Railroad Strike of 1877

The depression of the 1870s forced the American railroads into a cost-cutting mode. The workers for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad went on strike in 1877 after receiving a second pay cut within a short period of time. Violence erupted; state militia units were brought in, but often proved to be ineffective because of their sympathy for the strikers.

Responding to a request from the governor of West Virginia, President Hayes dispatched federal forces to protect the railroad—the first use of such soldiers in a labor matter. The rationale for the show of strength was the government's need to protect the mails.

Demonstrations, general strikes and violence occurred in cities across the nation. Pittsburgh was the scene of the greatest loss of life and property damage.

Massive intervention by the federal government sank the strikers' spirits and buoyed those of management. The workers eventually capitulated, but harbored ill feeling against Hayes for his action.

The strike of 1877 was most violent labor-management confrontation to that point in American history. It was the starting signal for an era of strife between workers and owners.

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1877: America's Year of Living Violently by Michael Bellesiles.
In 1877, a decade after the Civil War, not only was the United States gripped by a deep depression, but the country was also in the throes of nearly u...

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