St. Louis, MO
It was a cold day shortly before Christmas, 1898 (on December 20 to be exact) that a group of farsighted tradesmen met, angry and upset with the state of things that they as workers, had to endure. Low wages, poor working conditions, no security. As family men, that meant hardship beyond what we could imagine today.
Out of that meeting, there came agreement to band together and our local union- Pipe Coverer’s Local of St. Louis- was born. While we can’t find in the few records that exist the names of all those first brave men, among them were; Fred Cappelle, Herman Weiss, John and Rudolph Grob, Julius and Joseph Lecchesi, Peter Jensen, John Bacigalupo, George, John and John Jr. Shearn, George Knoblock, Walter Juede, Charles Whittaker and Georg Block.
In the following years, the new local effectively served the purposes for which it was founded- to improve the lot of its members- and thus provided an inspiration for the pipe coverer’s in other parts of the country. Out of our St. Louis experience, and with the leadership of our founding members, the idea of a national organization was born.
In 1903, the idea took a positive form and on July 7th, the founding convention of our national Association was held in St. Louis. Called by our own John Shearn, it was attended by delegates from locals in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Detroit. From that very first meeting, St. Louis began playing a proud role in our national union. Our own Bro. Fred Cappelle was elected our national union’s first secretary-treasurer and Bro. Thomas Kennedy, Chicago, was elected our first national president. That was the beginning of St. Louis’ role. Our charter, as Local 1, in this new organization was issued on December 19, 1904.
Again in 1905, at our national convention in Boston, St. Louis leadership was recognized: our own Bro. Peter Jensen was elected national secretary-treasurer. He served until 1909 when he resigned only to be elected secretary-treasurer of our local. The resignation of Bro. Jensen, however, did not end our union’s participation in our growing national convention. At the 1909 convention in Buffalo, an active Local 1 member who was well known in the St. Louis labor movement- Bro. Thomas J. McNamara- was elected international secretary-treasurer.
Entering the trade as a helper in 1902, Bro. McNamara immediately gained a reputation as an active and effective union member. By 1909 Bro. McNamara had proven his ability to merit his election as secretary-treasurer of our International Association. He skillfully and enthusiastically held the office until his death in 1934.
Bro. McNamara, because of the vigorous leadership he provided in the formative days of our local and our International Association, became a symbol. His legend was more than a fond memory, however a fact which is underlined by the emergence of other strong leaders whose influence left positive marks on the development of Local 1, the St. Louis trade movement and our International Association.
These leaders include our past Union General President William G. Bernard, past International Organizers Tom Walsh and Dick Mantia and current Midwest States Conference Vice-president Mark Selby.