Ribbon Announced Union Membership

By Robert Mullen

At the beginning of the twentieth century unionized workers proudly displayed their membership by wearing colorful ribbons to Labor Day parades and union activities. This ribbon, from the La Crosse Typographical Union No. 448, is a classic example of the elegant ribbons worn a hundred years ago.

The La Crosse Typographical Union No. 448 was organized in 1901 under the auspices of the International Typographical Union (ITU). It consisted of printers who worked for newspapers and job printing shops. At the time there were four daily and twelve weekly newspapers being published in the city as well as eleven shops that did job printing for other businesses and organizations. The union’s aim was to ensure that the wage and working standards established by the union were met by the employers of printers. These shops were allowed to imprint the union label on their work and often received the business of other unionized industries.

The ribbon features vertical red, white and blue stripes with “La Crosse Typographical Union No. 448” imprinted in silver ink. A brass and celluloid pin holder imprinted with “printers” is attached at the top and a brass shield holding the enameled ITU emblem hangs below it. A metallic gold fringe finishes the bottom of the ribbon.

Reversing the ribbon reveals a second black ribbon on the back of the pin. That side was worn when attending the funeral of another union member. This century-old ribbon is in perfect condition and appears to have never been used. It was donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society by the family of the late Irwin Talg, the last president of the local printers’ union. Mr. Talg worked for many years as a linotype operator at the La Crosse Tribune.

By 1980, technologies in typesetting and printing had changed dramatically, and most of the work in publishing a newspaper was being done from the keyboard of a computer. The union had too few members to continue, so they asked for their charter to be revoked by the national union. 

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.