In February of 1902, The Bridgeman’s Magazine, the publication of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers of America (IABSORIW), made a bold statement: “Toledo, O. is ripe for the organization of a Structural Iron Workers local and no trouble should be experienced in getting these Buckeye bridgemen to fall into line.”
Their words rang true one year later when on February 16, 1903, IronWorkers Local Union 55 was chartered, and the 104 men were honored as the first members. Initially chartered as federal labor union #8257 by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Local 55 got its new designate after the IABSORIW and the AFL affiliated.
By 1903, skyscrapers were flirting with Toledo skies, industry was booming and the fundamental ways people did things were changing as a result of technological innovations. The Illinois Steel Company was commissioned to construct a bridge and two turntables for the rapidly growing Toledo Furnace Company and needed hard-working, dependable workers. Local 55 was hired to do the job. It was the earliest recorded union job in Toledo history.
When a “rid Toledo of Unionism” campaign raged throughout the city of Toledo in the early 1900s, the IABSOIW, Toledo’s Central Labor Union and iron workers from locals in Chicago and Cleveland pitched in to fight the good fight against non-union open shop contractors and business associations. The non-union shops waged war because of Local 55’s high standards: the chapter wanted to raise the 40 cent working wage, reduce the hours of work and implement a checks and balances system to safeguard against other craft unions like carpenters, millwrights, and lathers taking iron work.
In 1929, IronWorkers from Local 55 began work on the Anthony Wayne Bridge, the crown jewel of the Local’s early work. In just three years, the relentless workers finished the hi-level suspension bridge and added its completion to their long list of accomplishments.
During WWII, members of IronWorkers Local 55 converted the Willys-Overland Motor factory into a war factory helping the company produce more than 350,000 military Jeeps, constructed a federal nitrate plant of Presque Island, built new refineries for Standard Oil Company, contributed to construction at camp Perry and worked for the city, including building the Broadway Water Pumping Station.
In 1946, Local 55 began work on a project that moved them into the next decade. Members were commissioned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads and the New York Central Railroad to removed two massive coal dumper cars and two Hulette ore unloaders and relocate them ten miles downriver to Lake Erie at the Lakefront Dock and Railroad Terminal. But the work didn’t end there. The local also constructed two new Hulette ore unloaders. The work was tedious and time consuming, but gave Local 55 annother opportunity to show the community and business leaders their tenacity and thoroughness.
Other projects throughout the Local’s rich history include: viaducts for Wabash Railroad, a bridge for Toledo Railway and Terminal Company, the 16-story Spitzer Building, Nicholas Building, Devilbliss and Central Catholic High Schools, Commodore Perry Hotel, Famous Players Theater, Toledo Blade building, Federal Building, the Owens-Illinois Fiberglass Tower, the Bay Shore Station, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, the Medical College of Ohio, the Regional Criminal Justice Center, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, the Summit Center, Fifth Third Field, Radisson Hotel, School of Art and Business Administration buildings at BGSU, the Visual Arts Center at the Toledo Museum of Art and the Valentine Theater.
In 2007, Local 55 completed work on the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway, 8,800-foot long cable-stayed bridge that crosses the Maumee River. The bridge remains the single largest project in the Ohio Department of Transportation history.