Welcome to the Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP), one of the largest and longest-running, labor-focused oral history projects in the US.

From its beginnings as a project of the Iowa labor movement to its current form as a dynamic university-community collaboration, ILHOP has documented over a century of Iowa and Midwestern history through the lens of workers and their unions in dozens of industries from meatpacking and farm equipment manufacturing to mining, construction, transportation, retail, service, and the public sector.

With some 1,500 interviews and counting, ILHOP records the extraordinary stories of generations of everyday Iowans across lines of race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, language, birthplace, and nationality. In so doing, it reveals the ways in which the story of Iowa workers reflects, deepens, and, at times, challenges our understanding of a range of histories stretching far beyond a single state or region.

Join us in making ILHOP a hub for students, teachers, librarians, artists, union members, and historians from Iowa and beyond. To get started, you can either follow the links below, or use the “hamburger” menu icon in the top righthand corner of your screen.

Quick Start Guide and FAQs

I’m a union member who wants to research the history of my local union. Where should I start?: You have a few options. If you want to jump right in to reading transcripts and listening to audio recordings, then start with the Iowa Digital Library (IDL). You can type in familiar search terms (for example, UAW Local 450) and get usable results. But be warned: IDL is a quick access tool, not a gateway to the entire collection. It will get you started, but it will take some practice to use effectively.

For example, a search for UAW Local 450 will produce over 750 results, including all interviews tagged with one or more of the terms UAW, Local, or 450. So, your search for UAW Local 450 in Des Moines will also include interviews regarding the American Federation of Musicians Local 450 in Iowa City; Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union Local 17; and hundreds more. If you want to get only those interviews in IDL regarding UAW Local 450 in Des Moines, you’ll need to search for International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. Local 450.

NOTE: IDL won’t let you search for all the farm equipment workers in the collection (for that, you’ll need to use the Finding Aid). It also won’t tell you how to find what transcript pages include information about Local 450. For that, you’ll need to consult the Master Transcript Index.

I’m a student or teacher looking for material for a class. Where should I start?: IDL is also probably the best place to start, but, again, be warned: information in ILHOP has been described in different ways over time and in different places. For example, if you search for “Great Depression” in IDL (with the quotation marks) you won’t get any results, even though the collection contains hundreds of interviews on the subject. For interviews in IDL regarding the Great Depression of the 1930s, you’ll need to search for Depressions. But, if you want to know where to find detailed information regarding the Great Depression in individual transcripts, you’ll want to look under “Depression (1930)” in the Master Transcript Index. There you’ll find a variety of subentries that you won’t find in IDL, including information on bank closings, descriptions of individual Iowa counties, cities, and towns during the Great Depression, and the depression’s impact on particular industries.

Also be sure to check out the photographs throughout this site. We’ve placed links to audio and transcripts related to each photo in the photo captions (usually located at the bottom of each page), with each photo, caption, and associated audio and transcript providing a quick and focused entry point for teaching or research.

I’m a professional researcher interested in how the collection changed over time. I’d like to browse all interviews by name of interviewee, date, and/or type of work by industry: For this level of research, you’ll want to turn to the Finding Aid, which lists all interviews chronologically by name of interviewee and identifiers associated with an interviewee’s work by industry (for example, “Farm Equipment Worker”). NOTE: The Finding Aid includes a search function, but it produces searches for the information in the Finding Aid only. It does not search IDL. So, for example, a search in the Finding Aid for UAW Local 450 will not return any results because interviewees are not identified in the Finding Aid by their unions or locals. Someone interested in Local 450 could search for “Farm Equipment” workers, but the search would return results for all workers in that industry across the state. In short, the Finding Aid is not the right tool for that job.

I think one of my family members might have been interviewed. Where do I start? The Finding Aid. It lists interviewees chronologically by the date on which an interview session took place. NOTE: The Finding Aid is subject to continual updates. If you don’t find an interviewee, please contact us.

Help! I can’t find what I’m looking for: As you will see, this website provides you with a variety of tools for searching the collection in different and often overlapping ways. But not all tools are the same or useful for all purposes. If you want to make the most out of the ILHOP collection, you’ll need to spend some time reading the detailed information on this site and exploring different search terms. Likewise, ILHOP is a living collection, and, as such, this website is subject to periodic updates that might impact functionality and access. If you have problems or questions, please contact us. Thank you for your visit, and please be sure to provide us with feedback regarding how we can better serve your needs.

This website has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Photo caption: Iowa and Illinois members of United Farm Equipment and United Electrical Workers of America (FE-UE) Local 109 celebrate their successful representation election at the International Harvester plant in Moline in April 1953. ILHOP interviewee Don Harris seated, bottom right. Source: State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.