Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Inventory of the Bay Area Typographical Union Local No. 21, 1842 - 1985, predominantly 1906 - 1980.
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (127.86 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Introduction
  • History
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Bay Area Typographical Union Local No. 21,
    Date (inclusive): 1842 - 1985,
    Date (bulk): predominantly 1906 - 1980.
    Accession number: 1985/001
    Creator: Bay Area Typographical Union
    Extent: 39.5 cubic feet including 2 oversize boxes, 16 cubic feet membership ledger card cabinet,
    Repository: San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center
    San Francisco, California 94132
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Center's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives & Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Labor Archives & Research Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Bay Area Typographical Union Local No. 21, 1985/001, Labor Archives & Research Center, San Francisco State University.


    The collection consists of the records of the Bay Area Typographical Union Local No. 21. The BATU Local 21 minutes housed at the Archives span 1906-1957. All union records prior to 1906 were incinerated in the fire following the 1906 earthquake. Initially handwritten, most of the minutes are typed or printed. Beginning in 1916, the minutes were bound and contained the San Francisco Typographical Union Local 12 Official Bulletin mailed to members. The Bulletin announced the date and time of the next union meeting, gave a monthly account of union financial transactions, listed union officers, delegates to other bodies and local committee members and published a directory of San Francisco union printing shops. Standard minutes included Report on the Committee on Membership, Secretary's Report, Treasurer's Report, a detailed Executive Committee Report, Reports of other committees (Label Committee, Scale Committee, etc.), Reports of delegates to other bodies, visiting delegates, communications and good and welfare.
    This format continued until 1948 when the minutes were printed in the Typographical Union Bulletin, a newsletter which also included stories about the local and its members. The minutes are a lively and detailed record of Local 21's 20th century history.


    As the San Francisco Bay Area's oldest trade union, Bay Area Typographical Union Local No. 21 can trace its roots back to Gold Rush days. In 1850, printers in San Francisco first organized the Pacific Typographical Society to protest wage cuts. In 1853, when some Society members raised no objection to union printers being replaced with "scabs" during a strike against Alta, a San Francisco newspaper, printers loyal to the strike formed the Eureka Typographical Union. In 1855, the Union obtained a charter from the National Typographical Union and became Local No. 21.
    The local survived in various forms for the next fifteen years and was instrumental in the formation of the short-lived San Francisco Trades Union 1863, claimed to be the first central labor body in the West. It fought a constant battle against deflation and falling wages, but a strike in 1870 against the San Francisco Call and Bulletin crushed the local. No union for printers had existed in San Francisco for two years, when the local reorganized as the San Francisco Typographical Union and secured a charter from the International Typographical Union (ITU) in 1872. Once again, Local No. 21 was in business.
    A series of boycotts against the Call and Bulletin in the mid-1880s solidified Local 21's position as the legitimate bargaining agent for printers at the city's newspapers. During the 1890s, the Local's chief issues were the introduction of the typesetting machine and other new technologies and processes, concerns about employment, maintenance of union scale and the fight for the nine and eight hour day. During this time, women printers won the right to become union members and to equal pay in union shops. Local 21 was one of the first unions, locally as well as nationally, to do so. In 1896, the Allied Printing Trades Council was formed to strengthen ties among the various printing trades and to ward off attacks by employers. Its weapon was the union label.
    In the first two decades of the Twentieth Century labor's overall strength and aggressive spirit caused San Francisco to be dubbed a "union town", and Local 21's stance in this period contributed to this atmosphere. It successfully fought open shop campaigns and attempts at wage cuts, and preserved the eight hour day. While the 1920s brought the "American Plan" open shop to San Francisco and victorious union- busting campaigns against longshore and seafaring unions, Local 21 continued to set the prevailing wages, hours and working conditions and maintain its contracts.
    "Depression...lies like a pall over the trade," Local 21's Executive Committee reported to the general membership in June 1931. Unemployment hit the union hard, and a loan program was established to aid needy printers. In 1934, the five day work week was established. Historian David Selvin credits employer fear that printers would join in that summer's general strike as a major factor in its acceptance. Wage cuts made in the early 1930s were restored in the 1936 commercial contracts.
    In the post-war years, Local 21 faced the challenges all unions endured under the Taft-Hartley Act and offered vigorous resistance against it, as did the entire ITU. The 1950s began an era of expansion in contract bargaining as Local 21 negotiated broader health and life insurance benefits. It also initiated a move to expand its membership and in 1956, San Mateo Local 624 merged into Local 21. Over the next 25 years, all locals from San Jose to Santa Rosa followed suit and the Bay Area Typographical Union #21 became a reality. Local 729 in San Rafael, Local 389 in Vallejo, and Local 577 in Santa Rosa followed San Mateo's example in 1956; they were joined by Local 521 in Palo Alto and 231 in San Jose in 1972, Oakland Local 36 in 1973, Mount Diablo Local 597 in 1987, and Local 600 of Petaluma in 1981. The Richmond Local merged with BATU in 1985.
    The sixties and seventies were characterized by major strikes and Local 21's printers walked picket lines repeatedly to protect working conditions, wages, benefits and the very right to have a union. While the 1963-64 strike against San Francisco commercial presses and a fifty-two day newspaper walk-out ended well for the Local, it was decertified following a seventeen-month strike against the San Rafael Independent Journal in 1971.
    The Local celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary in 1972 and hosted the 125th Convention of its international in 1983.
    Currently headquartered in San Francisco with a South Bay office in San Jose, Local 21 had a membership of 1242 active members and 1082 retirees as of April 1986. Membership in the union is contingent upon completing an apprenticeship program sponsored by the union and the employer, and attaining the status of journeyman. As of November 1985, Local 21 had nineteen apprentices enrolled. Union members are organized into subunits called chapels, each of which represents a workplace. Each chapel elects a chair (known in other unions as a shop steward) and is the unit responsible for policing and enforcing the contract at a particular shop.

    Scope and Content

    The Bay Area Typographical Union (BATU) collection contains the organizational records and materials donated by the BATU in January, 1985.
    Types of materials include organization histories, historical documents and memorabilia, administrative records, files on contracts and negotiations, International Typographical Union material, membership documentation, apprenticeship and journeyman records, financial ledgers and records, samples of printing art and technology, printed materials, commemoratives and medals, and photographs.
    The earliest piece in the collection is an 1842 British union card of a San Francisco Typographical Union member who immigrated from Liverpool, England. In contrast, the most recent piece is a blank union card that would have been issued to a member in 1985. The bulk of the material spans the years from 1906-1980. Many records prior to April 1906 were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of that year, and the San Francisco Typographical Union was relocated shortly thereafter. The BATU office has retained most files from 1980 onward.
    The BATU collection is divided into twelve series. Within each series, material is separated by union local and, within each local, material is usually arranged chronologically. In the Box List, individual folders are located by a set of four numbers indicating collection number, series group, box and folder. Therefore, 01/I/01/04 indicates Collection 1: Bay Area Typographical Union; Series I: History; Box 01, Folder 04: Northern California Typographical Conference minutes. There are two oversize boxes containing materials from several different series. Folder titles are followed by dates, which indicate when the material was produced.
    The twelve Record Series in the BATU Collection are:
    • I. Minutes
    • II. History
    • III. Administrative Files
    • IV. Contracts and Negotiations
    • V. International Typographical Union
    • VI. Membership
    • VII. Apprenticeship
    • VIII. Financial Records
    • IX. Technology and Art
    • X. Printed Material
    • XI. Commemoratives and Medals
    • XII. Photographs
    San Francisco Typographical Union Local 21's records constitute the bulk of material in this collection. The files of Oakland Local 36, Palo Alto Local 521 and San Jose Local 231 also make up significant portions of the collection.
    The largest series is Membership, all from Local 21, including membership cards, 1906-1960; mortuary benefits records, 1909-1980; documentation of Local 21 members' admission to the Union Printers' Home in Colorado Springs, CO; lists of pension recipients; membership applications of Copier Holder's Auxiliary Membership Association, 1941; death certificates; membership rosters, 1909-1919; membership transition records, 1888 and 1912-1968; and traveling card deposits, 1908-1912.
    The History Series Group contains many single items collected by Morris Goldman, BATU's First Vice President. Most of these items date from the 1880s and include notices for social events, working and traveling cards, articles on the union and on individual members, election notices, lists of officers, and union pamphlets. All material in this series is from SF Local 21.
    While some series groups are quite complete, there are few records from the president's files and the BATU merger process. Also, the Administrative Series and the Financial Series are incomplete.

    Related Collections

    • Archival Repositories with ITU material include: The Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley, ITU #21, Minutes, 1849-1853 1 Vol.
    • Knight, Robert E.L. Industrial Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1900-1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960.
    • Interview with Leon Olsen, President of BATU #21 and Ed Nielsen, Secretary-Treasurer of BATU #21
    • Selvin, David. A Century of Democratic Unionism:San Francisco Typographical Union Centennial. San Francisco, San Francisco Typographical Union, 1972.
    • Selvin, David. "History of the San Francisco Typographical Union". Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1933.Selvin, David. Sky Full of Storm. Berkeley: Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, 1966; San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1975.