St. Louis streetcar system map, 1897
St. Louis of 1897 was a Gilded Age industrial mess. The average person was working 60 hours a week for miserable wages, the city was overcrowded and polluted, the economy had been in a depression for four years, and unemployment was at 18 percent. In short, the city was a powder keg waiting to explode.
These problems came to a head in 1899 when the St. Louis Transit Co. and its president, Edwards Whitaker, bought out most of the city’s streetcar lines, consolidating all but the St. Louis & Suburban under his control. Once his near-monopoly was secure, Whitaker unilaterally cut pay and increased workers' hours. When the workers complained, he fired his entire workforce, leading to a summer-long strike and boycott.
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