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The Outrage of Ordinary Men: Pennsylvania's Role in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
High School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
In the 1870s the United States experienced a serious economic depression that resulted in numerous clashes between management and the working class. The railroad industry attempted to lessen the impact of this depression through rate and wage reductions. Workers lost both work hours and income due to the restrictions practiced by most companies, including the Pennsylvania, Erie, Baltimore and Ohio and New York Central rail lines. By the middle of 1877, workers from rail lines across the nation walked off their jobs in protest. Their frustration quickly led to violence, which resulted in death and destruction of property. The strike ended after the intervention of federal troops. The violence and use of federal troops shocked the nation and brought many industrialization problems to public attention. This lesson will introduce students to the events and issues surrounding the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Students will work in small groups to analyze several primary source documents, including photographs and lithographs, to determine the facts of the strike. After completing analysis charts for the documents and images, each group will make a determination as to the causes and consequences of the strike. Each group should present a brief summation of its findings in a roundtable discussion and should identify at least two facts determined from the analysis. Students will also prepare a written analysis of the causes of the strike and its impact on Pennsylvania communities. Students should read the Historical Marker Page [[hm]]The Great Railroad Strike of 1877[[/]] or Student Handout 1 for homework prior to teaching this lesson.


  • 1. The students will be able to identify the causes of the Railroad Strike of 1877.

  • 2. The students will be able to explain the various points of view of the participants in the Railroad Strike of 1877.

  • 3. The students will be able to describe the impact that the strike had on several Pennsylvania communities.

Standards Alignment

  • History

    8.1.9. B. Analyze and interpret historical sources.
    8.2.3. A. Understand the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania.
    8.2.9. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.11. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.5.11. B. Write using well-developed content appropriate for the topic.
    1.6.11. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.11. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.11. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

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