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Homestead Strike

The Homestead Strike: Greed v. Civil Rights

Homestead is a small town eight miles outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, located on the bank of the Monongahela River. In 1881, Andrew Carnegie built his principal steel mill in the town of Homestead.  The Carnegie Steel Mill had employed over 4,000 out of the town's 12,000 residents (Burgoyne).  Carnegie’s mill was the lifeline of this small town. Every individual in the town was affected by the mill in some way. Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish born businessman, built his fortune from nothing. At its peak, Carnegie’s enterprise was worth $14 billion and controlled two-thirds of the steel production across the nation (Brinkley 106) . Although he was wealthy, Carnegie kept a good reputation among all his employees as a respected, kind man. On the contrary, Henry Clay Frick, Carnegie’s appointed chairman, had no compassion for his workers. He was a ruthless man who despised worker’s unions and anything associated with them. Andrew Carnegie left for vacation in 1892, trusting Henry Frick with full authority of the Homestead mill and the employees there. Upon his departure, Carnegie could never have anticipated the upcoming events that would take place in Homestead.

The Homestead workers were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AAISW). The union was made up of over 24,000 members and was one of the largest iron and steel unions in the United States. In 1892 the contract between the AAISW and the Carnegie Steel Company expired (White).  At the same time the price of steel in the early 1890s was falling. Frick, worried about the price cuts, decided to use the expiring contract to cut wages and take power away from the employees. The disputes between the Union and Carnegie’s company led up to what came to be known as the Homestead Strike of 1892.

As of June 29, 1892, negotiations were making no progress. The lack of improvements in the strike and the declining state of the steel market led Frick to lock out the mill’s 4,000 workers.  This way Frick could bring in strike breakers to keep production moving. Frick built a twelve-foot fence around the entire perimeter. The Fence, known as “Fort Frick”, stretched for over three miles, and was guarded by Deputy Sheriffs. The workers decided to take the mill for themselves and prohibit new non-union men, which were called in from surrounding cities, from entering the property.  They ordered the sheriffs out of town using their superior numbers to intimidate them.. Meanwhile, Frick hired three hundred Pinkerton Detectives to aid in the retaking of the Homestead plant. Pinkertons, as they were called, were hired guards used to break strikes. These men were notoriously violent in their dealings with strikers.  At midnight of July 5, 1892, the Pinkerton army was spotted coming down the Monongahela River on barges armed with Winchester rifles. The workers then warned the entire town of the coming attackers.  The town of Homestead came to help guard the mill. Every man, women, and child gathered at the mill to confront the arriving Pinkerton force. The residents of Homestead urged the Pinkertons not to get off the barges, but they did not listen.

On July 6, 1892, the first gunshots were exchanged between the Pinkerton Detectives and the people of Homestead. There is no record of who fired the first shot but the result was a massive firefight. The following fourteen hours of battle were brutal. The strikers went as far as rolling fire laden freight trains onto the barges. The heavily outnumbered Pinkerton Detectives were forced to surrender. Therefore, they were forced to march through a gauntlet of townspeople and were beaten on their way out.  Hugh O'Donnell, the leader of the strikers remembers the march,  "I must confess that during the march from the barges to the rink the Pinkerton men were shamefully abused by the crowd, but we took care of them that night and saw that they got out of town safely" (“The Situation at Homestead”).  On July 6 at 5:00 p.m. a total of nine workers and seven Pinkerton Detectives were announced dead with many others wounded. The workers thought they had won the battle and kept the mill in their control, but the worker’s celebration did not last long. Six days later the Governor of Pennsylvania ordered the National Guard to take control of the situation in Homestead. Upon arrival, the National Guard took over the Carnegie Steel mill with no resistance from the workers.

Following the National Guard occupation, the union still insisted on striking. This lasted until winter when exceptionally harsh weather, lack of money, and no progress in negotiations forced the workers to end the strike. Back on the job site they were required to work longer days, receive less pay, and work in the same unacceptable conditions. The union crumbled after losing the strike. Many of the members wondered what good a union was if it could not solve a strike? Along with the union, the Pinkerton Detective Agency never recovered from the loss of face they received after being run out of town. The agency was slowly pushed into oblivion after the event.  On the business side of the strike, there were many repercussions. Andrew Carnegie received most of the blame for the event. Upon his return, he was very disappointed in Henry Clay Frick’s decisions.  Carnegie showed his disappointment when he stated, "I have tried my best to be your friend again.  It is simple ridiculous my dear Mr. Frick. . ." (Livesay 164).  Carnegie faced a difficult decision of punishing Frick. To save his reputation, Frick begged for demotion instead of being let go. Being a compassionate man, Carnegie appointed him chairman of the board, an honorary position with no real power. Coupled with the demotion, Frick’s shares in the company were reduced from eleven percent to six percent, a substantial amount of money. Along with the job, Frick almost lost his life. Following the National Guard occupation assassin Alexander Berkman came to end the strike by killing Frick. Although Frick was shot, the attempt was unsuccessful due to the faulty working of the gun used by Berkman. Frick returned to work the next week. For his attempted murder, Berkman was to sentenced 14 years in the Pennsylvania Western Penitentiary.  Many of the strikers were accused of murder but none of them were convicted.

The Homestead strike was the beginning in a line of strikes to come over the next century. The effect it left on unionism remained for many years. The battle for Homestead, as it is now known as, went down in the history books as one of the most violent strikes in U.S. history. Many organizations never recovered from the unpleasant reputation that they gained from this event. The Battle at Homestead will be remembered as an occasion where human greed and civil rights collided and neither one came out on top.

Annotated Bibliography of Works Consulted                                                                      

Brinkley, Allan.  The Unfinished Nation.  4th ed.  Boston:  McGraw Hill, 2004.

This is an United States history book starting in 1864, after the Civil War, up to present day.  It has many facts dealing with all of American history, however has little information dealing the Homestead Strike.  The textbook few paragraphs explaining the strike, which provided a brief overview, and few details used in the essay.

Burgoyne, Arthur G. “Homestead: A Complete History of the Struggle of July, 1892.” The Strike of Homestead. Patrick J. Hall. Ohio State U. (18 Feb. 2004). 

This site on Homestead is an in-depth description of the strike. It talks greatly of the surrounding city and how Homestead became so populated by the Carnegie Steel Company.  It describes how Carnegie’s company took over the land of Homestead and the affects it had on it surrounding properties.

Fitch, John A. “Unionism and the Union Movement.” Patrick J. Hall. Ohio State U. (4 Feb. 2004).

This website goes into great detail of the creation of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. The writer discusses the events leading up to the unions commencement and who the main contributors were. The surrounding city where many of the iron and steel companies were located is explained, and how their roles were played in the union. Finally, the events leading up to the Homestead Strike of 1892, involving the Amalgamated Association, were described in great depth.  Make sure to look at the links on the bottom of this page, they are very helpful.

Goldner, Cheri.  “The Homestead Strike 1892.”  The Homestead Strike.  1997.  American Cultures Studies “Computing for ACS” (22 Jan. 2004).

This website describes the Homestead Strike of 1892.  It explains the events leading up to the strike, during the strike, and the affects of it.  This website also has history on the people involved in the Homestead Strike.  There are a few pictures included on this website that were useful to our project.

Krause, Paul.  The Battle for Homestead of 1892.  U. of Pitt:  Pittsburgh, 1992.

This book gives great insight into the Homestead Strike.  It covers all the events leading up, during the strike and after the strike in depth.  There are even a couple of chapters devoted to the effects the Homestead strike had on the labor movement  in general.

Livesay, Harold. C. Andrew Carnegie and the Rise to Big Business.  2nd ed.  New York: Longman, 2000.

This is a biography of Andrew Carnegie.  The book goes into detail of the rise to fortune of Carnegie as a young and poor boy to a multi-millionaire.  This a good source explaining all the important aspects of Carnegie’s life, and has a chapter dealing with the Homestead Strike. A good overall source concerning Carnegie’s life.

Solomon, Martha.  Emma Goldman.  Twanyne:  Boston, 1987.

This book was not the best resources for the Homestead strike, it dealt more with Emma Gold and her life then the strikes she effected.  The key part of this book gave the reader a look into the thinking and driving force behind Alexander Berkman.  Berkman was very close to Goldman and part of her book deals with Berkman and the Homestead Strike.

‘The  Homestead Strike”  The American Experience.  1999.  PBS Online WGBH. (22 Jan. 2004).

The PBS website provided some detailed information on the causes of the Homestead Strike.   There are quotes by Carnegie and Frick.  Next, the website describes the events of the actual strike on July 5.   Then, the PBS website went into more detail about what happened to the people after the Pinkertons surrendered at the steel mill.   At the end of the page it states Carnegie’s thoughts on the events of the Homestead Strike.

“The Situation at Homestead.” 23 July 1892. Ohio State Dept. of History. (22 Jan. 2004)

This site gives a great description about the entire brigade of Homestead.  It talks about the Pinkerton’s coming and the battle between them and the towns’ people.  Gives the final result in the battle and what was to come next for the workman.

White, Joe. “The Homestead Strike of 1892.” Congress of Industrial Organizations: Constitutional Convention. 14 May 02. (25 Jan. 04).

This website gives background information on the business aspect of Carnegie’s company and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers.   The site stated some of the weaknesses of the Union which caused the battle.   It gives all the pertaining information about the strike.  Finally,  it provides information about the consequences of the Homestead Strike.

Related Links

"The Homestead Strike 1892" by Cheri Goldner

"The Homestead Strike of 1892" by Joe White

"The Steel Workers" John A. Fitch

"The Homestead Strike"

"Homestead: Pennsylvania History"