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Labor Unions in Wheeling

As a rough-and-tumble frontier outpost, a brawling transportation and manufacturing hub, and the rebellious host city for the “secession from secession” that led to West Virginia statehood, Wheeling has always been a hard-working, hard-playing, tough, and defiant city. And nothing epitomizes that spirit more colorfully than Wheeling’s labor history. The city attracted droves of migrant laborers and immigrants in search of opportunity in industries making products like iron and steel, nails, glass, pottery, stogies and beer. Others sought work on the wagons, trains and steamboats endlessly hauling such products, and the raw materials needed to produce them, into and out of town by river, road, and rail.

Led by large numbers of German immigrants (like Reuther family patriarch, Valentine), influenced by socialist theory, Wheeling’s workers organized for better pay, hours, and working conditions. By the turn of the century, Wheeling was home to an array of labor unions representing every trade and profession from butchers and bartenders to brewers, bricklayers and horseshoers. From the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers to the International Union Brewery Workmen of America and the National Stogiemakers’ League, most of these organizations were represented in West Virginia’s largest central labor union, the (still extant) Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly, membership of which was comprised of 4,000 Wheeling workers from 40 different unions.

In 1903, these groups lobbied intensely, and successfully, against a Carnegie library being built in Wheeling. This was in solidarity with the victims of the Pittsburgh Homestead Strike of 1892, their brothers in the Amalgamated Association of Iron Steel and Tin Workers. This is why Wheeling’s library does not have Carnegie in its name today. Wheeling’s working class neighborhoods like East and South Wheeling, had organized to prevent the “disgraceful monument” to the “Robber Baron” Andrew Carnegie. One of the organizers, twenty-two year old Valentine Reuther, drove a beer wagon for Schmulbach Brewery and became a labor leader, who, in 1919, took two of his sons, 11 year old Walter and 6 year old Victor to visit Eugene V. Debs while he was imprisoned in Moundsville for speaking out against the WWI draft.

Shaped by such experiences, Valentine’s son Walter P. Reuther grew up to become not only one of the most influential labor leaders of the 20th Century, but also a leader in progressive social causes, marching for Civil Rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, fighting for universal healthcare, environmentalism, and economic justice for all Americans.

And many years before Walter Reuther was born, business owner and stogie maker Augustus Pollack earned the status of “friend of labor,” proof of which emerged when he died in 1906 (the year before Walter Reuther was born), as local labor unions funded a large monument in his honor. Depicting a handshake between an employee and an employer, the monument’s inscription reads: “ERECTED BY TRADE UNION MEMBERS OF UNITED STATES IN MEMORY OF AUGUSTUS POLLACK WHOSE BUSINESS LIFE AND ACTIONS WERE ALWAYS IN SYMPATHY WITH ORGANIZED LABOR.” The Pollack monument is thought to be the only memorial ever built by labor in honor of a business owner. It still stands at Heritage Port on the Wheeling Riverfront, just a few hundred feet from a bronze monument of Walter P. Reuther.

To fully appreciate Wheeling’s status as a “union town,” consider the listing of labor unions in the 1911-12 Wheeling City Directory, which shows stunning variety for a relatively small city:

Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, Amalgamated Sheet and Metal Workers, Molders’ Union, Bartenders’ Local Union No. 292, Bricklayers’ Union, Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Coopers’ International (barrel makers), two Horseshoers’ Unions, Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, International Association of Glass House Employees, International Brotherhood of Stationary Firemen, International Hod Carriers’ [bricks] and Building Laborers’ Union, International Printing Pressmen and Assistants’ Union, International Typographical Union, International Union Brewery Workmen of America, International Union of Steam Engineers, Iron Molders’ Union of North America, Journeymen Barbers’ Union, Journeyman Plumbers’ Association, Journeyman Stone Cutters’ Association, Journeyman Tailors’ Union of America, Laborers’ Union, Machinists’ Union, Master Painters Association, Master plumbers’ Association, Musicians’ Mutual Protective Union, National Brotherhood of Operative Potters, National Stogie makers’ League, Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly, Operative Plasterers’ International Association, Order of Railway Conductors, Retail Grocers Protective Association, Stonemasons’ Union, Stationary Engineers (boiler systems and mechanical systems), Structural Building Trades Alliance of America, Tin-Plate Workers’ International Protective Association of America, United Brewery Workers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, United Brotherhood of Leather Workers on Horse Goods, United Mine Workers of America, Wheeling Tobacco Workers’ Union.

Main Street, near the corner of 12th Street, September 2, 1907.

1886: Wheeling’s First Labor Day

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer: Monday Morning, August 30, 1886



In this City Saturday, Astonishes even its Organizers by its Large Proportions and Imposing Character -- Over 3,000 men in Line -- The Big Picnic

Saturday's demonstration of organized labor under the auspices of the Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly was the most imposing display of the kind, if not of any kind, ever witnessed in the city. Over 3,000 men were in line, and they stuck pretty well over the long line of march, notwithstanding the dust and the burning sun. After the procession had formed at the south end of the Fifth ward market house, and been on the march for some time, an actual count showed that there were still in line nearly 3,000 men. The trades represented, embraced almost every industry in this city and vicinity; the ranks of the various lodges were generally very full, the marching of the members was excellent, the order almost perfect, and the enthusiasm of the men and spectators all that the most ardent could wish.

The Interest taken in the affair by the public was noticeable. Alt along the line of march private residences and places of business were gaily decorated with flags, bunting, evergreen, and appropriate mottoes, while the sidewalks and often the streets, were so crowded that it was with difficulty the platoon of police which headed the column could clear a sufficient space to admit of the free marching of the line. The display was witnessed all along the route with admiration and frequently with enthusiasm. The following shows the composition of THE PROCESSION:

Chief of Police Smith, Officers Glenn, Duffy, West, Haushumaker, Deku, Desmond, Killeen, Ball, McNichol, Devlin, of the city police force. Chief Marshall, J. H. Burtt and Aides -- M. J. Finley, James R. Green, W. Newt Linch, Henry Foster, Frank Archer, Conrad Wassman, T. J, Irwin, Houston Woods, Osborne Gray. .


Marshall, Edward Robertson. Myers' Band--15 men. Prosperity Assembly No 1551. K. of L., Simon Healy, M. W., 124 men, Garfield Assembly No 1721, K. of L., G. E. Hildebrand, M. W., 200 men, Painters' Assembly No. 7185, K, of L., Wm Hagan, M. W., 60 men. Progress Assembly No 5141, K. of L., Osborne Gray, M. W., 75 men. Plasterers' Assembly No. 7129, K. of L., G. W. Kennedy, M. W., 30 men. Wellsburg Band-18 men,  Assembly No. 6990, K. of L., Martins Ferry, Joseph Stephens, M. W., 70 men. Assembly No. 1768, K. of L., G.L. Muhn, M. W., 50 men. Toronto Band--16 men. Mingo Assembly No. 4488. K. of L., Ned Croisley, M. W., 200 men. Riverside Drum Corps. Mingo-16 men.  Citizens' Band, Martin's Ferry-20 men. Alpha Assembly No. 1652, K. of L, Adam Frazier, M. W., 76 men. Bellaire City Band-20 men. Glass Blowers Lodge No. 26. President Wickland, 40 men. Assembly No. 206 K. of L., J. J. Shuttleworth, M. W., 125 men.

Total in First Division, 1,181 men.


Marshal, A. H. Britt. Washington Cornet Band-14 men. Typographical Union No. 79, E. O. Ludwig, President, 62 men. Bricklayers' Union No. 1. T. G. Britt. Captain, 78 men. Stonemasons' Union No. 2, Wm. Scheuhle, Captain, 38 men. Carpenters' and Joiners' Union No. 3, E. W. Shaw, Captain, 75 men. Black Eagle Drum Corps--10 men. Coal Miners' Union Federation, John Robinson, Captain, 61 men. Nail Feeders' Union No, 5, Robert Agnew, Captain, 75 men. Crescent Lodge, A. A. of I. & S. W. P. Bowers, Captain, 60 men. Aetnaville Lodge, O. M. A. A., David Rollins, Captain, 40 men. Virginians Lodge, A. A. of I. & S. W., Ralph Marsh, Captain, 40 men. Advance Lodge, Aetnaville, A. A., 40 men. Mountain City Lodge, Bridgeport, A, A., John McLaln, Captain, 60 men. Union Cornet Band--14 men. Assembly No. 4197, K. of L., Aetnaville. Abbott Wilson, M. W., 50 men.

Total in Second Division, 807 men,


Marshal Patrick McGrannahan. Two Wagons with Girls in White. 50 people. Opera House Band-18 men. Local Union No.9, A. F. G. W. U., M. Finley, Commanding. 235 men.  Local Union No. 15. A. F. W. U., Martin’s Ferry, J. R. Kellogg, Commanding, 123 men. Two Wagons, one containing a Glass Furnace and the Other a Press, 18 men Heatherington's band-16 men. Local Union No 54 A. F. G. W. U. F. B. Archer, Commanding, 180 men. Wagon with Horseshoers, 8 men. Mold Makers' Colon No. 53, H. Ritz, Commanding, 80 men. Drum Corp -- 8 men. Glass Cutters and Engravers' Union No. 58, James Ammen, Commanding, 64 men, Drum Corps-8 men. Hobbs and Central boys, Martin Mallarky, Commanding, 180 men. Wagons containing 40 men.

Total in Third Division, 978 men.


First Division .................1,181

Second Division.............. 807

Third Division ................. 978



The earlier hours of the day witnessed marching and counter-marching of individual organizations toward the rendezvous of the several divisions. The first division, made up exclusively of K. of L. Assemblies, under charge of Hon. Edward Robertson, met at K. of L. hall, and marched to the east side of the Fifth ward market house, where they were formed in line with the right resting on Twenty- third street. The second division, consisting of the Amalgamated Iron and Steel Workers, Typographical Union, Bricklayers' Union, Nailfeeders' Union, Carpenters' Brotherhood and all other Trades Unions, except the Glassworkers, assembled at the Capitol brink. Under charge of Marshal A. H. Britt, and marched to the west side of the Market square in readiness to take their allotted place in the line. The third division, made up exclusively of glass-workers, local and visiting, had their headquarters at Walther's Hall, corner of Twenty-sixth and Chapline streets, where Marshal Patrick McGrannahan took charge and marched them to Twenty-third and Chapline streets, with the right resting on Market Street.

The procession moved from Twenty- third street on Market, down Market to Twenty-sixth street, east on Twenty-sixth to Chapline, south on Chapline to Thirty-first, east on Thirty-first to Eoff., north on Eoff to Twenty-fifth., west on Twenty- fifth to Chapline, north on Chapline to Twentieth, west on Twentieth to Market, and north on Market to Tenth, west on Tenth to the bridge, across the bridge to the Fair Grounds, which were reached about 12 o'clock. 


The afternoon was devoted to a picnic on the State Fair Grounds. The largest crowd ever seen there at a picnic, by all odds, attended. From reliable data it is estimated that fully 12,000 people were on the grounds at one time or another. The principal thing In the way of amusements was the game of base ball between the Steubenville and Wheeling nines for a purse of $25. The visitors won by a score of ten to nine. The horse race was amusing, the entries being all local steeds. It was won by George Stamm’s “Roan Lucy.” The purse was $20. Dancing was enjoyed all day by those who cared to dance. Bands were present in abundance.

As the Mingo mill workers passed the residence of Mr. Samuel Laughlin, President of that concern, in the procession, they stopped and tendered Mr. Laughlin a serenade, the Toronto band rendering some nice music well. The Washington, Pa., band, which accompanied the printers' delegation, serenaded the newspaper offices in the afternoon. They made good music.

From beginning to end the demonstration was creditable to all concerned. It made a deep and lasting impression, not only by its imposing proportions, but as well by the class of men who mode up the ranks. They were all good citizens. Wheeling is to be congratulated on the possession within her borders and in her neighborhood of the thousands of sturdy and intelligent toilers of whom these were but a respectable representation. Only a fraction of the working population turned out, but it showed well and unmistakably what manner of men they are and what proportion of the community they compose.

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