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1917 Twin City Rapid Transit Company Street Railway Strike

Street Railway Company strike. Location no. HG3.18 p8This strike was called on October 6, 1917, six months to the day (April 6, 1917) after the United States declared war against Germany. Citizens were called upon to support the war effort and to guard against foreign influences that could lead to the nation's defeat. Seen by the Minnesota business community as one of the most threatening foreign influences, the International Workers of the World (IWW), the "Wobblies," were organizing labor unions on the Minnesota Iron Range, in the building trades, and with the streetcar drivers.

When the president of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company refused to negotiate with the streetcar drivers or their union, thousands of strikers rampaged through the streets of St. Paul, damaging streetcars and harassing non-union drivers. The Commission of Public Safety ordered an end to the strike. Complying with the order, workers returned to work, but tensions mounted. The workers walked out again in late November, when the company issued an ultimatum threatening loss of jobs to anyone wearing a union button or engaged in union activity.

At a rally of 3,000 in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul, on Sunday, December 2, speakers from the Nonpartisan League fired up the workers. As the rally ended, people found themselves stranded in the cold, as the streetcar company had turned off the power, thereby immobilizing all of its streetcars in the downtown area. When the Ramsey County sheriff and the St. Paul police were unable to control the angry crowd, the St. Paul Civilian Auxiliary and units of the State Home Guard were called out and began making arrests. In the following days, other units of the Guard were called in from other cities. The strike was broken, the union defeated. Eight hundred men lost their jobs and were replaced by non-union workers.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • "Defenders of Business: The Minneapolis Civic and Commerce Association Versus Labor During W.W. I," by William Millikan.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 50, no. 1 (spring 1986): pp. 2-17.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F601.5.M66 v.50:1, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
  • Streetcar Man: Tom Lowry and the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, by Goodrich Lowry.
    Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1979.
    MHS call number: Reading Room HE2754.L63 L68.
  • "The Twin Cities and the Holding Company: The Minneapolis Street Railway Story," by H.M. Olmsted.
    In National Municipal Review, vol. 12 (July 1923): pp. 376-380.
    MHS call number: HE4491.M76 O45 1923

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Citizen's Alliance Bulletin
    Minneapolis: [The Alliance], -1932.
    MHS call number: HD4802 .C58
  • "An Historical Account of the Street Railways of Minneapolis and St. Paul," by Edson N. Tuckey.
    An account by Tuckey of the development of the Twin Cities streetcar network (1850s-1890s), providing data on the organization and consolidation of several early companies, construction and extension of the consolidated system, financial investment and employee relations within the St. Paul City Railway Company and the Minneapolis Street Railway Company, the financial condition (1898) of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company, and municipal ownership possibilities. An appendix gives construction and equipment costs of the network.
    MHS call number: FHE4491/.T98T8; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is only 1 item).
  • The Truth About the Street Car Trouble, by James M. Clancy, et al.
    [St. Paul, Minn.]: St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly, [1918?].
    MHS call number: JK2391.N42 N39 no. 224.
  • Newspapers and other periodicals that may be useful for this topic:
    • Minneapolis Labor Review
    • Minneapolis Star
    • Minneapolis Tribune
    • Minnesota Union Advocate (St. Paul)
    • St. Paul Dispatch
    • St. Paul Pioneer Press
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.