Historical Markers
Bost Building [1892 Homestead Strike] Historical Marker
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Bost Building [1892 Homestead Strike]

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
617-623 East 8th Ave., Homestead

Dedication Date:
July 7, 1992

Behind the Marker

The Advisory Board members of the Homestead Steel Strike are: Left to right standing: John Durkin, Robert Morrow, George Hatfield, Tom Williamson, Richard Hartwell, Edward Richards, and John Reese. Sitting: William McConegly, Secretary, David Lynch, Tom Crawford, Chairman, William Gaches and Harry Bayne.
Advisory Board of the Homestead Steel Strike, 1892.
Unionism took a beating in Homestead before, during, and after the 1892 strike. The industry's principal union at the time was the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AAISW), formed in 1876 from two sizable unions of skilled workers, iron puddlers and iron rollers. When Samuel Gompers organized the markerAmerican Federation of Labor in 1886, the AAISW was a charter member.

Both the AFL and the Amalgamated paid little attention to the unskilled laborers and semiskilled operatives who increasingly manned the steel mills. Skilled white American workers - and only these workers - were welcomed into the AFL fold. The AFL and the Amalgamated even fought against the Knights of Labor - the largest union in American history before its collapse during the disastrous nationwide strike of 1886.

Black and white image of Hugh O'Donnell.
Homestead Strike Committee Chairman Hugh O'Donnell, circa 1892.
Principally an iron workers union, the Amalgamated never successfully organized strong unions in any of the Pittsburgh district's steel mills aside from Homestead. Homestead had "lodges" of the Amalgamated from the mill's first year of operation in 1881, and in 1890 it counted 1,123 men on its membership rolls. On the eve of the 1892 strike, while its membership had slipped to 752 of the mill's total 3,800 workers, it still commanded the support of the majority of the men.

Battle scene with men standing along a hillside, firing at Pinkertons that are disembarking from a barge. "Fort Frick" with the wooden fence surrounding it sits at the top of the hill.
The battle at the Carnegie Mills, Homestead, PA, 1892.
During that fateful summer of 1892, the Amalgamated Association's strike committee revealed the weakness of trade unions in the steel industry. The 40-man strike committee, meeting here in the Bost Building, consisted of representatives from the eight Amalgamated "lodges" active in the Homestead mill. The chairman of the strike committee, a skilled roller named Hugh O'Donnell, did his best to maintain strike discipline by forming a citizen's patrol, limiting liquor sales in town, and even extinguishing two burning effigies of company executives.

The famous markerbattle on July 6 with hired Pinkertons, formed a dramatic and much recounted moment. But O'Donnell and the Amalgamated proved unable to control the passions of the day. When the defeated Pinkertons were marched four blocks through town to a safe refuge, angry men and women lined up in a gauntlet and beat them. John Fitch, an otherwise sympathetic labor writer, wrote of this episode: "that the leaders were unable to protect the Pinkertons . . . is a deep and standing reproach . . . to the name of organized labor."
City street scene with workers in line to enter the Bost Building and armed guards lining the streets.
Harpers' Weekly illustraton of a guard outside of the Bost Building, 1892.

In the grim years after the strike, the Carnegie Company along with most others in the Pittsburgh district ruthlessly stamped out union activity. Companies fired union members in droves, ran organizers out of town, and planted spies in the workplace, which demoralized the men. Membership in the Amalgamated Association dropped off even further. Two more failed strikes in 1901 and 1909 finished it off as a significant force for unionism. One aspect of 1892 -the difficulties harnessing rank-and-file militancy - would be repeated, tragically, in the marker steel strike of 1919.

Vivid memories of the markerHomestead strike victims formed a strong rallying point in the markerSteel Workers Organizing Committee's successful effort in the 1930s to unionize steel on an industry-wide basis. For years a large poster, entitled "Great Battle of Homestead: Defeat and Capture of the Pinkerton Invaders, July 6th, 1892," hung in the homes, the bars, and the union halls of Homestead.
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