In St. Louis, Henry Miller Museum Opens Ahead of 39th IBEW International Convention

September 17, 2016

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 15, the Henry Miller museum opened its doors with a copper wire “ribbon,” snipped by IBEW leaders wielding lineman’s pliers.

Located on the second floor of the museum is a table with 10 chairs, with 10 copper mugs, representing the meeting of delegates that started the IBEW.
Hundreds of people from the U.S. and Canada attended the opening ceremony of the Henry Miller Museum on Sept. 15, held in park adjacent to the museum.

More than two years in the making, the building that was once a boardinghouse has been renovated and turned into a museum to honor the founding of the IBEW. The house founder Henry Miller stayed in 1891, it was where he and nine other delegates gathered to create a union for electrical workers.

“It’s better than I envisioned,” said St. Louis Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs, a fourth-generation IBEW member. “I hope that visitors take as much pride in it as we have.”

Local 1 purchased the long-abandoned building after Local 1 leaders learned of its significance in a video produced by the IBEW Media Department in 2009.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of members from across the U.S. and Canada. Speakers included Jacobs, local leaders, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, International Secretary-Treasurer Salvatore “Sam” J. Chilia and Eleventh District Vice President Curtis Henke.

“Our union was founded by 10 men, just up those steps,” Stephenson said. “Being able to visit this place reminds me of how far we’ve come. Our tool chest may have grown over the last 125 years, but our principles remain the same.”

In Miller’s day, the boardinghouse was one of many on a crowded street. Today it stands alone, in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. When Local 1 purchased it, they discovered a solid foundation and interior suffering from years of neglect. Now, the inside is a gleaming testament to the hard work of 10 founding fathers, built and carefully renovated by IBEW locals and other unions.

“This building is 100 percent union built,” said Local 1 Recording Secretary John Kahrhoff. “All the electrical work was done by IBEW members.”

The lights on the first floor, a saloon in Miller’s day, were custom cast from a blueprint from 1890, and crafted by Los Angeles Local 1710, Kahrhoff said.

The three-story museum showcases artifacts from the early days of the electrical industry as well as a table on the second floor with 10 chairs and 10 copper mugs, signifying the meeting of delegates representing nearly 500 linemen that started the Brotherhood.

St. Louis Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs, a fourth-generation IBEW member, speaks to the crowd assembled outside the museum.

“If you don’t get chills in here, you’re not IBEW,” said Local 1 member Dave Roth, who worked in the renovation. “Today was the type of moment you can’t pay for.”

“It’s really amazing to see how far this place has come,” said Collinsville, Ill., Local 309 member Chris Hawkins.

Local 309 is one of many unions who contributed to the Electrical Workers Historical Society, founded to manage and raise funds for the museum.

“History is important,” said Local 1 member Yvette Goods. “But’s like President Stephenson said, this is part of our future. And if we don’t celebrate it, who will?”

As members and their families strolled through the museum, with storyboards throughout telling the story of the IBEW, many signed their name to one of the beams in the basement. Many signatures have union numbers accompanying them, leaving their mark on the building built to preserve their history.

“This feels as good as it did when I put my finger on the point of the Washington Monument,” said Washington, D.C., Local 26 Business Manager George Hogan, a second-generation member who said he worked on the renovation of the Washington Monument.

Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh also signed the beam. “This place has exceeded my expectations,” Warsh said. “I was here in the spring, and it was dirt then. Everyone who worked on this has done an excellent job. They should be proud.”

“This really turned out great,” said Graham Abbot, a member of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Local 1620, who brought his family to the opening. “There are a lot more people here today than what we started with. It’s wonderful to be a part of it all.”

Dale Roth, a Local 1 member and brother to Dave Roth, was a superintendent on the project.

 “It’s wonderful to be able to work on something so positive for the IBEW,” Roth said. “I like to say to apprentices, ‘When you’re 60 years old, I hope you take care of this.’”

The 39th IBEW International Convention opens on Sept. 19, and will cover pre-convention events starting Sept. 15 and running through the closing gavel on Sept. 23.