Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

The Danbury Hatters Case

Danbury Hat Factory postcard The "Hat City" of Danbury made news in 1902 when hat manufacturer, Dietrich Loewe, refused to recognize the hatters' union.

"This years-long controversy began in 1901, when members of hatters union, with support from the American Federation of Labor, attempted to unionize the factory of D. E. Loewe & Company, a hat maker in Danbury. Loewe resisted, and the union members instituted a boycott against both Loewe and those who patronized the company (a "secondary boycott"). Word of the boycott spread through the country in trade journals, unfair lists, and notices posted by labor organizations. The boycott caused a great deal of financial damage to Loewe."

Loewe reacted by bringing a lawsuit against the American Federation of Labor, the officers of the local hatters' union in Danbury, and 250 Danbury and Norwalk residents who were members of the hatters' organizations. Loewe claimed that they all violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by combining to restrain interstate commerce. The federal trial court dismissed the suit holding that the union was not a combination under the antitrust law and that the boycott was not a conspiracy in restraint of interstate commerce. The United States Supreme Court, however, ruled in a 9 to 0 decision in Loewe v. Lawlor, 208 U.S. 274 (1908), that the act covered union activities and that a boycott conducted across state lines was a conspiracy in restraint of interstate commerce. The ruling deprived workers of an important organizing tool, and led the AFL to lobby for reform.

Loewe settled for $234,000 and this ruling ordered the individual union members to become liable for this debt. The union members were in jeopardy of losing their homes so the workers' union organized a "Hatters' Day" asking for an hour's pay from the members to help pay the fines.

The Danbury Hatters' case demonstrated the development of labor law in the United States. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 and the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 eventually protected unions from antitrust laws.

Sources of Information:
National Archives Identifier: 278246 Full Citation: Verdict for the plaintiffs in the case Loewe v. Lawlor External Link, [Online Version] February 16, 2021; 2/4/1910; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21.

See: Loewe v. Lawlor, 208 U.S. 274 (1908), 235 U.S. 522 (1915)

The Danbury Hatters ConnecticutHistory.org

The National Hat Factory, Danbury, Connecticut WCSU Archives

Daniel R. Ernst Lawyers against Labor: From Individual Rights to Corporate Liberalism. (1992)

Colonel N. G. Osborn, Men of Mark in Connecticut: Ideals of American Life Told in Biographies of Eminent Living Americans. W.R. Goodspeed, (1910)

Doses of Connecticut Legal History