The following group of 42 views are by S.V. Albee and document the Pittsburgh Railroad War, the strike of the workers of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Pittsburgh, Pa., July 21-22, 1877. The Railroad Strike of 1877 was the country’s first major rail strike and the first general strike in the nation’s history. It briefly spawned strikes and violence that paralyzed the country’s commerce and led governors in ten states to mobilize 60,000 militia members to reopen rail traffic. The strike would be broken within a few weeks, but it helped set the stage for later violence in the 1880s and 1890s, including the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in 1886, the Homestead Steel Strike near Pittsburgh in 1892, and the Pullman Strike in 1894. Also, the world’s first Labor Day parade took place in 1882.
In 1877, northern railroads, still suffering from the Financial Panic of 1873, began cutting salaries and wages, prompting strikes and labor violence. The Pennsylvania Railroad, the nation’s largest, cut wages by 10% and then in June, by another 10%. Other railroads followed suit. On July 13, the Baltimore & Ohio line cut the wages of all employees making more than a dollar a day by 10%. It also slashed the workweek to just two or three days. Forty disgruntled locomotive firemen walked off the job. By the end of the day, workers blockaded freight trains near Baltimore and in West Virginia, allowing only passenger traffic to pass.
Also in July, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that it would double the length of all eastbound trains from Pittsburgh with no increase in the size of their crews. Railroad employees responded by seizing control of the rail yard switches, blocking the movement of trains.
Soon, violent strikes broke out in Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Francisco. Governors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia called out their state militias. In Pittsburgh, where the local militia sympathized with the rail workers, the governor called in National Guard troops from Philadelphia. The troops fired into a crowd, killing more than 20 civilians, including women and at least 3 children. An angry crowd forced the Philadelphia troops to retreat to a roundhouse in the railroad complex, and set engines, buildings, and equipment ablaze. Fire raced through parts of the city, destroying 39 buildings, 104 engines, 46 passenger cars, and over 1200 freight cars. The Pennsylvania Railroad claimed losses of more than $4 million in Pittsburgh.
When the National Guard was at last able to evacuate the roundhouse, it was harassed by strikers and rioters. A legislative report said that the National Guard forces “were fired at from second floor windows, from the corners of the streets…they were also fired at from a police station, where eight or ten policemen were in uniform.” Militia and federal troops opened the railroad in Pittsburgh and Reading, Pa. was occupied by U.S. Army troops.
It appears that some 40 people were killed in the violence in Pittsburgh. Across the country more than a hundred died, including 11 in Baltimore and a dozen in Reading, Pa. By the end of July, most strike activity was over. But labor strikes in the rail yards recurred from 1884 to 1886 and from 1888 to 1889 and again in 1894.
The incredible series of images below by Albee is an important record of the this “Railroad War.” The set includes #5 which shows Albee’s photo wagon next to a locomotive that survived. This set is generally viewed as having 42 views, although the back of the cards list up to 44 numbers, the last without any title. One view, #31, is missing but I have included a scan on photo paper of that view. This group once belonged to stereoview collector Ed Burchard and he included a single view by J.R. Riddle which Burchard cut in half and taped together because it originally was transposed. That view does not appear to have been part of the original set and is listed as #43 below. This scarce set of an important event in labor history is offered as a lot for $7500.