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Published: Sunday, 8/12/2001

Labor history: Chronicles of unions receive their due


Whether examining eyewitness accounts of Toledo's deadly 1934 Electric Auto-Lite strike or reading about the progressive employment practices of the Acme Sucker Rod Co. and owner Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, labor researchers now have a crib of their own.

Tucked away in a corner of the newly renovated downtown Main Library, a labor history room will provide researchers with private space in which to peruse the library's collection of photos, newspaper clippings, and letters documenting the region's rich union history.

The collection now tends to attract academicians, but library officials want to reach another audience. “We hope the room will encourage people involved in labor to find out more about their labor organizations,” said Jim Marshall, manager of the local history and genealogy department.

The room was funded with a $75,000 federal grant, the money from a special purpose fund at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secured by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

The room is on the third floor in the local history department. It will include two computer stations, tables for researchers, and books on union and union history.

Users will have access to library materials on labor history, locally and nationally. They'll be able to research major Toledo strikes, including the deadly walkout at the Willys-Overland auto plant in 1919, the Auto Lite dispute, a walkout by police and fire fighters in the 1970s, and several school strikes, said Mr. Marshall.

Other materials include the papers of “Golden Rule” Jones, a noted Toledo mayor and businessman at the turn of the century. At Acme Sucker Rod - which produced a devise for extracting crude oil from the ground - Mr. Jones won praise for shortening the work week and hosting employee picnics. “He helped change the way people looked at labor in Toledo,” Mr. Marshall explained.

When researchers request information the library does not have, librarians will refer them to major labor history collections at the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit and the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University.

Besides providing space for researchers, the union history room will be available for meetings of small groups.

Timothy Messer-Kruse, a labor history specialist on the faculty of the University of Toledo, said the room will help increase recognition of the important role the city played in the nation's labor movement.

“When I came to Toledo six or seven years ago, I was surprised that there was so little memorialization of the city's labor history. I knew a lot about it before I came here. Toledo was at the center of 20th century labor history and institutions. It's the duty of a city not to forget events and the place it had in national struggles.”

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