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."
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.