The Photo Request has been fulfilled.

 
 William Sylvis

William Sylvis

Birth
Armagh, Indiana County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 27 Jul 1869 (aged 40)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Fernwood, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 1012 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Labor Pioneer and Leader, Social Reformer. He is best remembered as a founder of the Iron Molders' International Union and the National Labor Union, the latter being one of the first American union federations attempting to unite workers of various crafts into a single national organization. Born William H. Sylvis in Armagh, Pennsylvania, the second of ten children, his parents were of Irish descent and his father constructed canal boats and repaired wagons. During the Panic of 1837 the family's financial situation became particularly grave and he was sent to live on the homestead of a prosperous neighbor, earning his keep there by helping with chores around the farm. He was taught to read and write by his employer and did not formally attend school until he was 11 years old, but only for a very short time. In 1846 he left the farmstead to learn the trade of iron molding. He found his way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he became active in the local trade union movement, serving as secretary of the Philadelphia Molders' Union. After a spontaneous October 1857 strike over a proposed wage cut in the shop at which he was working, he was chosen by the shop workers as their Secretary, from which sprung the organization which later became Iron-Molders Union No. 1. He then communicated with other local iron molders' unions with a view to establishing a national organization that could obtain higher wages for molders nationwide, and upon receiving positive feedback, he called for a formal convention call to establish such a national organization, and on July 5, 1859 a meeting was held in Philadelphia. A provisional federation of local molders unions followed, culminating in 1860 with the establishment of the National Union of Iron Molders. In the early stages of the American Civil War, he recruited a regiment on behalf of the Union Army, although he declined the offer of a commission as a 1st Lieutenant due to his wife's vehement objection. Shortly afterwards, he established a militia company composed of Philadelphia iron molders, serving as a Sergeant with the group for several months. In 1863 he was elected President of the National Union of Iron Molders, a group which had virtually gone extinct during the wartime years. He subsequently traveled over 10,000 miles on behalf of the union, giving public speeches and organizing union locals. As a result, he single-handedly formed 19 new molders' locals, reorganized 16 others which had fallen by the wayside after the outbreak of the Civil War, and helped to solidify 12 more locals. In recognition of his service he was re-elected union president in 1864. His ceaseless efforts at labor organizing would keep him away from his wife and children for extended periods of time and quite frequently pushed his health to the limits, sleeping in train cars, and often stricken with nerve and gastrointestinal problems. He would wear clothes until they became quite threadbare to the point where he could no longer wear them. In February 1866 he sought to establish a broader organization, in collaboration with William Harding, president of the Coach Makers' International Union and Jonathan Fincher, head of the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union, to create a federation of unions which would be able to bring workers of different crafts together under a single organizational umbrella, which culminated into the National labor Union (NLU) that held its first convention in August 1866 in Baltimore, Maryland, whose delegates represented 43 local trade unions, 11 trade assemblies, 4 8-hour leagues, and two national or international unions. Unable to attend due to illness, he still followed the event and was critical of its work because it provided no incentive to further the cause beyond the convention. During this time he became a journalist as co-editor of the Chicago broadsheet Workingman's Advocate, regarded as the most influential labor newspaper of the day. He saw the NLU as a potential vehicle for social and economic reform, including the establishment of producer cooperatives, the 8-hour work day, and currency reform. In August 1868 he was elected president of the NLU at its third convention, held in New York City, New York, and authored the organization's platform. Convinced that neither political party truly represented the interests of the working class, he sought to transform the NLU into a workingmen's political party, the National Reform Party. However, he died suddenly the following year of severe inflammation of the bowels in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 41 and his dream never came to fruition. At the time of his death, the NLU totaled 300,000 members. In 1990 the state of Pennsylvania honored him with the dedication of a historical marker at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


Family Members

Children

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

How famous was William Sylvis?

Current rating:

16 votes

Sign-in to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1012
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Sylvis (16 Nov 1828–27 Jul 1869), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1012, citing Fernwood Cemetery, Fernwood, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .