1824 Strike

Women in green dress standing in front of loom in artistic pose with arms in the air
Striker in front of a loom

David Lawlor

Join us for our annual First Strike Festival (May 11, 2024)

Join us for community celebration and 200-year commemoration of the first industrial worker's strike in the United States.

Hosted at Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark on Saturday, May 11, 2024 from 12 PM - 4 PM in downtown Pawtucket, RI.


Tours and Talks

  • Tour Slater Mill with a ranger (10:30 AM, 12:30 PM, or 2:30 PM)

Meet in front of Slater Mill – limited to 25 persons
Tickets are required today only. Tickets are free and will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Old Slater Mill front desk starting at 10:00 AM. Only individuals with tickets will be permitted on the tour.

  • Drop in for a Labor History Talk with a ranger (offered on the hour, 1, 2, 3)

Meet in the Slater Mill Bell Tower  

  • First Strike History Open Air Presentation with a ranger (11:30 AM, 3:30 PM)

Outdoor discussion led by a ranger  

Performance Schedule:

12:00 PM - Acoustic Folk Music and Welcome from J. Michael Graham
12:30 PM - Live Music by Singer Songwriter Kim Moberg
1:30 PM - Dance Performance by Students from the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Pawtucket, RI) - inspired by the 1824 strikers
2:00 PM - Dance Performance by the Mystic Garland Dancers & Maypole Group Dance
2:45 PM - Live Music by Connecticut State Troubadour Kala Farnham

Additional Demonstrations and Activities

  • Dance around a maypole and play old time games
  • Check out a pop-up exhibit on 200 years of Labor History created with students from Providence College
  • Learn how objects from the past can teach us about our world today with Everyday Anthropology
  • See fiber arts demonstrations with Wedges of Time and see the Rhode Island Spinning Guild at work
  • Watch a Letterpress Printing Demo with Andy Volpe from the Museum of Printing
  • Pick up a history poster and meet the Rhode Island Labor History Society
  • Meet the Rhode Island Master Gardeners
Click here for more information about this year's festival.


1824 Strike: A Brief History

Map of the village of Pawtucket showing Blackstone River, Slater Mill and other manufacturing operations. Map is on a brownish colored paper with colored polygons
Map of Pawtucket, 1823

Growing Tension

The first wage workers’ strike in the United States took place in Pawtucket nearly two centuries ago. This is the story of how Pawtucket, the birthplace of industry, also gave rise to organized labor.

In the 1790s, Pawtucket, RI started to transform from a village of craftspeople to a place of advanced industry.

Along the Blackstone River, wealthy investors sought to build mills, capitalizing on the talents of local workers and the river’s potential to provide waterpower.

These new mills, including Samuel Slater’s Yellow Mill, were subject to suspicion and concern from their inception. Mills created conflicts over established water rights, and significantly changed the daily lives of workers. This led to growing tensions within the community. Workers in mills were subject to the authority of their employers, who asserted control through strict work and behavioral standards. One benefit of working in factories, in theory, was the change to earn wages for work.

Throughout the early 1820s, the cotton industry was experiencing economic fluctuations, triggered by the Panic of 1819 and the Tariff of 1824. In response, mill owners looked for ways to keep production high, costs low, and profits going up.

Male supervisor watches as female weavers work on power looms. Belts, wheels and large machines can be seen
Illustration of power loom weaving, circa 1835

“This Looks Rebellion”

In late May 1824, a group of Pawtucket mill owners decided to make some drastic changes. Citing a “general depression,” they announced a plan to extend the workday by an hour, reduce the worker’s mealtime, and cut wages by 25%.

Workers in town did not accept these new conditions. About one hundred women walked out of the mills, causing them to shut down. From May 26th to June 3rd, 1824, a large number of additional textiles workers joined them in going on strike.

Fellow laborers in the village of Pawtucket embraced the strike. Some people event went to the homes of the mill owners to shout at them, and demand restored wages.

The strike escalated on June 1, 1824, when an “incendiary device” was thrown into Walcott’s Mill, causing a small fire. After the fire, the mill owners and the strikers reached a settlement. No record of this settlement exists, but the mills reopened (with workers at their machines) on June 3rd.

Group of young women working in mill
Photograph of young women working in textile mill. Lewis Hine Collection

Courtesy of Old Slater Mill Association

Aftermath and Legacy

The walkout of 1824 was the first of its kind. No historical records from the perspective of the workers exist, but their story is not lost.

Workers who refused to accept lower wages for more work were reacting to some of the larger social changes that came with the Industrial Revolution.

The strike indicated the potential power that laborers could assert against factory owners. This early example of labor unrest was just the beginning of the continued conflict between employers and their employees.

In these early years of industrial development, workers enjoyed more autonomy and individual power to assert their rights as laborers. As the decades passed, this became more difficult. Most women were excluded from joining unions as they formed.

Newspaper clipping reads with font
Newspaper article about strike
Providence, R.I. May 31 − The citizens of
Pawtucket, have, for a few days past, been in a
state of excitement and disorder, which reminds
us of the accounts we frequently read of the
tumults of the manufacturing places in England,
though unattended with the destruction and
damage usually accompanying those riots.

Learn more!

Last updated: May 4, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

67 Roosevelt Ave
Pawtucket, RI 02860



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