Look Back: Streetcar Strike, 1900
Date: 5/6/2010 Album ID: 999086
Photos by Missouri History Museum
On May 8, 1900, streetcar workers voted to strike against the St. Louis Transit Co. When the strike ended four months later, 14 people had been killed. It would take 18 years and another strike for streetcar workers to win union recognition.
A drawing by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff artist that ran on May 8, 1900, the day that members of the Railway Employees Union voted to strike the St. Louis Transit Co., the largest streetcar company in St. Louis. Business leaders had consolidated most of the city's network of independent streetcar and cable-car lines during the late 1890s, and St. Louis Transit -- by far the biggest -- had lengthened work days, fired union organizers and threatened wage cuts. The union demanded recognition, but Transit's president, banker Edwards Whitaker, refused. The drawing is of a motorman at 13th Street and Washington Avenue abandoning his streetcar at the urging of the crowd assembled around him. Also that morning, women members of the Garment Workers Union to mass across the tracks at 15th and Washington, refusing to let streetcars through. Other strikers and sympathizers threw rocks at streetcars and cut overhead lines downtown. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A drawing of Edwards Whitaker, president of the consolidated St. Louis Transit Co., who refused to meet with the union leaders after the strike vote and insisted that the streetcars would continue operating. Whitaker was a leading banker and prominent citizen. In March, Whitaker had agreed publicly to union demands that its members who had been fired for union activity be reinstated. That agreement averted a strike. But by late April, Whitaker still hadn't reinstated the fired activists. That led to the strike vote at 2 a.m. on May 8. (Missouri History Museum)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A Post-Dispatch drawing of the first person to be killed during the strike, Frank Liebrecht, 21, who had been a soldier during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Newspaper of the time published few photographs. Newspapers relied then upon sketch artists, who quickly produced pictures that could be made into engravings for the press plates. Liebrecht was shot to death while taking part in a demonstration at Taylor Avenue and the St. Louis & Suburban tracks, a route more recently known as the old Hodiamont line. An employee of the Suburban had fired a shot from a passing streetcar, striking Liebrecht. The Suburban was the only significant independent line after the consolidations, and its leaders settled quickly with the union. When that happened, people flocked to what limited service it offered. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A Post-Dispatch caricature of a businessman sweating his way on the long walk to work downtown. It was published on May 11, on the fourth day of the strike. Most blue-collar people stayed off the streetcars, and many strikers and sympathizers blocked the company's efforts to operated. Businessmen complained loudly of the inconvenience. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A drawing of mounted police officers escorting a streetcar on the Park Avenue line, which went through Lafayette Square and headed downtown. Police officers and armed streetcar company employees enabled St. Louis Transit to enforce its pledge to keep running, but only to a degree. Lines that went through the working-class neighborhoods north and south of downtown were blocks by large crowds that stood across tracks and threw bricks and rocks at approaching streetcars. Strikers and sympathizers also put large rocks, pieces of railroad track and other large objects across the tracks. and cut overhead power lines. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
Children sit upon rocks that were placed across streetcar tracks on 15th Street, looking north from O'Fallon Street, northwest of downtown. Note that objects also had been thrown onto the overhead power line to prevent operation of streetcar power booms. (Missouri History Museum)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A heavy box sits across a streetcar junction at 18th Street and Geyer Avenue, south of downtown (current location of the Interstates 44-55 interchange). The view is looking south on 18th. The buildings in the center are of the George W. Heil Meat Market, 1800 Geyer, and the Rakop & Reher grocery at 1804 Geyer. Note the effigies of strikebreakers hung on overhead power lines. The Transit Co. brought many strikebreakers in from rural areas, and most of the businesses in the working-class neighborhoods refused to serve them. (Missouri History Museum)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
Strikers placed this five-ton rock across the tracks at East Grand Avenue and North Broadway. (Missouri History Museum)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
A newspaper engraving of volunteers to a special sheriff's posse, published in the Post-Dispatch on June 3, 1900. Gov. Lon Vest Stephens, fearing a backlash in upcoming elections, refused calls from the city's professional classes to have National Guard soldiers protect the streetcars and break the strike. St. Louis Sheriff John Pohlman created a posse comitatus to get the job done. He recruited members and the middle and upper classes and equipped many of them with shotguns. The caption for the engraving says it shows Company H. commander Sam T. Rathall instructing former judge Chester H. Krum on the use of a riot gun. (The newspaper doesn't say which gentleman is holding the shotgun.) An accompany article said that 750 posse members had been sworn in that day, when the first weapons were issued. It also said that no streetcars were running and that six people had been killed to date. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo
Drawings of three men who were shot and killed by posse members on Sunday, June 10, 1900. They were, from left, A.E. Burkhardt, a conductor on the Delmar Boulevard line, who died at City Hospital; Edward Thomas, a conductor on the Chouteau Avenue line, who died in an ambulance; and George Ryne, a Lee Avenue line conductor, who died at City Hospital. They were among 800 strikers who were returning from a picnic in East St. Louis and were marching west on Washington Avenue from the Eads Bridge. As they passed the posse barracks, in a building at 510 Washington, someone threw a brick at a passing streetcar. A posse member dropped his revolver, which discharged. Posse leaders said that strikers fired the next shots, after which posse members fired a volley into the marching strikers, killing three and wounding 14 others. Union leaders denied that any of their members fired any shots, and none of the posse members or sheriff's deputies was wounded. All told, 14 people were killed during the lengthy strike and boycott, which disintegrated in September. The transit workers union would not win recognition until 1918, when its members went on strike again. That strike lasted one week. (Post-Dispatch)
Email Page to FriendEnlarge this Photo