March 2010

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Filling the Holes in IBEW's History

Few souvenirs from an IBEW convention are more cherished than panoramic photos of delegates to the International gathering. Images of rank and file members and their leaders—so varied in dress and demeanor—are a window into the union's changing numbers and demographics. Whether perched on a union hall's walls or rolled up in a chest in a family's attic, the pictures—going back to 1891—hold the value and meaning of the ages in labor history.

At the International Office's archives, original convention photos are stored in a climate-controlled room, guarded from deterioration that results from fluctuating temperatures, light or infestation. Only digitally-scanned prints are available for public exhibit.

While few unions have worked harder to honor its history than the IBEW, most historical preserves contain holes that need to be filled.

Retired International Representative Mike Nugent, who managed the archives until last year, worked tirelessly to gather memorabilia to fill some of those holes. Last December on a visit to Dayton, Ohio, Local 82, Nugent found two missing panoramic photos of the Seventeenth International Convention, held in Montreal in 1923, and the Eighteenth convention, held in Seattle in 1925.

Local 82 agreed to donate the original photos to the archives under the condition that the local receive digitally-scanned copies back. The originals were sent to Dodge Color in Silver Spring, Md., where they were removed from their frames. Dodge fixed the frayed edges of the photos that were rolled up and damaged before framing and completed the digital imaging.

Despite Nugent's broad outreach efforts to build the union's collection, photos of the Sixth International Convention, held in Pittsburgh in 1899, and the Seventh International Convention, held in St. Louis in 1901, are still missing.

Curtis Bateman, the IBEW collections manager who replaced Nugent, says, "I hope members can help us look around for these missing photos, so that we don't have to go another 100 years before we find these images of some of the dedicated men who set the IBEW on the path of growth." Their accomplishments are documented in The Electrical Worker, says Bateman.

The November 1899 issue of the newspaper, for instance, includes minutes of that year's convention and a progress report since the last meeting in Detroit in 1897. "Our membership at the close of the last convention was 1,800. Today we have 3,200. Instead of 48 locals in good standing, we have [today] 74," states the Electrical Worker. The paper reported $7,000 in the union's treasury.

If you have copies of the missing photos or know where they can be located, please contact Bateman at the International Office (202-728-7691), or e-mail him at


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17 Biennial Convention of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Montreal, Aug. 20th, 1923