INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, May 8 — Today, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) marks its 160th anniversary. The BLET and its members are proud of our heritage as the oldest labor union in North America. Our union was founded as the Brotherhood of the Footboard on May 8, 1863, in Marshall, Mich. A year later; the union changed its name to Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), the name it retained for 140 years until merging with the Teamsters on January 1, 2004, when it became the BLET.
Through the name changes and the passage of 160 years, our Brotherhood’s goal has remained the same — providing the highest quality of representation for our members and protecting the craft of Locomotive Engineer.
In April 1863, William D. Robinson gathered 19 Locomotive Engineers together at his home and inspired them to found the Organization. At a meeting in Detroit, the following month, a dozen Engineers agreed to tie their destinies together. They cemented a common bond on May 8, 1863, electing Robinson as their Grand Chief Engineer (president) and naming the group the Brotherhood of the Footboard. By August 1863, 10 Divisions had been established — Detroit and Marshall, Mich.; Michigan City, Ind.; Adrian, Mich.; Norwalk, Ohio; two in Chicago, Ill.; Lafayette, Ind.; Crestline, Ohio; and La Porte, Ind.
Early meetings of the Brotherhood were held in secret for fear of retaliation from management. The primary purpose was and continues to be — to maintain the prestige of the highly skilled craft of Locomotive Engineer and to ensure that our members are compensated appropriately. The BLET was the first labor organization to obtain contracts with railroads. Among the earliest was an agreement with the former New York Central in 1875. Today, the BLET has hundreds of contracts with railroads large and small and represents nearly all Locomotive Engineers throughout the United States.
Born in the midst of the Civil War, our Brotherhood has always been proud to support America’s soldiers and their families. Our union’s membership has been comprised of veterans of every major military conflict since. With BLET members at the throttle, U.S. railroads carried 90 percent of all military freight and 97 percent of all military passenger movements during World War II.
This week, we recognize the men, women, veterans, fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters that carried our Organization through the past 160 years. As we honor our forefathers and reap the benefits of their toils, we must continue to meet the challenges of today’s industry and lead rail labor for the next 160 years, said BLET National President Edward A. Hall. President Hall is the 24th principal officer in the BLET’s long history. He has held the post since January 1, 2023. The BLET is the founding member of the Teamsters Rail Conference and represents approximately 57,000 active and retired locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States.