The Great Railroad Riot

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Many of my ancestors lived in Allegheny county, specifically in Pittsburgh. It is a place that I lived in for 8 years after graduating from college. I have always remembered living there fondly and have returned to visit over the years several times. I wish that I had known what I currently know about the members of the family that were there. It would have been so easy then to do research in the area.


Amelia Eyth married George W Kettenburg, 1868 to about 1900 when they moved to San Diego, California and lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George’ father was written up in the book “A Century and a Half of Pittsburgh and Her People” by John Newton Boucher, John Woolf Jordan – 1908 and George Jr. was mentioned. I have found several of my relatives in this book. I am not sure what criteria they used to select the different people that they wrote about, but they weren’t famous people or political figures. George Sr. was a plumber and had his own business and prospered well for himself and his family. His parents came over from Germany in 1832.


George Sr.’s sister Mary Jane Kettenburg married Charles Fisher. Charles was a plumber and probably worked for George, although I don’t have documented evidence on that. The year was 1877 and it was July and everything was heating up and about to get hotter.


On July 14, 1877 in Martinsburg, West Virginia the Great Railroad Riot  was heating up. Since the end of the Civil War, the United States had experienced an economic boom and it was about to go bust. European markets had failed and it was having a great effect on the US economy. There were 364 railroads and 89 of them had gone bankrupt. At the time the railroads were the second largest employer next to the agriculture.


Several factors led to the rail workers getting 10% pay cuts and then they were cut again within the same year. Striking workers in West Virginia held up stock until the second pay cut was lifted. Federal troops were called in and the strike spread on to Baltimore, Maryland. Eleven people would be shot and 40 would be wounded.


By this time the strike had spread on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania On July 21 the militia would fire on rock throwing strikers killing 20 and wounding 29 other people. Some of the people shot were innocent bystanders trying to protect themselves from the violence taking place around them. The strikers managed to force the militia into the railroad roundhouse and set fire to 39 buildings and destroyed 104 locomotives and 1,245 freight and passenger cars.


On July 22, the militia shot their way out of the roundhouse killing 20 more people on their way out of town. It would take federal troops to finally halt the strikers and return peace 45 days after it started.


Charles Fisher, plumber, 1043 Penn avenue, leaving a wife. would be one of the dead from Pittsburgh. From newspaper accounts of the tragedy many of the people shot weren’t strikers they just happened to be in the area.





  1. What a sad piece of history. My family’s relationship with the railroad didn’t start until after 1877 so I wasn’t familiar with this. As to why George, Jr might have been included in the book – I just recently learned that some of these books were writen on a subscription basis.

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