Darryl Heller Dissertation Proposal Draft April 7, 2008 Law, Labor, and Politics: Street Railways in Brooklyn and New York, 1884-1904



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Darryl Heller

Dissertation Proposal - Draft

April 7, 2008
Law, Labor, and Politics: Street Railways in Brooklyn and New York, 1884-1904
I

The street railway system in New York experienced two significant events in 1884. After years of haggling and backroom dealing, the General Street Railway Act was signed into law by Governor Cleveland. Among other things, it authorized “any of persons exceeding thirteen” to form a corporation for the purpose of “constructing, maintaining, and operating for compensation a street railway for public conveyance of persons or property in cars.” It also stated that incorporators could obtain a franchise only with the consent of municipal authorities and private property owners and abutters who were affected, or failing that, to gain the approval of a three man commission appointed by and subject to the state supreme court.1 This law was another step in an ongoing process to define the relationship between municipal authorities, charged with protecting and furthering the public good, the state, and street railway companies whose primary interest was private gain. In 1860 the New York state legislature had stripped the common council of New York City of authority to grant franchises for the surface railways because of endemic corruption. However, this apparently only shifted graft from the local government to the state assembly, so that the 1874 Constitutional Commission, seeking to return a measure of authority to the municipality, passed a constitutional amendment that “forbade the state legislature to pass any law authorizing the construction of street railways except with the consent of the local authorities having control of the streets and the majority of the owners of property.” The 1884 General Railway Act adhered to this constitutional requirement, but, to the ire of fiscally minded reformers, did not require existing street railway companies, many with perpetual franchises, to compensate the city for the privilege of operating on public streets. 2 Despite widespread calls for municipal ownership of the street railways and to control their use of city streets for benefit of the municipality, this would not take place for another half century.3

1884 also witnessed the formation of what would become arguably the most active and militant organization of street railway workers of the 19th century. Sometime in 1883 a member of the Knights of Labor boarded a horsecar in New York City and began a casual conversation with the driver. After explaining the advantages of belonging to the Knights, the driver, along with thirteen of his fellow laborers joined the Knights of Labor. Later that year, these men went on to form what is possibly the first local assembly of horse railroad employees.4 The following year, District Assembly Number 75 was chartered by the General Assembly of the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor.5 Known as the Empire Protective Association of the State of New York, it was established on June 25, 1884 with a jurisdiction covering “the cities of Brooklyn, New York, and whatever other territory that may from time to time be added”, and composed of a membership to include “drivers, conductors, and other persons employed by the surface railway companies of the above named cities and such other territory as may from time to time be added.”6 For the next decade and a half District 75 would mount a concerted by labor to oppressive and unscrupulous working conditions and to reform practices of railway companies’ use of urban streets.

These two events highlight defining features of the period historians have called the Gilded Age.7 Characterized by pervasive labor upheavals alongside the restructuring of American capitalism, the period also experienced the birth of the metropolis as foreign immigration and internal migration from the countryside swelled urban populations.8 It was especially in the last three decades of the century that this explosion is most keenly experienced. With the extension of transportation lines, the “walking city” expanded outward; business districts were separated from residential areas, creating, as Sam Bass Warner describes, two cities: a city of homes and a city of jobs.9 Out of this was born both the “suburb” and the “commuter.” The streetcar and the street railway system were essential to this process and would become a ubiquitous symbol of urban development by the turn of the century.

The current historiography that addresses 19th century urban development, the growth of mass transportation, labor history, and capital transformation, remains incomplete. For example, while urban historians have certainly documented the lockstep development of urban mass transportation and the modern city they have largely neglected labor as a category of analysis. Likewise, historians who have studied 19th century labor generally neglect street railway workers. Ronald Mandel’s recent study of the Gilded Age labor movement in Brooklyn and New York, for instance, hardly makes mention of street railway workers, although they were at the center of labor actions in both cities.10 Similarly, David Montgomery’s Fall of the House of Labor, while ranging over various industries and taking detailed snapshots of the environment in which workers resisted and fought for autonomy, bypasses urban transportation workers altogether.11 Those who have explored urban transportation have generally focused their studies on the rise of trade unionism at the turn of the century.12 Scott Molloy’s Trolley Wars: Streetcar Workers on the Line, Georg Leidenberger’s Chicago’s Progressive Alliance: Labor and the Bid for Public Streetcars, while primarily concerned with transportation workers, are primarily focused on events during the Progressive Era (Molloy with a 1902 strike in Providence, and Leidenberger with the 1905 teamsters strike in Chicago).13 In neither city was streetcar workers unionized before electrification in the 1890’s, thus providing little insight into how workers leveraged their collective capacity to influence the industry and mitigate pressures to exploit their labor in the formative years of urban mass transportation. Joshua B. Freeman’s In Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933-1966 provides a detailed study urban transportation workers, but again, in its 20th century trade union formation.14

Finally, historians interested in the political and economic transformations that were central to the latter part of the 19th century give uneven at best attention the centrality of mass transportation to the development of cities and the importance to this development in the larger structural transformation that were taking place. Almost without exception, labor is absent in their analysis.15

In contradistinction to these previous studies, this dissertation proposes to examine the nexus of urban development and capital transformation with labor as a central category. The underlying premise in which this study is guided is that a full understanding of the nuance and details of corporate and urban development took place cannot be adequately understood without accounting for the role played by workers who toiled on urban rails. Although the reorganization of the economic and political sphere occurred in the interest of capital and not labor, worker culture and activity were not insignificant factors in the pace and direction in which this transformation progressed. The central focus of this study will be a close examination of exactly how that role played out in Brooklyn and New York City, two of the largest urban environments of the period.

II

The 19th century was marked by efforts to resolve the relationship between private and public enterprises. Municipal corporations of the eighteenth century were conceived of as public bodies carrying out public functions. In contested and at times acrimonious debate, state and local officials, along with the important role of the judiciary, sought to define the best relationship between public and private corporations, especially in terms of the control and use of city streets.16 Also, by the middle of the 19th century the modern business corporation was given legal status and backing by judicial precedent beginning with Dartmouth College v. Woodward. As a legal (even if fictive) person, private corporations were insulated against state intrusion against their property rights and the enjoyed the inviolability of contract.17 Street railways were often at the center of this conflict as they vied to maximize profits for shareholders at the expense of providing the public service for which they were charted.18

The role of courts, judge-made law, and policy decisions handed down from the bench were significant factors in how these various relationships played out. Activist courts developed judicial standards, based on their interpretation of legislative actions, to evaluate the legitimacy of municipal conduct.19 Laws governing street railways use of streets were an arena in which courts and judges weighed in, and would become an increasingly pressing issue in the rights and responsibilities between railway companies and municipalities. Questions such as rights of abutting property owners, easement, street maintenance, and rights of way would eventually find their way into the courts.20

Courts also weighed heavily in setting constraints on the activities of labor, particularly in its rulings against strikes and boycotts. William Forbath argues that “courts, legal doctrine and language, and legal violence played a crucial, irreducible part in shaping the modern American labor movement.”21 Streetcar worker’s efforts to carve out and maintain a space for the dignity of their labor would only be provisionally successful in the latter part of the 19th century. Much of their efforts spilled into the legislative and judicial arena amid growing concern by the general public and reform-minded politicians about practices of streetcar companies. Workers advocated for legislation that included limiting the working day, determining maximum speeds streetcars were allowed to run on city streets, defining the responsibilities and limits of private corporations operating in public spaces, the licensing and training of streetcar operators, and the amelioration of legal constraints their right to pursue their interests. The use of the writ of mandamus, which was an injunction to force streetcar companies to provide the public service for which they were franchised, was pioneered in the wake of streetcar strikes in Brooklyn.22 However, as Sven Beckert and others have noted, courts upheld the right of employers to enter into or refuse to enter into a contract with an employee, and vice versa.23 Similarly, courts consistently upheld the sanctity of property and its protection. Ultimately, labor’s ability to maintain its successes was thwarted by state intervention on behalf of capital. Intrusions, not only by the legal apparatus (courts and legislatures), but also by police and militia, along with capital’s growing class awareness as expressed through employer associations, proved to be overwhelming.24 Even as these actions by state supported capital enterprises and government agencies blurred the line between public and private, they also hold the potential to give insight, from a different perspective, on the transformation of which they were a part.



III

Scholars have pointed out that the public nature of work on urban transportation lines also meant the activities of transportation workers operated in the public sphere.25 Strikes and boycotts on street railways were highly visible, and, because of the inherently public nature of the service provided, deeply affected the general population of cities in ways that they did not in other industries. From the perspective of the masses of people who relied on street railway service and the state legislature who granted companies the right to operate on city streets, the growing necessity of service provision was a central issue. Resentments of perceived rapaciousness by the public generated a pervasive distain for the companies operating on streets. By 1886, even the official trade journal of the street railway system was decrying the lack of public support and negative press towards companies. New York was particularly singled out during a series of strikes by the Knights of Labor. Company presidents decried the “New York daily press, [which] has been loaded with an insufferable amount of gush, the burden of which has been the duty of the street railway companies to their drivers in the way of hours of labor and remuneration.”26 Part of this study will be the investigation of the role that mass media and public perceptions played in supporting (or not) the workers who labored on the roads and in the stables of the street railway companies, and how that may have changed as the industry addressed the growing needs of the bourgeoning metropolis.27

A major contributing factor to both the public and workers’ distain for the companies was the fact that many of the larger companies were grossly overcapitalized and profit was most often reaped, not by ongoing operations, but from consolidation and restructuring within the system. Joshua Freeman notes that money was extracted through combining several lines and in the process extracting money from “watered stocks, high dividends and debt, inter-company financial agreements, and other devices.”28 All of these were tactics that made Brooklyn and New York’s street railway companies the object of public derision even as the “riding habit” became an increasing way of life.

As one observer noted, regularity of transit economized time and space, creating a convenient and economical way for city travelers to journey “to the principal streets of large cities” without having to bear the congestion of pedestrians and vehicles that previously occupied the streets.29 Streetcars and street railway were to become important cultural nodes in the lives of millions of people. The regularity of streetcar schedules and the setting of timetables would be integral features that regulated life in industrialized modern society. Because of the public character and the growing reliance of the populace on urban transportation, one might suspect a degree of intolerance to disruptions. However, interruptions in service by strikes gained a surprising degree of public support, although there was a conflicted and sometimes hostile response when it was felt that workers overstepped their bounds.30 The state authorities were also cognizant of and responsive to the tensions and problems between labor and management. A major city-wide street railway strike in Brooklyn in 1895 strike spurred two separate state legislative investigations; one to look into the cause of the strike and to assign responsibility, and another to “investigate the desirability of municipal ownership of the street and elevated railroads of the various cities of the state.”31 In both cases public inconvenience and municipal costs was a central focus of testimony.



IV

Brooklyn and New York will serve as the primary site of this study for several reasons. New York, as the largest city in the nation, was also the city that innovated streetcar railways. Many of the legislative and judicial interventions that defined the relationship between the state and municipality in the Gilded Age are open for study there. New York City, along with Brooklyn, had the most organized and vibrant street railway labor force in this period. Brooklyn’s street railways will receive particular attention because it has been greatly understudied in relation to New York. As well, Brooklyn was the site of one of the last major battles waged by street railway workers in the 19th century. Despite its size and geographic expanse, Brooklyn always lived in the shadow and held a dependent status to its larger neighbor, leading many scholars to treat it as part of New York’s suburb.32 Nevertheless, the character and culture of Brooklyn retained its own unique quality. This dissertation will treat Brooklyn as the autonomous city that it was. Not only was it the fourth largest city in the nation prior to its consolidation with New York in 1898, it was a growing industrial center by the mid-nineteenth century. While Brooklyn served as a bedroom community for New York’s wealthy who chose to live outside of the increasingly crowed island of Manhattan, it was also home to diverse European immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and England, as well as a destination to native migrants from New England and the Midwest.33 Coney Island and other shore points provided a respite from the worries of capital accumulation, being served by horsecar and a steam railroad system that was created to shuttle beach-goers and pleasure seekers back and forth.34 Prior to consolidation, Brooklyn and New York could be thought of as sister cities, each providing needs and services that the other lacked. In this way they were in a somewhat symbiotic relationship. Together they witnessed, as much as any other city, the effects of consolidation and conflict that street railway companies created for city and state governments. The history of street railways, municipal dependence on state legislation, funding and financing schemes, and labor upheavals make this an important site of investigation for the transformations that were occurring on a national level.



V

The similarities, and differences, between urban street railways and national railroads provide an interesting and useful comparison. Barbara Young Welke observed that “what railroads were to the nation, streetcars were to American cities. In essential respects, the street railcar was the progenitor of the modern city.”35 In fact, to a large extent street railways mirrored their interstate and transcontinental big brothers. In the same way that railroads served to connect different regions of the country, the urban street railroad connected different neighborhoods to one another. Both were initially heralded as a symbol of “progress.”36 After participating in the inaugural ride on the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1832, New York’s mayor declared that “this event will go down in the history of our country as the greatest achievement of man.”37 However, by the end of the century the public and reform minded politicians would decry the corruption of street railway “traction companies” as a symbol of the destabilizing effects of industrialization in the same way that railroad “trusts” would become the target of Progressives Era reformers. Just as the nation’s railroads were a site of monopoly and capital consolidation under the domination of “trusts” controlled by men such as Gould, Vanderbilt and Harriman, street railroads increasingly came under the domination of “traction magnates” such as the Long Island Traction Company, the Brooklyn Traction Company, and the Metropolitan Traction Company.38 Furthermore, the consolidation of street railways in New York and Brooklyn witnessed the adoption a corporate management structure developed by the nation’s railroads.39

Finally, like the stream railroad that transported freight and people around the nation, street railroads transported people within the boundaries and suburbs of urban space. Street railways, as defined by one contemporary legal scholar, were “those which operated in streets, whether on, below, or above the surface…as common carriers of passengers for the convenience and accommodation of the people living upon or near such highways.40 Herein, however, lay a significant difference, both practically and legally. Whereas interstate railroads would come under federal regulation, urban street railways would be subject to ordinances and laws promulgated on the state and municipal level. Street railway companies were extremely sensitive to this important difference between themselves and railroads. The nature of their charter distinguished them from other corporations, in that “their business, once established, becomes a public necessity” wrote one company president.41 The New York State Assembly stated that “[street] railroad companies are quasi public corporations, in which the public is deeply interested, and over which the Legislature of the State, by wise and prudent legislation should exercise dominion and control.”42 In terms of public and municipal accountability, Henry Booth, a contemporary legal scholar, observed that “no other franchise involving such large interests depended for its existence upon the consent of the local authorities. No other licensed business is to the same extent subject to supervision and control by the municipality; and none other touches at so many points the legal rights of its citizens.”43

Another significant difference between the railroads and street railways was the level of organization among the workers. For most of the century street railway workers by and large did not share the craft protection that their steam railroad compatriots enjoyed. The principle streetcar workers – drivers (later motormen under electric traction) and conductors - sat on an indeterminate rung of the skill ladder and constituted a different organization of labor. Neither common laborer, factory operative, nor craftsmen in the common usage of these categories, they fought to carve out and define their own identity in the face of capital expansion within an industry that provided a service but produced no goods.44

Whether streetcar workers were to be considered as “skilled” labor was a hotly debated issue within the industry. The interest of the companies was clearly on the side of relating to all of their workers as common laborers rather then craftsmen. An employer, writing in the Street Railroad Journal, the industry’s principle mouthpiece, expressed the opinion that “…employees of railway corporations cannot be classified under the head of ‘skilled labor.’ Any man of average intelligence can discharge the duties and, although he may not be at first as efficient as an old hand, yet a few days, if he be industrious and attentive, will give all the experience that is really necessary. It is, therefore, unwise for them to represent themselves as skilled workmen, or to allow themselves to fall into the pernicious notion that they are as indispensable to their employers, and as difficult to replace as the craftsmen in specified trades and manufacturers.”45 Workers, on the other hand, organized and, in the tumultuous context of the Gilded Age, sought to give all labor within the industry a collective voice in determining the environment in which they toiled.

VI

That workers needed some change in their working conditions is evidenced by an 1885 report by the New York State labor commissioner. In this he found that the management of the street railway systems throughout the state was “open to severe criticism.” However, his findings led him to conclude that the conditions that existed in New York “were even worst, and in Brooklyn worst of all.” In 1886, when he issued another report, he declared that after investigating over two hundred trades over the past year, that “in no other trade or occupation…do I believe there exists grievances approximating in the slightest degree, in number or gravity, to those resulting from the general management of the street railroads of this state…In many instances these grievances are more than ordinary abuses…they amount to downright outrages.” 46

The Knights of Labor and District 75 stepped in to address this issue in 1884. The history of its organizing effort provides an excellent window from which to view the changes in capital and transportation in which this dissertation is concerned. Philip Foner described District 75 as “the most important remaining District Assembly” of the mid-nineteenth century.47 While his comment may be a bit overstated,48 it was a clearly a significant district assembly of the Knights of Labor and was at the forefront of labor fights well into the 1890’s, far past the point that the Knights were written off as dead.

The traditional narrative of the Noble and Holy Order the Knights of Labor documents their meteoritic rise during and immediately after their victory over Jay Gould during the 1885 Wabash Railroad strike to their equally precipitous decline in the wake of the Haymarket bombing in Chicago and subsequent defeat by Gould’s Southwestern Railroad in 1886.49 Between July, 1885 and July, 1886 the Knights of Labor increased their membership from 100,000 to over 700,000.50 At its height, it is estimated that the Knights of Labor incorporated 11.76 percent of the American workforce. 51 Local assemblies encompassing over 1000 distinct trades were formed in every state in the Union, nearly every Canadian province, and several European nations.52 As well, the Knights were the only labor organization in the 19th century to actively organize blacks and women into its fold.53

District Assembly 75 was a beneficiary of this stampede of workers. At the end of its initial organizing drive in 1885, 4000 new men had joined the fledgling organization in Brooklyn. From there the organizers blanketed New York and within a few months had enrolled 7500 men into eleven local assemblies.54 By the end 1886 District 75, which claimed to have brought 99 percent of all street railway workers in New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey into its fold, was comprised of about 30 local assemblies, (at least of which 13 were in Brooklyn), and had a membership of 18,000.55 However, by 1890 national membership in the Knights had dwindled to less than 100,000. Of note, in the mid 1890’s when the national organization is estimated to have less than 70,000 members, District 75 was able to stage a city-wide strike in Brooklyn by its 5000 members.56 To date, the only sustained study of District Assembly 75 was written by Sarah Henry. Her focus, however, was the role of the public in the events of the Brooklyn trolley strike in 1895. Among her key findings was that despite the common assumption that District 75 was destroyed after badly losing this strike, it actually survived for almost another decade.57 We see one instance of its continued activity in an attempt in 1897 to require the largest streetcar company in Brooklyn to grant collective bargaining power back to District 75. Its failure, however, exemplified the setback of the 1895 strike, but we also find several of the leaders from 1895 were still active and undeterred in their efforts to push workers’ interests.58 It was not until 1904 that the Empire Protective Association finally collapsed and Brooklyn streetcar workers joined the AFL.59 By this time the fluidity and possibilities of achieving the labor republicanism envisioned by labor activists of the Gilded Age had diminished. Under the aegis of the American Federation of Labor, labor’s perception of itself and the role for with which it perceived itself charged had significantly changed.

The Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees (Amalgamated), an American Federation of Labor (AFL) affiliate, was founded in 1892. Samuel Gompers, the president of the AFL, confessed in his autobiography that “no organization received more of my thought and personal attention than the streetcar men,” was a strong supporter of a craft organization of transportation workers.60 Already contesting the strength of the Knights of Labor in the late 1880’s, Gompers offered encouragement to street railway organizations to form an international union.61 Although the Amalgamated chose not to align itself with the AFL at its founding convention, it changed course in 1893 and became an affiliated national union.62 Among its stated objectives were to “encourage the settlement of all disputes between employees and employers by arbitration; to secure employment and adequate pay for our work; to reduce the hours of daily labor, and by all legal and proper means to elevate our moral, intellectual, and social condition.”63 It has been noted that the Amalgamated was unusual among AFL affiliated unions in that it was organized along industrial lines rather than craft. This, however, led to jurisdictional conflicts with associated craft unions working in the railway system.64 More to the point, however, the Amalgamated offered a different vision of worker expectations and participation than that advocated by the Knights of Labor. Gone was any reference to reforming or abolishing the wage system, as well as a fundamental commitment to labor republicanism.

The demographic makeup of streetcar workers in Brooklyn and New York was overwhelmingly Irish.65 Blacks were systematically excluded from work on street railways in this period, with the few who were employed limited to menial jobs such as porters.66 Thus, African Americans did not have a significant presence in the make-up of street railway workers, although attention will be paid to noting incidents when racial stratification appeared as an issue. It is also not clear at this point in the research how the ridership broke down along racial lines. One instance of note is that New York streetcars were desegregated in 1855 as a result of a suit brought by Elizabeth Jennings, a black teacher.67 Further study will reveal whether this was sustained over the period under investigation.

VII

By the late 1880’s, horsecar railways could not keep up with the needs of the public and the demands of the growing metropolis, leading to a change to electric traction as the motive power for urban transportation.68 The transition from horsecars to the electric trolley only exacerbated the conflict between labor and capital. First instituted in Richmond in 1887,69 New York and Brooklyn began transitioning by 1890. In an investigation of the 1895 strike, one worker, asked about the difference between applying the brake to stop a horsecar or a trolley, informed the committee that the trolley required “both hands, eyes, and brain.”70 The issue was important, for it spoke to the heart of the repercussions of introducing a new technology to the public. It became an even more serious issue when it came to hiring scab workers to run the trolleys during strikes. Unskilled and untrained men hired were responsible for numerous accidents and derailments. Between 1892 and the end of 1894 ninety-four Brooklynites had been killed by trolleys.71 This number had climbed to one hundred and two by February 1895.72 The intensity of the times is seen from a literary perspective in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.73 Hurstwood’s experience as a scab during Brooklyn’s 1895 strike was not uncommon.

The transition from horsecars to the electric trolley was also a period of intensifying consolidation as the largest streetcar companies in Brooklyn took control of smaller lines. The Brooklyn City Railroad, for example, began a self-conscious activity in 1888 of absorbing various railways such that by 1993 they merged with 6 different companies and controlled thirty-four separate lines.74 In that same year the company leased itself to a dummy holding company in Virginia which assumed all administrative control over the railway and its consolidated lines.75 Similarly, the Atlantic Avenue Railroad Company, Brooklyn’s second largest street railway company leased itself to a third party company that had the offices of its directors located in Philadelphia.76 In both cases men with extensive experience in the railroad business were brought in to oversee and manage operations. Ostensibly, the complicated financial schemes involved in these mergers and corporate formations were created to siphon off dividends to stockholders and company officers. Practically, however, these changes placed an impersonal and alienated level of management between the workers and company owners. As District 75 geared up for their demands in 1895, they were facing a very different corporate organization than they dealt with in 1886.

The period between 1888 and 1904 in the urban transportation industry was expressive of maturing capitalism, even if in its most insalubrious forms. Alfred Chandler notes that electric traction brought consolidation and centralized administration to urban transportation. The infusion of large amounts of capital, more complex operations, more careful scheduling, and increased passenger traffic was paralleled by streetcar lines being operated by a smaller number of large enterprises. This in turn led to a further professionalization of full-time salaried managers who administered the structures with practices and controls borrowed from the railroads.77 Underhanded financial schemes whose priority was greed and personal gain rather than providing the contracted public service, consolidation whose aim was the eradication of competition, impersonal corporate management that provided a layer between workers and diffuse owners, leveraging technology for greater output and accumulation, and continued state intervention arrayed against labor presaged capitalism in its fully developed form of the early 20th century. The practical and theoretical understanding of this process will be one of the central objects of this study.78

Electrification of streetcars was not isolated from other industries, which also benefited from this change. David Nye has pointed out that ancillary industries, such as steel for rails and mining of copper for overhead wires were essential components of the new technology. New businesses were created for production of railway cars and plate glass, along with money spent for line construction and permanent jobs were that were created in various communities. Not to be forgotten was the boom this presented to companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse that generated power and sold it to the railway companies, along with signaling systems, motors, heaters, and lighting apparatus.79 Thus, the transformation of street railways was part and parcel of larger capital transformations taking place at the end of the 19th century.

VIII

Engaging in a local study to highlight national trends requires careful consideration. It goes without saying that one must be careful in generalizing local events and conditions onto the national scene. However, one is reminded about what Sean Wilentz said about antebellum New York, which would remain equally true for the Gilded Age. Even if one concedes that “the history of the United States could not be understood solely from the vantage point of New York [and Brooklyn, I would add], neither could that history be understood with [those cities] excluded.”80 Many of the transformations in urban mass transportation that were later adopted in other cities were innovated in New York and Brooklyn, and those that did not originate there were implemented and expanded on a scale and ingenuity seen in few other places in the world. Likewise, New York and Brooklyn would serve as the battle grounds for many of the labor struggles waged in the 19th century. The struggles led by District 75 against the tyranny of the street railway companies are an important chapter in the story of 19th century labor. Their fight is inextricably intertwined with the growth of the modern city, the consolidation of capital, and activist state reorganization. The collapse of the Knights of Labor and the rise of the AFL represented the end of 19th century organized efforts to abolish the wage system and to reorganize society to be more inclusive and humane. The ongoing effort to define the public and private sphere in government would continue well into the 20th century, and the role and reach of monopoly would be revisited again and again. The period encompassing the last third of the 19th century, then, warrant revisiting as we strive to refine our understanding of the forces that shape the world in which we live.




1 Carman, Harry James, The Street Surface Railway Franchises of New York City, (Dissertation: Columbia University, 1919), 154.

2 New York Times, 13 May, 1883; Carman, 85-91, 103-108.

3 New York would not bring its sprawling transportation system fully under public management until 1940

4 Schmidt, Emerson. Industrial Relations in Urban Transportation. (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis 1937). 106

5 Journal of United Labor. vol V, No 5. 10 July 1884. p 741

6 Bylaws of the Empire Protective Association

7 The “Gilded Age,” a term coined by Mark Twain in 1873, is generally periodized between 1870 and 1900. Leon Fink offers a more nuanced view of the period in his Workingmen’s Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), xi-xiv. The period of this study will be primarily concerned with the last two decades of the 19th century, specifically 1884 and 1904.

8 For example, in 1870 the nation had only 25 cities with a population over 50,000, in 1900 there were 78 and 3 had more than a million by 1890 (New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia). Among the largest were Brooklyn (the fourth most populous) and New York, with populations of 806,343 and 1,515,301, respectively. See Charles W. Calhoun, ed., The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America, (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, Inc, 1996), xii; 1890 US Census.

9 Warner, Sam Bass, The Urban Wilderness: A History of the American City, (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 55

10 Mendel, Ronald, “A Broad and Ennobling Spirit”: Workers and Their Unions in Late Gilded Age New York and Brooklyn, 1886-1898. (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003).

11 Montgomery, David, Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

12 The works of “new” labor historians are far too numerous to list. Following Gutman’s lead, efforts to understand the culture and environment in which workers operated has provided invaluable insight into the nature of work and the changing mechanism that affected their life. 19th century worker’s response to industrialization, deskilling, and challenges to organization have been studied for occupations and industries as diverse as shoeworkers, dockworkers, miners, steelworkers, tailors, printers, carpenters, textile workers, and railroad workers. This study, in part, aims to add a detailed picture of streetcar workers to this body of work.

13 Molloy, Scott, Trolley Wars: Streetcar Workers on the Line, (Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 1996); Leidenburger, Georg, Chicago’s Progressive Alliance: Labor and the Bid for Public Streetcars, (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006).

14 Freeman, Joshua B., In Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933-1966, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

15 See Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977); Hertog, Hendrik, Public Property and Private Power: The Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730-1870, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Martin J. Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

16 See especially Hertog, 172-175, 235-239.

17 Horwitz, Morton J., The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1977), 111-114; Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960: The Crisis of Legal Orthodoxy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 11.

18 Booth, Henry J., A Treatise on the Law of Street Railways Embracing Surface, Sub-Surface and Elevated Roads, Whether Operated by Animal Power, Electricity, Cable or Steam Motor, (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson Co., 1892)

19 Hartog, 224.

20 Keasby, Edward Q., “Poles and Wires in the Streets for the Electric Railway,” Harvard Law Review, 4 (Jan. 15, 1891), 246-249; Clay McShane, “Transforming the Use of Urban Space: A Look at the Revolution in Street Pavements, 1880-1924, Journal of Urban History, 5 (May, 1979); Hartog, 235-237.

21 Forbath, William E., Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 3; see also Sven Beckert, Monied: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 302-305.

22 Stanton, Stephen B., “Mandamus as a Means of Settling Strikes,” The American Law Register and Review, 43 (First Series), (Feb, 1895).

23 Beckert, 280-281.

24 Voss, Kim. The Making of American Exceptionalism: The Knights of Labor and Class Formation in the Nineteenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993 202-228, 237-240; Beckert, 279-292, 296-297.

25 Molloy, Trolley Wars; Leidenberger, Chicago’s Progressive Alliance: Labor and the Bid for Public Streetcars. Leidenberger uncritically accepts Habermas’ definition and understanding of “public sphere.” I have to think about how and if I want to use this as an analytic category.

26 Street Railway Journal, vol. 2 (April 1885), 202.

27 Strikes and other labor actions were covered extensively in the local and national print media and provide a rich source of information about the aims and views of the workers who participated, as well as company reactions.

28 Freeman, 4.

29 Easton, Alexander, A Practical Treatise on Horse Power Railways, 4-5. There is a wide range of literature on the changes in culture and perception wrought by the “annihilation of time and space” with increasing speed of transportation. For example, see, Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003); David S. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2000); Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977); E.P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, in Past and Present, 38 (Dec., 1967).

30 Henry, Strikers and Their Sympathizers; Licht, Walter, Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 253; Herbert Gutman, “The Worker’s Search for Power: Labor in the Gilded Age,” in H. Wayne Morgan, ed., The Gilded Age: A Reprisal, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1963.

31 Report of the Special Committee of the Assembly Appointed to Investigate the Causes of the Strike of the Surface Railroads in the City of Brooklyn (Albany, NY. 1895); Report and Testimony of the Special Commettee of the Assembly to Investigate the Desirability of Municipal Ownership of the Street and Elevated Railroads of the Various Cities of the State, (Albany: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1896).

32 Taylor, George Rogers, “The Beginnings of Mass Transportation in Urban America, pt. 1,” Smithsonian Journal of History, 1 (Summer 1966; Autumn 1966), 35; Hertog, Hendrik, Public Property and Private Power: The Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730-1870, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 242-244.

33 Ment, David, The Shaping of a City: A Brief History of Brooklyn, (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Educational and Cultural Alliance, 1979), 38-39; Cheape, Charles W., Moving the Masses: Urban Public Transportation in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, 1880-1912, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 23.

34 Cudahy, Brian, J., How We Got to Coney Island, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 67-103, gives a detailed history of excursion railroads to Coney Island.

35 Welke, Barbara Young, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

36 Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 90-91.

37 Middleton, William D., The Time of the Trolley, (Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1967), 15.

38 Molly, Scott, “Rhode Island Communities and the 1902 Carmen’s Strike,” Radical History Review, 17 (Spring, 1978), 76; Harry James Carman, A.M., The Street Surface Railroad Franchises of New York City, (New York, 1919); Brian Cudahy, How We Got to Coney Island, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002); See Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), esp. Part II, for a detailed discussion of the railroads as the first modern business enterprises in the United States.

39 Chandler, Alfred D., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), 192-194.

40 Booth, Henry J., A Treatise on the Law of Street Railways Embracing Surface, Sub-Surface and Elevated Roads, Whether Operated by Animal Power, Electricity, Cable or Steam Motor, (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson Co., 1892), 1-2

41 Street Railway Journal, 1 (May, 1885).

42 Report of the Committee Appointed by the Assembly to Investigate the Question of Municipal Ownership of the Street and Elevated Railroads of the Various Cities of the State, (Albany: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., State Printers, 1896), 5.

43 Booth, iii. This tension between corporate responsibilities for holding a public charter was first argued in relation to ferry service franchises between Brooklyn and New York between the 1825-1857. The results of these legal debates would have a significant impact on street surface railroads and will be explored in detail for the light that they can shed on the ensuing legislative fights and judicial rulings in relation to mass transportation; see Hertog, 242-258.

44 A parallel can be drawn between the fragmentation of the working day for streetcar workers and the disciplining of workers to piecework described by David Montgomery in his book, Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 148-154.

45 “Labor and the Graduated System of Compensation,” Street Railway Journal, vol. 2 (Nov., 1884), 7; Schmidt, 81-82.

46 Schmidt, Emerson. Industrial Relations in Urban Transportation. (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis 1937). 104-105

47 Foner, Philip, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, vol. II, (New York: International Publishers, 1955), 168. For additional history of the general history of the Knights of Labor, see Ware, Weir, Fink, Voss, Schmidt,

48 It is unclear at this point in the study what the strength and relevancy of other District Assemblies were around the country at this time. There were certainly active and influential local assemblies, but District Assembly 75 appears to stand out in the mid 1890’s as one of few significant Districts still in existence. For a study of local assemblies into the 1890’s, see Fink, Workingmen’s Democracy; see also Garlock’s Guide to Local Assemblies..

49 Ware, Norman, The Labor Movement in the United States, 1860-1895: A Study in Democracy, (New York: Vintage Books, 1929); Foner, Philip, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, vol. ll, (New York: International Publishers, 1955); Commons, John, et al., The History of Labor in the United States.

50 Grob, Gerald N., Workers and Utopia: A Study of Ideological Conflict in the American Labor Movement, 1865-1900, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1961, 109; Wright, Carol D., “An Historical Sketch of the Knights of Labor,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1 (Jan., 1887), 156; Robert Weir, “Powderly and the Home Club: The Knights of Labor Joust Among Themselves,” Labor History 34 (1993), 96. The numbers reported by the Knights of Labor are 111,395 in 1885 and 729,677 in 1886.

51 Voss, 2: fn 3.

52 Garlock, Jonathan, A Structural Analysis of the Knights of Labor: A Prolegomenon to the History of the Producing Classes, (University of Rochester: PhD. Diss., 1974), 2-5.

53 For the Knights of Labor’s efforts to organize black workers see, Sidney H. Kessler, “The Organization of Negroes in the Knights of Labor,” Journal of Negro History, 37 (July, 1952). On the organization of women and the Knights and gender, see, Susan Levine, “Labor’s True Women: Domesticity and Equal Rights in the Knights of Labor,” Journal of American History 70 (Sept., 1983).

54 “Labor Organizers,” Brooklyn Union, 11 April, 1886 (Sunday Supplement): 11; “The Conductors Organizing,” New York Times, 3 Feb., 1886: 2.

55 “Lewis Gives In,” Brooklyn Eagle, 28 Dec., 1886: 2; “Railroad Employees,” Brooklyn Eagle, 13 June, 1886: 1; “Losing its Grip,” Brooklyn Eagle, 9 June, 1886: 6; “Talking about a Tie-up,” New York Times, 22 April, 1886:1. In 1895, in the midst of the Knights of Labor’s demise there were still “about twenty-one” locals in District 75 (see Report of the Special Committee, 191, 358).

56 Robert Weir and Philip Foner both assert that 6000 men participated in the Brooklyn trolley strike. Most sources, however, put the number closer to 5000. The Report of the Special Committee, written by the New York State legislature confirms this number, as do the vast majority of contemporary newspaper reports, which include self-reporting by strike leaders and participants.

57 Henry, Sarah, “The Strikers and Their Sympathizers: Brooklyn in the Trolley Strike of 1995,” Labor History 32 (Summer 1991) 352.

58 “Agreement Drawn Up,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 27 May 1897: 7; “Rossitier’s Firm Stand,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 27 May 1897: 16.

59 While this has been stated by Sarah Henry in her important work on District 75, documentation to verify District 75’s relationship with the Amalgamated has remained elusive. One of the objects of this study is to attempt to reconstruct the activities of District 75 between 1895 and 1904.

60 Gompers, Samuel, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, vol. 1, 350.

61 Schmidt, 121.

62 McGinley, James J., Labor Relations in the New York Rapid Transit Systems, 1904-1944, (New York, Kings Crown Press, 1949), 258-259; Schmidt, 129-130.

63 Schmidt, 124.

64 Freeman, 17; McGinley, 258-260; Schmidt, 23-231

65 Freeman, 26-27. Although Freeman is writing primarily about the early 20th century, all evidence points to the fact that this was the case through the 19th century as well.

66 Wilder, Craig Steven, A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 154; Freedman, 28.

67 Hewitt, John H., “The Search for Elizabeth Jennings, Heroine of a Sunday Afternoon in New York City, New York History 71:4 (Oct., 1990), 387-415; Leslie M. Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1623-1863, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 270-271.

68 Holt, Glen E., “The Changing Perceptions of Urban Pathology: An Essay on the Development of Mass Transit in the United States,” in Cities in American History, Kenneth T. Jackson and Stanley K. Schultz, eds., (New York: Alfred E. Knopf, Inc., 1972), 330.

69 Cudahy, Brian, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: A History of Urban Mass Transit in North America, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 39.

70 Report of the Special Committee, 255-256.

71 Causes of Accidents. New York Times 8 Jan 1895: 9.

72 More Trolley Victims. New York Times 28 Jan 1895: 1.

73 Dreiser, Theodore, Sister Carrie, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006), 284-301.

74 Report to the Special Committee, 33-34.

75 Report of the Special Committee 132, 188-189.

76 Report of the Special Committee, 55.

77 Chandler, 192-194.

78 Sources for this include: Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, (London: Penguin Books, 1976); Moishe Postone, Time Labor and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); David Harvey, The Limits of Capital, (London: Verso, 2006); Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998); Daniel T. Rogers, The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). Martin J. Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

79 Nye, David E., Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 92.

80 Wilentz, Sean, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), xiv.

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