The year was 1894 and the world was still in the midst of the “Long Depression.” In the U.S., following the Panic of 1893, unemployment was estimated at more than 18%. People were desperate for work and in 1894, Jacob S. Coxey led a protest march from Massillon, Ohio to Washington, D.C. Starting out with one hundred men, five hundred arrived in Washington demanding work on public projects. They were denied and the Coxey was arrested for trespassing when he tried to speak. “Coxey’s Army” was one of several groups planning to march on Washington, but the only sizeable group to complete the journey. (The image accompanying this post iis of Coxey’s Army from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry. Click on the image to enlarge it.)
In Chicago, George Pullman had cut pay for his employees by 25%. All of his workers were required to live in “Pullman City” and paid rent to Pullman–a rent that remained static despite the pay cuts. The hardship this created pushed three thousand Pullman workers to strike. It was a “wildcat” strike (without the approval of the union), but some American Railroad Union workers followed in support, refusing to move any train with a Pullman car, unless it carried mail. Since most trains by this time had Pullman cars, this affected the railway system across the country. Eventually a federal court ruled that the strike was illegal and federal troops were called in. Violence ensued as riots broke out and in a violent confrontation with soldiers on July 7, many rioters were killed or wounded.
In New York, 10,000 tailors went on strike on Labor Day to bring attention to sweatshop conditions. At that time workers worked under a “task” system wherein they were given a certain number of garments that needed to be created for a fixed price. The tasks had been increasing in size, while wages remained static requiring workers to work longer hours. This meant that workers were being paid around a dollar a day, and working in some cases eighteen hour days. While the strike did attract some attention, the problems of wages and working conditions in the garment industry would continue to be a problem.
The railroad era had been a boon for the timber industry in the Upper Midwest. The ability to transport lumber by rail, rather than by water–a mode plagued by perilous log jams, rapids, and other obstacles–gave rise to small lumber towns in the Upper Midwest. The town of Hinckley, Minnesota, located between the Twin Cities and Duluth, was one such town. Surrounded by forests and built entirely of wood, on 1 September 1894, a firestorm swept through the town killing at least 419 people. Many of the victims suffocated because firestorms use up the oxygen in the area. Survivors found refuge in muddy Skunk Lake or in a gravel pit, and others were evacuated by trains that were approaching the town when the fire struck.
In London, England, traffic on the London Bridge had become a problem. While there were bridges crossing the Thames to the west, there were none to the east. With population growing on east end of London travel on London Bridge was sometimes delayed for hours. A new bridge was needed and in 1894 the famous Tower Bridge opened. At the time of the opening, it didn’t receive the warm welcome you’d expect, but it has since come be a beloved landmark of the city.