1907: A Watershed Year


Tobin was elected General President of the Teamsters International at the 1907 convention by a margin of just 12 votes out of some 200 delegates. He was 35 years old when he assumed the reins and earned a salary of $1,800 per year. He promised his wife that he would only take the job for a year, hoping that he could achieve union unity in that time.

Following the convention, Tobin set out for Indianapolis, where the IBT was headquartered at the time. Unable to afford to move his family from Boston to Indianapolis, he would have to leave his wife and young children behind in in Cambridge while he set about the International’s business.

Tobin’s vision for the future of the union and his goals for improving the lives of members helped push the Teamsters to the forefront on every major issue in the 20th century and made the union a leader in the labor movement.

While his was not an overwhelming victory in that first election, it would prove to be a significant step toward healing the floundering organization. The union that Tobin took over had very serious issues, which would lay heavy on his shoulders. Some eight years later in a letter to American Federation of Labor (AFL) President Samuel Gompers, Tobin would describe the situation he faced as the new Teamster head: “When I was first elected President of our International, in August, 1907, defeating Mr. Shea, it did not look like a very encouraging or enjoyable position. I came into office with our organization broken to pieces: discontent, distrust and corruption prevailing everywhere; the International owing about $10,000 for printing and other legitimate work which was necessary to have done; our membership less than 28,000; secession existing everywhere; no law or order recognized; two legitimate strikes, which were approved by the International Executive Board, were on, but no money with which to pay strike benefits – that is what I fell heir too.”

In the years ahead, however, Tobin would resurrect the fledgling Teamsters Union, organizing workers and growing the membership into the strongest union in the labor movement.