Charlie’s Monday Markers ~ Episode 7: The 1877 Railroad Strike

by Oct 22, 2021Charlie's Monday Markers

The Pittsburgh railway strike occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as part of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. It was one of many incidents of strikes, labor unrest and violence in cities across the United States, including several in Pennsylvania. Other cities dealing with similar unrest included Philadelphia, Reading, Shamokin and Scranton. The incidents followed repeated reductions in wages and sometimes increases in workload by railroad companies, during a period of economic recession following the Panic of 1873.

Between July 21 and 22 in Pittsburgh, a major center of the Pennsylvania Railroad, some 40 people (including women and children) were killed in the ensuing riots; strikers burned the Union Depot and 38 other buildings at the yards. In addition, more than 120 train engines and more than 1,200 rail cars were destroyed. Due to track damage, trains did not run for a week following the cessation of violence. Estimates of losses ranged from $2 million to $5 million, according to the railroad company and an 1878 report by a state legislative investigative committee. Pittsburgh was the site of the most violence and physical damage of any city in the country during the Great Strike. Fresh troops arrived in the city on July 28, and within two days peace had been restored and the trains resumed.

Commentators would later place blame for the incident on a range of actors, from the railroad, to reluctant or even sympathetic members of the police and militia, to tramps and vagrants who travelled to the city to take part of the growing public unrest. In the immediate aftermath, the events in Pittsburgh and elsewhere help to solidify support for various labor groups, which had struggled during the years of the economic downturn.

A number of historical markers have since been erected at points throughout the city of Pittsburgh to commemorate events that took place during the strikes.



Skip to content