“They are having a very searious [sic] riot at Homestead. There is a great many killed and wounded on both sides and it will continue until the state troops put it down.” In his diary entry from the evening of July 6, 1892, Robert Cornell recorded the news of violence that had occurred earlier that day in Homestead, a mill town six miles upriver from Pittsburgh and home to the Carnegie Steel Company's massive works. Even without the avalanche of details that would emerge throughout 1892 and 1893 in the regional and national press, Pittsburghers like Cornell placed immediate emphasis on the events at Homestead. The former coal worker offered two ways to capture the day's meaning—as a breakdown of civic order and as a tally of the damage done to bodies. By describing the clash between steelworkers and employees of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as a riot that would cease only when National Guard troops enforced order, Cornell assumed that workers had broken free of the constraints that normally held them in check. Industrial discipline, craft pride, and regular wages no longer channeled the power of Homestead's 3,800 workers into the production of steel. Instead, workers now exhibited that power on the streets through acts of violent unity. Furthermore, in noting the physical toll of the day's fighting, Cornell situated July 6, 1892 as a day of battling bodies that could be understood in terms of injury and death. Combined, Cornell's pair of explanations represented a striking interpretation of the meaning of Homestead, one that was echoed throughout the nation in the establishment press.
Edward Slavishak is Assistant Professor of History at Susquehanna University. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His current book project, Bodies of Work: Civic Display and Labor in Industrial Pittsburgh, examines the intersection of work, urban boosterism, and the male physique in Pittsburgh at the turn of the twentieth century.