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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Machinists' union button
Catalog #: 1989.0693.264, Accession #: 1989.0693
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Machinists organized in 1888 as the Order of United Machinist and Mechanical Engineers of America. Their union, after a couple of name changes, became the International Association of Machinists in 1891. The machinists joined the American Federation of Labor in 1895. The IAM was a powerful craft union, with many members outside of the railroad world. Union machinists who worked for the railroads often formed separate "railroad" locals.
Physical Description
7/8" diameter; Metal: brown/ white, "Omaha Lodge No. 31, August 1919".
Date Made:
American railroads were one of the nation's first big businesses, and, as such, workers joined the new industrial order in its infancy. Many rail workers responded their working conditions by trying to organize themselves into unions. Most railway workers organized along craft lines. That is, people doing the same jobs like conductors banded together, rather than all the workers on the trains. Other skilled workers joined unions based on their trades: they joined the machinists or boilermakers unions. Workers who performed railroad-specific tasks, notably those done on the trains themselves, were often more successful in getting their unions recognized by employers than those workers who did jobs that were transferrable to other settings. By the 1920s, railroad workers were organized into both independent unions and into those that were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Craft unions in the early 20th century often excluded women and people of color from their membership rolls and most railroad unions followed the conventions of the day, restricting membership to white males.

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