The early 20th century witnessed the continuation of the struggle to unionize America’s workers that had begun in the late 19th century. In cities across the nation, workers sought to organize themselves to more effectively make demands of management regarding issues such as wages, working hours, and factory conditions. At the same time, employers were continually seeking ways to maximize profits by cutting the cost of production and increasing efficiency; they were, therefore, often unwilling to meet employee demands.
Approximately two million American workers had joined unions by the first years of the twentieth century. In Waterloo, Iowa, however, workers were relatively slow to organize. In the early 1900s the city did not yet have the broad industrial base which facilitated unionization in larger urban areas. No one then could have predicted that within 20 years Waterloo would be the scene of a major confrontation between labor and management which raised fears of violence and outside agitation.