The Strike of 1877

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

A contemporary artist’s rendering of the clash in Baltimore between workers and the Maryland Sixth Regiment during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The governor had called out the troops on behalf of the railroad company.


The Strike of 1877, also known as ‘The Great Strike’ took place on railroads across the nation. The strike was the result of continued wage cuts of the laborers such as engineers and trainmen, while many of the companies continued to pay out dividends to its stockholders. The B&O Railroad, based in Baltimore, Maryland, was one of the last to cut the wages of its employees. When the wage cut was announced on July 11, 1877, the workers had had enough. The strike started in Baltimore and spread across the entire nation.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)

Standard 3: The rise of the American labor movement and how political issues reflected social and economic changes 
Standard 3B: The student understands the rise of national labor unions and the role of state and federal governments in labor conflicts.
Analyze the causes and effects of escalating labor conflict. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12: Explain the response of management and government at different levels to labor strife in different regions of the country. [Compare competing historical narratives]

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE:  Announcement of Wage Cuts on the B&O Railroad. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 11, 1877
    NOTES: The Strike of 1877 was touch off by a series of wage cuts on nearly every Railroad in the Nation.  The B&O Railroad was one of the last roads to cut the wages of its workers, but at the same time approved a dividend increase for the stockholders.  The strike started just a few days later on the B&O Railroad in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
    SOURCE:  B&O Railroad Minute Book
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archive
  2. TITLE:   The Recent Railroad Damages
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 28, 1877
    NOTES: An account published in the American Railroad Journal, the primary source of railroad news during the time, detailing the lawlessness that is taking place during the strike.  At the time of printing the strike was still taking place at many places throughout the country  It can clearly be seen that the editors of the journal did not sympathize with the striking workers.
    SOURCE:  American Railroad Journal
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archive
  3. TITLE:  A Strike at Strikes
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: August 4, 1877
    NOTES: Editorial published by the American Railroad Journal saying that while workers do have a right to earn a fair wage, they do not have a right to strike in such a manner that it causes harm to the property of the company.  The article also says that the actions of the workers “prove more or less injurious to the strikers.”
    SOURCE:  American Railroad Journal
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archive
  4. TITLE:  Claims for Good Destroyed by the Rioters
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  August 25, 1877
    NOTES: The Pennsylvania Railroad, the road that sustained the greatest amounts of damage during the strike, issued a statement to anyone who might have had property destroyed by the rioters while it was being transported by them.  The  railroad decided that it was the fault of the local county, and their failure to protect private property and enforce the peace, that made them responsible for all damages causes as opposed to the railroad itself.
    SOURCE:   American Railroad Journal
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archive
  5. TITLE: The Great Strike – The Sixth Maryland Regiment Fighting its Way Through Baltimore 
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  From an engraving by D. Bendann
    NOTES: An attack on the Maryland Sixth Regiment by rioters, sympathizers, and hooligans as they marched to Camden station from the armory in Baltimore.
    MEDIUM:   Photograph
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archives
  6. TITLE: Locomotives Sitting Idle
    NOTES: Locomotives lined up as workers refuse to work during the Strike of 1877.  The location is possibly Martinsburg, West Virginia.
    MEDIUM:   Photograph
    REPOSITORY:  B&O Railroad Museum Archives

Additional Media Resources

Additional Instructional Resources

Secondary Resources

Bruce. Robert V. 1877: Year of Violence. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970.

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955 (originally published 1944).

Miller, George H. Railroads and the Granger Laws. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971.

O. Stowell, David. Streets, Railroads, and the Great Strike of 1877. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Richard Olson.