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Union History 

The following excerpts are from the 
"The Fighting Machinists, A Century of Struggle" 
by Robert G. Rodden.

FOURTH GRAND MASTER MACHINIST.
JAMES O'CONNELL 1893 - 1911.
Born in Minersville, Pennsylvania, in 1858, he entered his apprenticeship in Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1874 and worked in machine shops there for the next six years. He moved on to Detroit for short time, but returned to Western Pennsylvania to enter the newly booming oil business. Later he went to New York where he joined the Knights of Labor and served as a delegate at its 1886 Convention in Richmond. . . .As a member of the Executive Board O'Connell and Creamer became friends and allies. He usually stayed at Creamer's home when in Richmond on union business. When elected Grand Master Machinist he was thirty-five years old. . . .An observer at the 1908 AFL convention who wrote a series of thumbnail sketches of leading labor figures of the day indicated that O'Connell's leadership was based on ability, not personality. In fact he described O'Connell as a "veritable iceberg," too cold-blooded and deliberate to be a "true Irishman."

FIFTH INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT.
WILLIAM H. JOHNSTON 1911 - 1926.
William Hugh Johnston, the new International President, was born into a trade union family in Nova Scotia in 1874. His father was an early leader of the Shipwrights and Spar Makers, the union of craftsmen who built the elegant Yankee Clippers. In 1888, at the age of 14, Johnston became an apprentice in the machine shops of the Rhode Island Locomotive Works. . . .In 1895 he helped organize and became a charter member of an IAM lodge in Pawtucket. Following the Panic of 1897 he returned to the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in Providence, transferred his membership to Lodge 147 and soon became president and chairman of the shop committee. On several occasions the company invited him to drop his union activities by offering to promote him to general foreman. He not only stayed with the union, but went over to Brown and Sharpe to try to organize that violently anti-union company from within. . . .Later, as a district business representative, he negotiated a fifty-four hour week along with wage increases for most of his members.
Johnston was thirty-seven when he took office as International President. He was bald, short, stocky and powerfully built. Though somewhat forbidding in appearance, he was described by those who knew him as good natured and amiable. Johnston was well read, commanding the attention of audiences through his logic and knowledge rather than the more florid flights of oratorical rhetoric more common to that time.


SIXTH INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT.
ARTHUR O. WHARTON 1926 -1939.
Wharton had made his reputation not only in the IAM, but throughout the labor movement for his part in the 1911 strike against the Illinois Central and Harriman Lines. As the IAM's representative to this early stab at coordinated bargaining, he became everybody's choice to head the six shop crafts negotiating team--the so-called Federation of Federations. Later, when these six organizations created a formal Railway Employee's Department in the AFL, they elected Wharton as first president. When he agreed to be drafted to lead his own union, he took a substantial cut in salary--from $10,000 to $7,500 a year. He did so to halt the dissension which, as he said, "was wrecking the organization to a degree no outside agency had been able to accomplish."
Wharton was born in 1873 into a mixed Anglo-Indian homesteading family on a remote and windswept plain in Kansas. While still a young boy his mother was widowed when his father got lost in a blizzard and froze to death. At fourteen he began a machinist apprenticeship on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Upon becoming a journeyman in 1890 Wharton joined the IAM and went to work for the Union Pacific soon after. There he helped organize several lodges and was a leader of a strike against that road in 1893. Over the next several years he remained active in union affairs and was elected to a number of local and district lodge offices.

More International Presidents

Union History


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of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW
Greg Enright