The dynamite plot

In 1885, streetcar workers in St. Louis went on strike, seeking a 12-hour workday (instead of the usual 16- to 18-hour day), a wage scale of $2 per day for conductors, 20 cents per hour for overtime, and $1.75 for drivers. The streetcar companies responded by hiring replacement workers.

A horse-drawn streetcar at the Fairground Park entrance, circa 1880s (from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society)

The strikers, backed by the Knights of Labor, responded, in some cases, by dragging the replacements — denounced as “scabs” and “rats” — from the cars and assaulting them. They also tried to disrupt service by rocking cars, stretching carpet across the tracks to frighten the horses, and blowing cars off the tracks.

On the night of Oct. 23, 1885, Car No. 42 of the Lindell Railway Company rolled over a bomb and was “lifted off the track.” The Post-Dispatch, in a vivid account, said “the flooring beneath the driver’s feet was splintered in to a thousand pieces.”  Henry Constine, the driver, unhitched the horse, which apparently was not injured. A Mrs. Shay, a passenger, fainted. And Prof. H.W. Prentis, another passenger, “vented his wrath very freely,” offering to assist in a lynching. (“As there seemed no way of discovering the perpetrators of the outrage, the Professor’s suggestion was not carried out,” the Post-Dispatch noted.)

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