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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RAILROAD STRIKE OF 1877

RAILROAD STRIKE OF 1877

The RAILROAD STRIKE OF 1877, part of a nationwide series of strikes that began on the Baltimore and Ohio line and spread westward to competing lines, erupted in Cleveland when brakemen and firemen at the Collinwood yards of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern struck at noon on 23 July 1877 in response to a 20% wage cut; workers on other Cleveland lines followed suit. Tough local work stoppages were not accompanied by the violence that occurred in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and other cities, though the issues were the same.

When Cleveland workers presented their grievances to Superintendent Charles Paine, they were told that only Cornelius Vanderbilt, head of the line, could redress them. Vanderbilt's reply blamed the low wages on the depressed economy, and called upon workers to make sacrifices until business improved. Unimpressed, the workers stayed out on the Lake Shore Line and on all other Cleveland lines except the Atlantic and Great Western, which had not cut wages. Fearing the violence and destruction that marked other cities, Mayor WILLIAM GREY ROSE called up 100-200 local militiamen and armed local patrolmen. Despite a tense atmosphere heightened by rumors, the workers were committed to remaining orderly, and pressured local saloonkeepers to remain closed lest drunkenness lead to violence.

Because the strikers remained peaceful, they were generally respected by the community. However, the strike had its impact on the city. Passenger and mail service was delayed and freight service halted. Some businesses had to close for lack of supplies and shipping facilities. After refusing unacceptable company offers, the men agreed to a settlement on 3 Aug. 1877 that restored wage cuts and improved compensation for layovers and other down time. When Vanderbilt refused to agree to the terms, workers threatened another strike, which did not materialize.