until the second wage cut was returned to employees. The governor of the West Virginia sent the states militia to Martinburgs to get the train stations and train service back up and running. The states militia understood the strikers and the soldiers refused to take part, so the governor of west Virginia asked President Rutherford B. Hayes for further help and the president decided to call for federal troops to come in and restore train service.

The great Railroad Strike traveled to Cumberland, Maryland by putting a stop to freight trains as well as stopping traffic with passengers. The governor of Maryland at that time was John Carroll, and he ordered for the Maryland militia to come and stop the strikers. The strikers had become violent and had begun to start street fights, so Governor Carroll called the fifth and sixth regiments of the National Guard to bring an end to the strike. Since, the strikers had become so violent the sixth regiment began to fight back and they ended up killing 10 protestors. The rioters threw rock and sticks at the militia. Not only did the rioters fight with the militia but they also burned down portions of train stations as well as train cars and train engines. President Rutherford B. Hayes sent Marines and federal troops to Baltimore to get the strikers back in order.

The striker movement then moved on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where one of the most violent battles took place. The local police in Pittsburgh refused to fight and fire on the strikers so President Hayes then called the militia to come to the rescue. The strikers were so furious with the wage cut that they trapped the militia inside of a railroad roundhouse and then caused more damage to the town by setting fires to buildings, destroying locomotives, freight trains and train cars. Since Pennsylvania was one of the major industrial cities at the time it took a major toll when Reading Railroads was damaged by the strike’s fury. The workers for the Reading Railroad had already been strike since April of 1877. Approximately, sixteen citizens had been killed by the militia in what was called the Reading Railroad Massacre. The strike brought work stoppage for all classes of the railroad traffic, mass marches, train yard arson and the strikers even burned down the bridge that was the only link for railroad traffic to the west. After, about 30 days of non-stop fighting President Hayes sent the federal troops so they could bring an end to the strike.

It seemed as if when one battle was won to end the strike movement another one popped up; the government could not keep up with the working Americans determination to get their wages back. Approximately three hundred miles east of Pennsylvania the striker movement landed in Philadelphia was just as upset about cutting of wages for the second time in a year that they battled with the local militia and set fires to most of the center city before the president rushed in the federal troops who intervened and put down the uprising.

Just like in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Illinois as also paralyzed when furious strikers wreaked havoc in the rail yard by shutting down both B&O and the Illinois Central Railroads. Pretty soon demonstrators had brought a standstill to railroad traffic in all parts of Illinois. What even made the matter worse was that coal miners in Chicago also went on strike as well in order to support the railroad strikers. In Chicago, Illinois more than twenty- thousand people gathered in support of the strikers. The workingmen’s part in Chicago drew a large rally with thousands of people who attended in honor of The Great Railroad Strike. The strike also affected Missouri were the workers were united and the workingmen’s party refused to allow the wage cut to happen

By the end of August 1877 the strike began to lose momentum mainly due to the president and the federal government intervention and determination to get the country back in control. In the end over 100 people had been killed and many had been thrown in jail. It only took about 45 days after The Great Railroad Strike had begun for it to come to an end. There was hardly even a noticeable gain for the working classmen because all the strike did was strengthen the police presence in the work place and enforce and iron rule on the workers making it very difficult to organize. The second wage cut was never given back to the workers, but it did allow the union to become better organized and it increased public awareness of the problems that the railroad workers were having.

Work Citied

“GREAT RAILROAD STRIKE – Burlington.” _Welcome to the Catskill Archive_. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

_Digital History_. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

“1877 RR Strike.” _East St. Louis Action Research Project – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign_. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

“Great Railroad Strike of 1877 – Ohio History Central – A Product of the Ohio Historical Society.” _Ohio History Central – An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio
History – Ohio Historical Society_. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

“Great Railroad Strike of 1877.” _Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia_. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

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