Map of Homestead, Pennylvania and the steel mill

The Homestead Steel Company was one of the many steel mills belonging to Andrew Carnegie. In order to insure maximum profit for his company, Mr. Carnegie decided to invest in new machinery so that he could increase efficiency and make production faster and more efficient. The company’s payroll was based on a sliding scale, meaning that as the price of steel increases, so did the worker’s wages.

Homestead mill workers sitting in front of mill

The majority of steel workers were unskilled European immigrants who earned about $1.70 for a 12 hour day, and the other more skilled workers earned between $4 and $7.60 a day. The workers also had a union called the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. They made sure that the Carnegie Company didn’t cheat them out of any of their earnings.


Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a very rich man, and he wanted to keep it that way. His payroll for the workers were based on a sliding scale; if the amount steel was selling for increased, so did the worker’s salary. If the price went down, so did the worker’s salary. However, in this scale there had also been a limit: $25 per ton of 4x4 slabs of steel. After Carnegie invested in the new machinery, the Carnegie Company lowered that minimum wage to $23, saying that:

“The reason for asking this upon our part was that the Carnegie Company has spent large sums of money in the introduction of new machinery in its Homestead plant, by means of which the workmen were enabled to increase their daily output, thereby increasing the amount of their own earnings.” (Henry Frick, superintendent of the company)

The Company saw the lowering of wages by $2 as irrelevant to the worker’s satisfaction because they believed that because of the new machinery, the workers would be able to produce more at a time--thus in the long run earning ever more than the $25 that they originally earned. The Amalgamated Association complained to the company that they were willing to drop their wages down to $24, but they eventually complied with earning $23. Carnegie’s Superintendent, Henry Clay Frick, wanted to eliminate the worker’s union in order to lower wages even more from what they were earning per day to maximize efficiency and cut costs even more. This however, did not go over well with the Homestead Workers.


The Homestea
Union strikers driving the Pinkerton guards out of the plant site
d Workers went on strike after a compromise for wages could not be reached with Henry Frick and the Carnegie Company. Frick felt that the best thing to do would be to shut down the mill entirely--putting 3,800 men out of jobs. Fearful and concerned that the striking workers would harm the mill, Frick ordered a three mile long fence to be built around the mill. As if that wasn’t enough though, he hired 300 Pinkerton Guards to float up the Monongahela River, which was right near the mill, and surround the factory.

On July 6, 1892, the barges carrying the guards arrived and were met by the striking, and angry, workforce. The crowd of armed workers began open fire on the barges once they were in site. The guards on board fought back and eventually surrendered, twice. The first time the white flag was raised, the mass on shore ignored it and continued bombardment. It wasn’t until 12 hours later that the fight stopped with the Homestead workers victorious.

State militia entering into Homestead following the violence between the steel workers and Pinkerton agents

Although the union had successfully drove the Pinkerton guards out of the protection of the mill, the victory was short lived. Only a few days after the victory, the governor of Pennsylvania, where the town of Homestead is located, sent in 8,500 members of the National Guard to secure the mill. The militia had acted as a protective zone around the plant and had allowed the industrialists, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick, to restart production and rehire non-union workers. These people, known as “scabs,” were composed of African Americans and eastern European immigrants.

Along with the cut in union workers, the labor hours increased dramatically as a consequence to the strike. The steel mills had shifted to 12 hour days, opposed to 8 hour days, a six-day work week, and a required 24 hour shift every two weeks.

Henry Clay Frick
“I can say with the greatest emphasis that under no circumstances will we have any further dealings with the Amalgamated Association as an organization. This is final. The Edgar Thomson Works and our establishment at Duquesne are both operated by workmen who are not members of the Amalgamated Association with the greatest satisfaction to ourselves and to the unquestioned advantage of our employees.” (Frick)

The leaders of the Amalgamated Association had been blacklisted from the steel industry for life and the mill had been officially declared a non-union plant. It would be another forty four years until the steel industry would become unionized.


"Digital History." Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2010.

Gardner, Joseph Lawrence, and Bernard A. Weisberger.
Labor on the March: The Story
of America's Unions (American Heritage Junior Library)
. 1st ed. New York: American Heritage Pub. Co, 1969.

Henry Frick. Interview. Pittsburgh
Post. July 8, 1892.

"Homestead strike."
American History. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 7 May 2010.


Homestead Steel workers.
Map of Homestead Pennsylvania.

Photograph of Andrew Carnegie.

Photograph of Henry Frick.

Photograph of state militias enters Homestead, Pennsylvania following violence between
union workers and Pinkerton guards. Library of Congress.

Photograph of strikebreakers gathering in the Homestead Steel Plant in Pennsylvania.
Library of Congress.