Montana's Labor Temples

From almost the beginning of the territory, Montana workers tried to organize themselves into unions to secure safer working conditions and better wages and to redress grievances. Where union locals grew, they built halls for meetings and social events. Their accommodations ranged from rented rooms to simple, modest halls to large, ornate buildings, reflecting the union’s size and status in the community.

Helena’s typographers organized Montana’s first union local in 1866, but most of Montana’s early union activity centered around railroad workers, miners, and smeltermen. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers built one of Montana’s first union halls in Forsyth in 1882. By 1909, Red Lodge Local No. 1771 of the United Mine Workers of America, a coal miners’ local, built their three-story labor temple, complete with a third-floor ballroom big enough to host its 1,000-plus members. The “Gibraltar of Unionism,” however, was Butte, whose rich copper deposits attracted thousands of miners and associated tradesmen.

Founded in 1878, the Butte Miners Union (BMU) grew into one of the largest local unions in the United States. In 1893, the BMU reorganized and became Local #1 of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). The WFM, an industrial union, was open to laborers of all skill levels, in contrast to the craft unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The WFM gave rise to the Industrial Workers of the World, a prominent, radical anti-capitalist union, which made strong inroads into northwest Montana’s timber industry before World War I. Factions within Butte unions brought controversy and sometimes violence. In 1914, a fight between radical and conservative unionists led to the dynamiting of the WFM Hall. However, many sites still mark labor’s historical importance to the mining city—from the Carpenter’s Union Hall to the Silver Bow Club, an elite club building that became the offices of the miner’s union after 1950.

Butte’s strong union ethos also led to the formation of the Butte Women’s Protective Union (WPU). A forerunner of service industry unions, the WPU successfully secured an eight-hour work day, overtime pay, vacation, and sick leave for its members. Later in the twentieth century, public sector employees, such as teachers and state workers, also became active unionists.

While many of Montana’s labor temples have new uses today, the buildings continue to represent over a century of effort to improve working conditions for a diverse array of Montanans.

Red Lodge Labor Temple

Red Lodge Miner’s Local No. 1771 had grown to more than a thousand members when this labor temple was built in 1909. The United Mine Workers of America organized nationally in 1896 and by 1898, Local No. 1771 had 200 members. The building is a…

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Hall

On May 8, 1882, the first train rumbled through Forsyth, and the growing town soon became home to many Northern Pacific Railway workers. Among them were locomotive engineers, whose skills were in high demand, particularly in the West during the heady…

W.R. Hall Building

This fine example of masonry architecture, with its unusually preserved storefront and recessed entry, appears almost as it did in 1900 when Walter Hall opened his first-floor grocery. Sandstone banding, corbelled arches, and original stained glass…

Carpenter's Union Hall

Butte’s reputation as the “Gibraltar of Unionism” in the Rocky Mountains was further strengthened with the construction of this finely appointed Renaissance Revival style labor temple, one of the first built in the United States. The Butte…

Socialist Hall

Hands and forearms clasped in solidarity symbolize a movement of local and national significance during the first decades of the twentieth century. One of the few socialist meeting halls remaining in the United States, the building is a monument to a…

Chester Block

Businessman Charles Steele financed the $4,500 construction costs of this exceptional commercial block, designed by Butte architect James C. Teague, in 1917. The building is architecturally significant for its striking terra cotta ornamentation and…

Silver Bow Club

The elegance of Renaissance Revival-inspired details conveys the extravagance of Butte’s first men’s social club, established in 1882. The prestigious Helena architectural firm of Link and Haire designed the club’s new quarters, completed in 1907,…

1047 South Wyoming

Deed records indicate that a Knights of Labor Hall stood here by 1887. Open to both skilled and unskilled workers, the Knights helped found the 1886 Silver Bow Trades and Labor Assembly. The influential organization advocated for an eight-hour day;…

123 North Main Street

Cast-iron pilasters, a metal cornice, interior hardwood paneling and a pressed metal ceiling are reminders of the varied remodelings of this early commercial building, constructed before 1884. In 1895, architect H. M. Patterson remodeled the building…

Free Speech Corner

In autumn 1909, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizers Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Jack Jones arrived in Missoula, soon followed by their comrade, Frank Little. After renting space for a union hall, they took to the streets, determined to…

Missoula Labor Temple

In 1896, a Union Hall was constructed here on property donated by copper magnate Marcus Daly. That building served as local headquarters for unions affiliated with Federal Union Local 83, the precursor of the building trade unions that later…

Spieth & Krug Brewery (Maxey Block)

Partners Jacob Spieth and Charles Krug founded Bozeman’s first brewery here along the banks of Sour Dough Creek in 1867, laboriously grinding the first grain in a coffee mill. This impressive Italianate style building replaced the original frame…