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Course & Subject Guides

Archives & Special Collections Exhibits

Guide on Past and Current Archives & Special Collections Exhibits @ the University of Pittsburgh Library System - Oakland (2020-present)

Casting Labor History: Stories from the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike

Date of Exhibition: Summer 2022-Fall 2022

Curators: Zach Brodt (University Archivist for Archives & Special Collections), Kathryn Haines (Head of the Center for American Music)

Location: Archives & Special Collections exhibit gallery, 3rd floor Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh 3960 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Description: During the summer of 1892, Carnegie Steel battled with its employees over whether the skilled workforce of the Homestead Steel Works could collectively bargain with the company as a local union of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. On July 6 tensions came to a head in the Battle of Homestead, which saw the townspeople engage in a firefight with company-hired guards from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, leaving ten dead and dozens more wounded. 

While the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike only lasted about four months, it created a lasting impact on how the nation viewed the relationship between labor and management. It also cemented the reputations of two of America’s most infamous industrialists – Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. This exhibit highlights personal experiences of the strike and its aftermath. 

This exhibit coincides with The Homestead Steel Strike and the Growth of America as an Industrial Power- an NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop for K-12 educators, museum educators, and librarians hosted in Pittsburgh July 10-16, 2022 and July 17-23, 2022. 

For more information, visit https://www.homesteadstrike.library.pitt.edu/ 

  • Letter from Henry Clay Frick Informing Andrew Carnegie about the Use of Pinkerton Guards, July 4, 1892- This letter details Frick’s plan to use Pinkerton guards to secure and protect the Homestead mill from the striking workers. 

From the Henry Clay Frick Business Records, 1862-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • Transcript of Coded Telegram from Henry Clay Frick to Andrew Carnegie, July 7, 1892- Frick kept copies of all his outgoing telegrams, like this one updating Carnegie on the Battle of Homestead. The message uses the code words “small plunge” to refer to the Homestead Steel Works.   

From the Henry Clay Frick Business Records, 1862-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • Telegram from Andrew Carnegie Supporting Frick’s Actions at the Battle of Homestead, July 7, 1892- While he would later plead ignorance concerning Frick’s actions at Homestead, this message indicates that Carnegie was not only aware of his activities, but also endorsed them.  

From the Henry Clay Frick Business Records, 1862-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • Press Coverage of the Battle of Homestead, Harper’s Weekly, July 16, 1892- Many Americans subscribed to periodicals like Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, which supplemented their articles with images. Both papers included imagery of the strike on their front pages which negatively depicted strikers and strike sympathizers, contributing to a national anti-union sentiment pertaining to the Battle of Homestead. 

From the Henry Clay Frick Business Records, 1862-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • Carnegie Steel Company Non-union Agreement, June 1892- With the Amalgamated Association no longer representing workers at the Homestead Works, Frick was free to set the terms of wages for all his employees. This broadside outlines how wages would be calculated in the non-union mill. 

From the William Martin Papers, 1866-1933, AIS.2005.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • A Plea to Return to Work, written by John Miller, January 20, 1893- At the conclusion of the strike, Frick agreed to rehire any worker who was not charged with a crime or a member of the union’s strike advisory committee. For men like John Miller, who was a member of the committee and charged with conspiracy, that meant a loss of their livelihood. In this letter to the head of Carnegie Steel’s Labor Bureau, Miller pleads for a job for himself and his son. 

From the William Martin Papers, 1866-1933, AIS.2005.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • Panorama of the Homestead Steel Works by an unknown photographer, c. 1900-  The vast expanse of the Homestead Works can be seen in this photograph, including the cylindrical water tower near the railroad bridge where the Pinkerton barges docked during the Battle of Homestead. Both the tower and nearby pump house still stand today.

From the William Martin Papers, 1866-1933, AIS.2005.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System 

  • “Stand by the Workmen at Homestead”  by Stephe S. Bonbright, Copyrighted July 15, 1892- 

    On July 15, 1892, the Library of Congress registered Stephe S. Bonbright’s “Stand by the Workmen at Homestead.” Published by the Home Music Company in Cincinnati, where the author presumably lived, the score’s cover catches the violence “seen” by readers across the continent who envisioned the Monongahela battle from telegraphed newspaper reports, making several errors in the process. While this cover was sympathetic to the strikers, other depictions of the strike were not. The July 16, 1892 issue of 

    Harper’s Weekly included imagery of the strike on its front page which negatively depicted strikers and strike sympathizers, contributing to a national anti-union sentiment pertaining to the Battle of Homestead.  

“Harpers Weekly,” from the Henry Clay Frick Business Records, 1862-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System  and “Stand By the Workmen at Homestead,”  from the Collection of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library

  • Homestead Strike Songster by Henry J. Wehman, Copyrighted 1892- Songsters were collections of song lyrics which were often grouped thematically and published together in a small booklet. In this instance, broadside, guidebook, and songster publisher, Henry J. Wehman, published Homestead Strike Songster in a “mammoth” format.  The songster had multiple issues and included songs like “The Homestead Strike,” “The Fort that Frick Built,” and “Father was Killed by the Pinkerton Man.” Other popular songs of the period also populated the songster’s pages, the music of which could be purchased for 40 cents per song. 

From the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays, John Hay Library, Brown University

  • The Labor Reform Songster by Philips Thompson, Journal of the Knights of Labor Print, 1892- Prior to the events at Homestead, those seeking to learn about the labor movement could purchase Phillips Thompson’s Labor Reform Songster for $1.25, which contained lyrics to many pro labor songs set to familiar tunes. In the book’s introduction, the author notes that the book is for anyone interested who wants to read words that will inspire and instruct.  

From the Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System

  • Joe Magerac comics and song lyrics by Jacob A. Evanson, 1946- While some of the songs about the Homestead Strike continue to be performed by popular folk musicians, new songs also crept up, notably one dedicated to a folk hero named “Joe Magarac.” Joe Magarac appeared in print for the first time in Scribner's Magazine in 1931. He worked 24 hours a day, never slept or took a break, and could do the work of 29 men. Joe was a man whose only purpose in life was to work for the steel mill. According to the author of the Scribner’s article, Joe was a folk hero he had heard about from Croatian immigrant steelworkers. Later folklore researchers found that claim was most likely false. Rather, Joe was more likely created by the steel corporations to portray the ideal steelworker as content with hard work to ensure the steel industry's security. This connection solidified when USS Steel issued two comics depicting their hero. 

From Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

 

Exhibit Photographs