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Teamsters' Strike, Chicago, 1905

Telegram from R. J. Thorne to C. V. Boller, April 10, 1905.

The telegram from R. J. Thorne to C. V. Boller, April 10, 1905, found on page 99 of Mr. Boller's scrapbook, telling Mr. Boller to "come home."

See this image listed on this map as "1905: Holland House" at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=z8cdarNxmZ0A.kZbbiNpkm6Xk

The Teamsters' Strike in Chicago in 1905 is noted as one of the bloodiest in American history. That strike began in the fabric cutting room of Montgomery Ward & Company where Mr. Boller was the manager at the time.[1]

On December 15, 1904, seventeen fabric cutters and two trimmers employed by Montgomery Ward & Co. didn’t show up for work. Their grievance was that the firm was sending their garments to be sewn by subcontracted tailor shops, two of which were non-union.

Teamsters are workers engaged in commercial transportation and in 1905, Chicago was a stronghold for the recently formed International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In early April 1905, the Chicago Teamsters declared their support for the garment workers’ strike. The Teamsters announced that their members would not make deliveries to Montgomery Ward & Co. until it resolved the garment workers strike.[2]

The Chicago Employers' Association (CEA) responded by having all other city department stores order their drivers to make deliveries to Montgomery Ward & Co. thereby forcing those Teamsters to join the strike. Sympathy strikes broke out across the city. By the summer, 5,000 Teamsters were on strike and there were daily battles between unionists and replacement drivers resulting in 21 deaths and 416 injuries.[3] Many of the replacement drivers were Southern African-American drivers recruited by CEA which added a level of racial tension to the strike.[4]

On April 10, 1905, Mr. Boller was in New York when he receives an ominous telegram from R. J. Thorne, son of Montgomery Ward & Co. co-founder and he himself co-founder of the CEA. The telegram stated, "The strike situation is rapidly coming to a focus certain points in regard to the garment makers are in dispute wire me at once if you demanded arbitration last december take first train home." That same day there appears in the Chicago Record-Herald an article, "Dunne Firm for Law," adhered to page 100 of Mr. Boller’s scrapbook, in which Thorne is quoted as stating, "Arbitration of the entire dispute as suggested is absurd. It is a dead issue, a closed incident, and cannot be ressurected. It is a subject for the historian and not an arbitration board."

The CEA did, however, turn to the courts for help. The state's prosecutors opened a grand jury probe into the employer's activities but ultimately came to focus on the Teamsters' president, Cornelius P. Shea. Shea and other union leaders were indicted on conspiracy charges. Despite the bias of the investigation these charges undercut the legitimacy of unions which many Chicagoans came to see as irresponsible and abusive.[5]

Articles and documents relating to this strike begin on page 99 of Mr. Boller's Scrapbook with this telegram from R. J. Thorne and continue through to the last page, page 130.

TO READ AN ACCOUNT OF A TEAMSTER'S EXPERIENCE DURING THE 1905 CHICAGO TEAMSTERS' STRIKE: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/voices/social_history/social_history.cfm [6]



[1] Andrew Wender Cohen, "Teamsters" In The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005-), accessed October 20, 2015. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1234.html.

[2] David Witwer, "Sample Entry: Chicago Teamsters Strike (1905)" In Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History, (New York: Routledge, 2007), accessed October 20, 2015. http://cw.routledge.com/ref/USLabor/chicago.html.

[3] Witwer, "Sample Entry: Chicago Teamsters Strike (1905)."

[4] Illinois, "Teamsters Sympathetic Strike, Chicago" In the Tenth Annual Report of the State Board of Arbitration of Illinois, (Springfield, Illinois: The Board, 1905), 32. Google Book, accessed October 20, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=5OkoAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA28&ots=t-F0CwmedU&dq=1905%20teamsters%20strike%20deaths&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q=1905%20teamsters%20strike%20deaths&f=false.

[5] Illinois, "Teamsters Sympathetic Strike, Chicago," 32.

[6]Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2016). The Chicago Strike: A Teamster. Digital History. Retrieved March 11, 2016 from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/voices/social_history/social_history.cfm.

Teamsters' Strike, Chicago, 1905