Our museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.

Longshoreman's Work Shirt

Longshoreman's Work Shirt

Usage conditions apply
Herb Mills wore this shirt during his career as a member of ILWU Local 10, San Francisco. He joined the union in 1963 and retired in 1992 but is still active in union activities.
Longshoremen are the laborers who load and unload cargo ships. Since 1937, longshore work on the West Coast of the United States has been performed by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The union was formed to end favoritism, bribery, low wages, and other abuses of power that had long plagued the management of work on the waterfront. It was also established as a body to represent longshoremen during negotiations with shipping companies over contracts, work rules, and related issues.
By the 1960s, both the ILWU and the shipping companies, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), recognized that new technologies would drastically cut the number of cargo-handling jobs. With the introduction of standardized shipping containers and innovations in global communications technologies, the need for gangs of longshoremen to handle individual bags, boxes, pallets, and crates was significantly reduced. While the shipping companies were anxious to adopt containerization with its intermodal capabilities—the same container could be carried by ship, rail, and tractor trailer—the longshoremen were wary of giving any ground on the basic requirement that only members of the ILWU could handle cargo in West Coast ports.
By 1971, general unrest boiled over into a strike that lasted 130 days and affected all commercial ports along the coast. One of the key issues was a proposal from the shipping companies to employ certain longshoremen trained as container crane operators on a permanent basis. Shipping companies had invested heavily in container ships, cranes, and other shoreside facilities, and they wanted to select and train the men who would operate the costly machines, essentially employing them regularly as “steady men.” From the union’s perspective, this proposal would create elite workers within the union, effectively blocking jobs from some members. Union members believed this special treatment violated a core value of the union, which had always stood for the strict rotation of all waterfront jobs among members.
Object Name
Wool Shirt
date made
ca 1970
used date
ca 1970-2001
Associated Place
United States: California, San Francisco
Physical Description
wool (overall material)
overall, with arms folded in: 84 cm x 51 cm; 33 1/16 in x 20 1/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Herb Mills
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
America on the Move
America on The Move
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object