The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen: A Membership Certificate
December 17, 2013
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was founded in 1873, in Port Jervis, New York, by Joshua Alexander Leach (1843-1919), as a fraternal mutual benefit society for workers employed as firemen for steam locomotives. The job of a locomotive firemen was a physically demanding, strenuous, dirty, and dangerous one. They had to shovel coal into a train engine's firebox, through a narrow opening, feeding the fire. This regular input of fuel kept the train running.
In 1873, Leach and ten other Erie Railroad firemen had just been forced to notify the widow of a locomotive fireman who had died in a crash, and decided to start an organization for this trade which gave benefits to families of those in this trade. The major practical purpose of this organization was as a mutual insurance association. However, it also had a ceremonial initiation for its members like many of the other fraternal societies of the 1870s and 1880s. Its teachings included charity, industry, sobriety, and protection. As well, there was a women's auxiliary group called the Ladies Society of B of L F.
The membership certificate (shown above) illustrates each of these teachings across the lower edge. There is an emblem for each principle. The certificate also includes images of a railroad car, a railroad car falling off a bridge, members of the fraternity visiting a fireman's widow and offering her death benefits, and a fireman's funeral. According to F. P. Sargent's A Short History of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, 1889, this membership certificate constituted a life insurance policy. Frank Pierce Sargent (1851-1908) was Grand Master of the organization and was a well known labor leader in the United States.
The certificate was issued to Earl Shoemaker of Rainyday Lodge No. 553. The Grand Lodge of Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was established in Peoria, Illinois in 1895. This color lithograph, or chromolithograph, is dated approximately 1900 and also includes an image of Leach at the very top. Noted at the top of the certificate is that there were 22,000 members and 487 lodges of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen at this time. From 1880 through 1899 there was approximately $4,000,000.00 paid out in life and disability benefits.
In 1969, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen merged with the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and the Switchmen's Union of North America to form the United Transportation Union.
Membership Certificate for Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, ca. 1900. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2013/32/1. Photograph by David Bohl.