Discovering Dayton’s Labor History

The front page of Dayton Union News, March 3, 1943. Via Chronicling America.
Article highlighting the innovations of Dayton laborers in the course of their jobs. The Dayton Union News, November 25, 1942, via Chronicling America.

It’s a new season for Chronicling America additions, and this one’s a little special. For the past two years, we’ve focused on digitizing Ohio’s immigrant newspapers covering the period of 1834 through 1959.This time, we’re focusing on post-1920 content exclusively, allowing us to cover the Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, World War II and beyond. One of the avenues we’re focusing on with upcoming newspaper content is labor and union history.

The history of labor movements is much longer than the five years of newspapers newly uploaded to Chronicling America with Dayton Union News (but more to come soon!). The labor movements of the 20th century largely center on the two main union federations: the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). Though the two joined in 1955, they began as contentious rivals in the labor movement. The unionists that were part of the AFL advocated for themselves by emphasizing how necessary their skills were as craftsmen. However unskilled factory workers were feeling unheard in union decisions. So, they split in 1938 to form the CIO so they could advocate along lines of solidarity in the workplace, regardless of any one worker’s experience or job requirements.

It’s no surprise that Dayton was a center for labor unions in the first half of the 20th century. Sweetly situated on the Miami River in the middle of other Midwest cities like Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, Dayton enjoyed a robust shipping economy. It also wasn’t too far from coal-producing Kentucky, so transporting fuel for its factories was a cinch.

UE Local 801 basketball team from the 1942-1943 season. The Dayton Union News, March 3, 1943, Image 9, via Chronicling America.

Dayton’s factories produced a wide variety of materials such as paper products, electronics, golf clubs and even ice cream cones. Famously, Dayton’s main exports were automobile parts, refrigeration units, and cash registers. Following the CIO’s philosophy of industrial solidarity, one of its major unions was the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (the UE).

The Dayton Union News began in 1940 as a collaborative, biweekly publication sponsored by local chapters of the UE in Montgomery County, Ohio. Participating unions in the Dayton Union News included those at Delco, Frigidaire, and NCR (National Cash Register Company), all companies that either started or found notable success in Dayton. Most of the newspaper’s articles related to general labor news on a local and national level. Its publishers announced industry conferences and workplace holiday parties with equal enthusiasm. With a strong community focus, Dayton Union News dedicated sections to each of its participating unions, publicly celebrating their success. It also disseminated legislative news, and urged members to act on proposals and participate in politics. The slogan “Be wise—organize!” appeared several times on each page.

The Dayton Union News is just a start, and there are already plenty of stories to discover in its pages. What will you find in these new years in Chronicling America?

Thank you to Jen Cabiya, Project Coordinator for the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio, for this week’s post! Learn about Chronicling America, NDNP-Ohio, and more at


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