Today in Labor History

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Archive for the category “1860-1869”

January 10, 1860


The Pemberton Mill – a five-story brick textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts – collapses from excessive load, killing dozens of workers instantly and trapping many more in the rubble. An estimated 145 workers died and 166 were injured in the collapse and subsequent fire that broke out, the majority of whom were young Irish women.

October 24, 1861

HD_PonyExpress1860recruitinWith the completion of the trans-continental telegraph line, the Pony Express is discontinued. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2,000-mile trail. Eventually, the service had more than 100 stations, 80 riders, and between 400 and 500 horses. The express route was extremely hazardous, but only one mail delivery was ever lost.

February 4, 1869

Big Bill 400 tanWilliam “Big Bill” Haywood is born. Haywood was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America, an advocate of industrial unionism. “Labor produces all wealth; all wealth belongs to the producer thereof.”

December 9, 1869

charterKofLThe Knights of Labor – the first national industrial union in the United States – is founded in Philadelphia by Uriah Stephens and eight other Philadelphia garment cutters. By mid-1886, the Knights of Labor had nearly one million members and was the largest labor union at the time in the country.

December 3, 1867

Labor1$8-hour-day-rincon-annex-muralThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors passes an eight-hour ordinance covering all city employees. By early 1868, there were dozens of 8-Hour Leagues in San Francisco, and on February 22, thousands marched in San Francisco to celebrate the passage of a statewide eight-hour law.

July 8, 1867


In response to the 1865 eight-hour day mandate for city employees, employers in San Francisco form the Ten-Hour Association. The association created the Ten-Hour League Society, whose goal was to unite all workers “willing to work at the old rates, neither unjust to the laborers nor ruinous to the capital and enterprise of the city and state, together with all Master Builders and Master Workmen and Capitalists injured by the Eight-Hour rule.” Their efforts failed and in 1868 a statewide eight-hour day law was passed.

February 23, 1864


19-year-old Irish immigrant Kate Mullany leads members of the Collar Laundry Union – the first all-female union in the United States – in a successful strike in Troy, New York, for increased wages and improved working conditions. Women working in commercial laundries spent 12 to 14 hours a day ironing and washing detachable collars with harsh chemicals and boiling water and were paid about $3-$4/week.

September 6, 1869


A massive fire in the only shaft of the Avondale Colliery in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania, kills 110 anthracite mine workers, making it one of the largest mining disasters in Pennsylvania history. After the disaster, the state’s General Assembly enacted legislation establishing safety regulations for the industry, making Pennsylvania the first state to enact such legislation. The law also mandated that there must be at least two entrances to underground mines.

July 28, 1869


Women shoemakers in Lynn, Massachusetts, form the Daughters of St. Crispin, demanding pay equal to that of men. It was modeled on and supported by the Knights of St. Crispin, the national shoe workers union, which went on record supporting equal pay for equal work. The Daughters of St. Crispin is recognized as the first national union of women.

June 17, 1864


Twenty workers are killed and many others seriously injured in an explosion at the U.S. Arsenal in Washington, D.C. The workers were girls and young women, mostly Irish immigrants, making ammunition for the Union Army. The funeral procession, which included President Abraham Lincoln, stretched for more than a mile. A monument was erected in the Congressional Cemetery, where 17 of the workers were buried.

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