History will be all around this month in St. Louis, the city that founded the IBEW. Aside from the house where it happened, delegates and visitors to the convention hall will be able to step inside the IBEW museum, transplanted from its home at the Washington, D.C., International Office.
|IBEW curator Curtis Bateman, right, prepares an item for shipping to a temporary museum exhibition at the International Convention in St. Louis with help from IBEW intern Jacob Sharpe.
The IBEW has shipped part of the museum to St. Louis for display during the convention. The exhibit opens on Sept. 16 and remains open until noon on Sept. 22 in the America’s Center Convention Complex.
It will be in the middle of the Electrical Industry Exposition, which will include 116 booths from 94 companies that have relationships with the IBEW, including signatory contractors, utilities, vendors and some companies with IBEW-represented workforces.
“People will see how humble the origins are, yet we’re still here at this massive convention in a huge hall with 3,000 delegates,” IBEW curator Curtis Bateman said. “Hopefully, they can say, “We have come a long way and we’ve had a lot of success.’ They’ll say this is an organization worth protecting for the next 125 years.”
Tools and equipment used or built by IBEW members during its history will be on display. The last items Bateman prepared for shipping to St. Louis were a pair of phones used by U.S. ground troops during World War I and World War II that were manufactured by IBEW members.
Among the other items on display are:
- Minutes from the first IBEW convention in 1891 at a St. Louis boardinghouse. The house will be dedicated as the Henry Miller Museum during this year’s convention.
- The original charter awarded to the IBEW by the American Federation of Labor just a few weeks after the 1891 convention. The charter is signed by legendary labor leader Samuel Gompers.
- The first membership ledger, which shows that 200 working people had signed up for IBEW membership by the end of December 1891.
“This shows the support for forming a union wasn’t just limited to the 10 men who attended that first convention,” Bateman said. “There was a broader appeal to it.”
The museum at IBEW headquarters in Washington is open to members, retirees and their friends and families. About 2,500 have visited since it opened in 2007.
Bateman is expecting around that number to visit the exhibit during its one week in St. Louis. Display items from Washington are being shipped to the Gateway City in climate-controlled trucks.
“The biggest challenge is just packing the artifacts in a secure enough fashion so that they are stable during the move, that they don’t experience too many unneeded vibrations,” Bateman said. “It’s making sure they are in stable, secure, housing crates. When they’re at the museum, they’re fine. It’s getting there that’s the heart attack.”
|A phone used by U.S. ground troops during World War II and assembled by IBEW members. It is displayed at the IBEW museum in Washington, D.C., and will be part of the temporary exhibit in St. Louis.
The IBEW has displayed historical artifacts at past conventions, but nothing close to this scale. Bateman said about 340 items will be shown, which still is only about 5 percent of the items in Washington. He proposed a museum exhibit because this year’s convention marks the IBEW’s 125 anniversary and it will be celebrated in the city of its founding.
The IBEW is believed to be the only Washington-based union to have an on-site museum.
“That’s the beauty of history,” Bateman said. “You don’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve come from. Hopefully, seeing this humbles you and gives you a little better idea of the benefits the organization has earned for you.”
The expo itself runs from Sept. 16 - Sept. 18.
Will Paul, the IBEW’s director of support services, said having the museum exhibit in close proximity to the exhibition booths should lead to increased foot traffic for both areas.
“One of the important things about the expo is that it lets companies show off the work that our members do,” said Paul, who added that the products displayed and sold are made in the United States or Canada. “It’s an opportunity for each exhibiting company to present their contributions to the electrical industry, the IBEW and its members.”
The 39th IBEW International Convention opens on Sept. 19, and IBEW.org will cover pre-convention events starting Sept. 15 and running through the closing gavel on Sept. 23.