The Baltimore Railroad Strike 
& Riot of 1877

Archives of Maryland series: Documents for the Classroom
Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

newspaper description of July 4th, 1876
Images is from M.E. Warren & Mame Warren, Baltimore When She Was What She Used to Be, 1983, p. 33.

Sample Notes from the Baltimore SUN:

1877/07/17 Tuesday
Headlines: Labor Troubles and Disturbances. Strike on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad -- Temporary Delay of Trains --Interposition of the Police --A Riot at Martinsburg __ Canmakers' and Boxmakers Strikes in Baltimore, &c. The Prostration of industrial interests and the consequent reduction of wages culminated yesterday in what promises to be a serious strike on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. For some time past discharges of mechanics and laborers in the company's shops here and on the line of the road, united with reductions of wages and limitation of working time have been going on. One by one the shops have become wholly or partially silent, and very many men, especially in South Baltimore, are without work or the means of providing for their families. This state of affairs is confined not alone to railroad shops but to other workshops, and a great deal of distress exists among working men of all kinds. Fortunately the summer has been more active with large works, including gaspipe laying, street repaving, &c. than for a long while, so that many laborers have found work at reduced wages. But there is a large element of skilled labor which can find no employment, and is reduced to seek various and precarious means of support. Added to this have been the troubles of the tin packing can makers for higher wages and a strike of the boxmakers of the city to secure uniformity in rates. [notes reduction in wages of 10% and the reaction of the firemen and engineers at camden junction, Riverside; notes arrest of E. M. Munford, George Hudson, and Colum Mead, firemen whom he charged with boarding engines with the purposed of intimidating; Accused were arrested and taken to the Southern Police Station where they were released on bail ($1,000 each). Hearing at 2 p.m. today (July 17?) notes pay scale: Firemen from $1.75 a day to $1.58 (1st class); from $1.50 to $1.35 (2nd class) Boxmakers and Sawyers: also go on strike (Baltimore Boxmakers and Sawyers Union); want uniform rates; union has 180 members; journey men want to make $10-12 a week during season which lasts to November; meet at Metamora Hall, West Lombard Street Tin Canmakers: on strike for over a week; meet at Rechabite Hall; claim 800 members and that only 75-100 canmakers still at work. One worker suggested that it would have been better if they had waited to peach season to strike (August 1); "It is to be hoped that an amicable settlement of the difficulty will soon be agreed upon, as the lack of work for 800 men, most of whom have families dependent upon them for support cannot fail to produce great distress.

1877/07/18 Wednesday

Firemen seem to be at the center of the strike, not engineers Governor goes to the Railroad offices, not the other way around. notes the right of the B & O to police its own line (Maryland Law, 1860); [tampering with switch leads to overturned train, damage]; "Gov. Carroll upon nearly the same point, was clearly of the opinion that the Baltimore police force could be used in any county of the State by the summons of a magistrate as a posse comitatus, with commissions as special officers." Large meeting at Sharp and Hanover streets; men say inexperienced firemen cannot take their places; that "they have not been able to live and keep out of debt on the wages hitherto paid, and the reduction would be almost equivalent to starvation. As an average they say that a fireman can only earn from $20 to $27 a month, as they do not have all working days, and they have to pay their board along the road and sustain their families here also." notes violence of rioters in Martinsburg striker: William Vandergriff, lost his arm, in a grave condition; he fired two shots notes that live stock are suffering excessively from the heat; notes presence in Martinsburg of men from Baltimore. "The trouble ... seemed to be confined to a number of men from Baltimore, some of them in no way connected with the railroad." "All passenger and mail trains have been allowed to pass unobstructed, only the freight trains being embargoed. The idea in this to avoid amenability to the laws of the United States for obstructing the mails. No damage has been done to the property of the railroad company or attempted. the men engaged in the strike say they do not mean to molest any person. All they ask is a living compensation for their labor. They say that at the present prices the firemen cannot pay their daily expenses, much less support their families." update on Martinsburg incident; man who fired at Vandergriff (Poisal) is a conductor on a freight train. Vandergriff lost arm below elbow and thumb of the right hand. see Editorial for Wednesday, July 18, 1877: appeals to the need for law and order, but sympathizes with the plight of the workers;

1877/07/19 Thursday

"The situation in Baltimore remained unchanged. No freight trains are running, and all the business of the company has been blockaded except the mail and passenger trains." mentions Maryland National Guard ( Capt. Zollinter, 5th, Col Peters and Adjutant Bishop of the 6th Hayes authorizes use of U.S. Troops in Martinsburg: headlines: On the way to the front;the Situation at the Seat of War; quotes "Comments of the Press" elsewhere: N.Y. Tribune: "It is strange that these men, desperate as they are, do not see that their violence is folly, and can harm no one in the long run but themselves. A great railroad corporation cannot be crushed by a gang of rioters, and the cohesive power of a mob is too slight to allow it to keep together, even for its own protection, more than a few days. At the end of that time they will find themselves out of place, out of pocket, out of reputation. The right to strike is inalienable, but there are times and ways of striking that are both foolish and wicked."

1877/07/20, Friday

"The striking firemen in Baltimore have continued perfectly quiet, orderly and sober." In speaking of the causes of the strike the men state that in 1873 they received a$3 a day and could by extra work make ten and eleven days a week. At that time a reduction was made taking off extra time allowed, the extra half-day for Sundays, and putting the regular pay at $2.25 a day. Last August a further reduction of 50 cents was made, and the pay of first-class firemen was $1.75 and second class $1.50. The ten percent. reduction would make the rates $1.58 and $1.35 a day. The men state that in addition they have to take trains to Locust Point instead of Mount Clare, to draw the fires and put away the engines. They allege that the number of brakemen have been reduced the size of the trains enlarged, and the danger of accidents on the trains greatly increased. The work is very heavy, a man having to handle some eight tons of coal several times during the day. they claim that their work is a trade as much as any other and requires skilled labor. A man must not only throw in coal but know exactly how much his engine will consume, or he may stop her running by putting in too much or too little. They say that eighteen days in a month is the highest any of them now make, and the average would not be over fourteen days. In the winter twelve days is a good average. The story of their struggles to live is very sad. On the road they have to pay their board while waiting for return trains, each meal costing thirty cents. They assert that they are detained form one and two to as much as four days on trips, so that on their return they have little or nothing over from the proceeds of their work. Those who have families here are obliged to pay house rent in Baltimore and to get food for their wives and children. They say that this keeps them always behind with the storekeepers, and complain bitterly of an order issued by the company discharging any of them whose wages are attached for debt. The men assert that for a long time past they have been obliged frequently to deny themselves meals and lodging, because they had to take the money for their families. They also complain that the company has issued an order forbidding any of them to sleep in the caboose car, so that often, even in cold weather, they have to take a soft plank in the open air for a bed. They say that they did not resist so long as they could live, but the struggle now is for bread, which they cannot make under the reduction. Many of them declare they might as well starve without work as starve and work. They now say that , having once acted, they are determined to have the worth of their labor, $2 or nothing. The engineers and conductors are now getting $2.90 and $2.25 a day, respectively, under the reduction. The men claim that they are entirely on their side, and if necessary would join in the strike, but it is not considered well advised that they should do so." publishes Garrett's telegram to Hayes Editorial supports the action of the President;

1877/07/21 Saturday

Morning Front page editorial: The Tragedy of Yesterday Bloodshed in the Streets of Baltimore (headline) "The excitement of the past week, growing out of troubles on the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, culminated yesterday in serious rioting and bloodshed in the streets of Baltimore, the killing of nine citizens and wounding of sixteen. two of the latter at Camden depot." General Herbert rec'd Gov Carroll's orders to have the 5th Reg proceed to Cumberland at 4 p.m. on Friday the 20th of July. At first Governor Carroll did not want the 1-5-1 alarm sounded but gave in on the second request from Herbert: "The alarm, 151, known as the military call, intended to be used in emergencies, riots and public disturbances of unusual gravity and moment was sounded for the first time in Baltimore at precisely 6:35 P. M." Companies I, F, B, Sixth Regiment, beginning at 8:15, detailed discussion of their march to Camden Station. They fire on the rioters: "The streets were quickly deserted and the detachment passed on by the Sun office still firing random shots over their shoulders with apparent recklessness. Some of the rioters lower down the street fired pistols. The detachment left nine killed and fourteen wounded on Baltimore street, the large majority of them innocent people on the sidewalks. It is stated that of the 130 men who started in the three companies of the Sixth Regiment from the armory only 50 reported finally at Camden Station, the rest having been lost on the way." Riot at 6th Regiment Armory Riot at Camden Depot

1877/07/22 Sunday (Extra Edition, Sun normally not published on Sunday)

strikers: "they state that any agreement with the company shall be made with the heads of it, and speak of the recent letter of Mr. Garrett, in which he says that when determining upon the reduction of ten percent, he was not aware that the men had submitted to a reduction of fifty cents in the day six months before. They say they had nothing whatever to do with the riotous proceedings of Friday night, and have never used violence to person & property of any kind, but have only endeavored to prevent the running of the trains by the company. They deprecate all riotous proceedings, and it is not believed they were instrumental in, counseled or provoked the unexpected outbreak which characterized Friday night." 9 killed 14 wounded, with one about to die and perhaps two more also; Riot continues on Saturday contains coroner's inquest on first casualties; 165 rioters arrested up to 2 a.m. and taken to Southern Police station; by 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, all quiet cites rumors (attack on treasury in Washington) other press reports: Phila: "The questions at issue have passed far beyond the domain of wages. The result must decide whether anarchy is to prevail. note funeral of one Irishman (Gill) paid for by the police. Criminal Court: Edward Feelhardy $100 fine for exposing himself.

1877/07/23 Monday

notes that there were 195 people arrested for rioting and that there were 2,000 Federal troops in town. main new story was about Anarchy in Pittsburgh [news from Annapolis, July 21: Joseph Pinkney, colored, living in the western section of the city, attempted suicide on Wednesday night last by taking laudanum. Disappointment in a love affairs is supposed to have been the cause of the rash act. Proper remedies were in time administered by Dr. Bishop.] under waterplace notes, Governor Carroll is trying to get away on his honeymoon! 1877/07/24 Sixth regiment armory abandoned, 5th takes over remaining supplies except uniforms. inquest re: Doud's death to determine if by saber or by bullet. Editorial reviewing the disastrous results of competition among railroads, suggesting that a quiet strike which did not interfere with the business of the RR might have been more effective and evoked more universal support.


all is calm, large military force in town.

1877/07/26 Thursday

mentions communists, red flag in NY.; problem of the farmers in AA co. with their melons and tomatoes; affects jobs of women, children analyzes wages on the B & O: "One cause of complaint among some of these classes of employees to that of late they have only been able to make half or three-quarters time, and thus the average wages of some come to less than a dollar per day, but it had been thought best to divide what work there was among the men in these dull times than discharge more of the train hands. The company's officers say, however, that it is, of course, little difference to the company whether they pay the whole of a week's work to one or two men." in looking at the wages it is clear that the company is trying to bring the wages for freight firemen, etc. in line with those of the passenger side. See comparison between 1861 and 1877. article on liability of city for rioting, saying the city has none, but the State may. article on the Siege of the Sixth Regiment Armory; Editorial on the continuing blockade (i.e. lack of movement of freight).


report on a delegation of strikers that met with Governor Carroll; notes promotion of Captain Zollinger to Colonel;

1877/07/28 Saturday Morning

contains the RR's analysis of pay 1861/1877 as well as an article on the cost of living; editorial concerns re: call for a standing army; notes the abating strike

1877/07/30 Monday Morning

back to normal: quotes interview with John W. Garrett: "In reference to the differences between the company and its employees he laid great stress on the fact that a strong ground of complaint was that the men were not at work on full time, reducing their apparent wages and thus said Mr. Garrett, a policy which the company adopted in kindness to the great body of the employees has been used against the company. Mr. Garrett said there were many indications of brisk times, and great industry on the Baltimore and Ohio and its connecting lines which would give employment to full crews on many trains and new life would be felt in the arteries of traffic." follow up article on cost of living showing that the cost of living had increased considerably with regard to certain necessary articles of food (flour, e.g.).

January 1878:

Governor Carroll's message to the House of Delegates concerning the strike; Majority and Minority Reports of the Special Committee of The House of Delegates formed to investigate the expenditures of the Governor and Adjutant General growing out of the labor disturbances in Baltimore. 12. History of Maryland, J. Thomas Scharf, published in 1879.

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The Archives of Maryland Documents for the Classroom series of the Maryland State Archives was designed and developed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse and Dr. M. Mercer Neale. This packet was prepared and introduced by Dr. Papenfuse with production assistance from R. J. Rockefeller, Lynne MacAdam, Paula Brown, Chris Haley, and other members of the Archives staff. MSA SC 2221-09. Publication no. 1797.

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