In 1844 the first telegraph wires were strung between Washington and Baltimore carrying that famous message of Samuel Morse, "What hath God wrought?" This was the first electrical accomplishment of commercial importance.

In 1848 the first telegraph station was built in Chicago. By 1861 a web of telegraph lines criss-crossed the United States, and in 1866 the transatlantic cable was laid.

The nucleus of our Brotherhood formed in 1890. An exposition was held in St. Louis that year featuring "a glorious display of electrical wonders." Wireman and lineman from all over the United States flocked to Missouri's queen city to wire the buildings and erect the exhibits, which were the "spectaculars" of their era.  At that time it was common for a lineman to risk his life on the high lines 12 hours a day in any kind of weather, seven days a week, for the meager sum of 15 to 20 cents an hour. Two dollars and 50 cents a day was considered an excellent wage for linemen, and many men were forced to accept work for $8.00 a week.
There was no apprenticeship training, and safety standards were nonexistent. In some areas the death rate for linemen was one out of every two hired, and nationally the death rate for electrical workers was twice that of the national average for all other industries.

Although the going was rough in those early days, a great deal was accomplished in that first year. Locals chartered by the AFL and other electrical unions were organized in Chicago, Milwaukee, Evansville, Louisville, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Duluth, Philadelphia, New York and other cities.

A first convention was called in St. Louis on November 21, 1891. Ten delegates attended, representing 286 members. The 10 men whom our Brotherhood owes its life and the cities they represented are:

  • Henry Miller, St. Louis, Missouri
  • J. T. Kelly, St. Louis, Missouri
  • C. J. Sutter, Duluth, Minnesota
  • M. Dorsey, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • T. J. Finnell, Chicago, Illinois
  • E. Hartung, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • F. Heizleman, Toledo, Ohio
  • Joseph Berlowitz, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Harry S. Fisher, Evansville, Indiana

The Evansville area has had representation since that date; our local had been defunct a time or two though. It wasn't until 1899 that Local 16 was chartered.

The delegates to that First Convention worked night and day for seven days drafting our first Constitution, general laws, ritual and emblem-the well-known fist grasping lightning bolts. The Convention elected Henry Miller as first Grand President and J. T. Kelly as Grand Secretary-Treasurer.

The Preamble to the first Constitution included the goals, which motivated our founders and the far-reaching, sensible, unselfish Objects, which have been retained, except for slight changes in language, by every Convention of the IBEW.


The objects of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are: To organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions; To cultivate feelings of friendship among those of our industry; To settle all disputes between employers and employees by arbitration (if possible); To assist each other in sickness or distress; To secure employment; To reduce the hours of daily labor; To secure adequate pay for our work; To seek a higher and higher standard of living; To seek security for the individual; And, by legal and proper means, to elevate the moral, intellectual, and social conditions of our members, their families, and dependents, in the interest of a higher standard of citizenship.