Preserving and Sharing Iowa's Labor History

For nearly five decades, the Labor Center has coordinated the Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP), an innovative statewide initiative to document Iowa’s rich labor and working class history through the collection and preservation of oral histories and other historical materials. Launched in the 1970s by the Iowa Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), the project has also been sustained and expanded with support from the Labor Center, the State Historical Society of Iowa, the UI Libraries, and the Iowa Labor History Society. ILHOP is widely recognized as a model for long-standing university-community engagement and as one of the most comprehensive labor oral history collections in the world.

Search Over 1,000 Interviews

Search the UI Digital Library's ILHOP collection from your computer to find interviews from your community, union, or area of research. You can listen to digitized audio recordings or read transcripts of the interviews.

Explore Audio Clips & Podcast

Visit our SoundCloud page to explore a selection of audio clips from ILHOP interviews describing events in Iowa labor history spanning 100 years. You can also find episodes of the new "Speaking of Work" podcast.

Visit the Iowa Labor Collection

ILHOP audio recordings, transcripts, and thousands of documents, photos, and artifacts from Iowa's labor history are in the Iowa Labor Collection in the State Historical Society of Iowa Research Center in Iowa City.

Read Solidarity and Survival

The ILHOP collection has served as the basis for scores of books, essays, and dissertations, including Shelton Stromquist's Solidarity and Survival: An Oral History of Iowa Labor in the Twentieth Century.

ILHOP’s Origins And Scope

ILHOP's Origins and Scope

ILHOP was launched in the early 1970s by leaders of the Iowa Federation of Labor (IFL) whose delegates voted to fund the project. The IFL collaborated with the University of Iowa Labor Center to convene a statewide committee of historians and labor leaders who for two decades coordinated professional recording and transcription of over 1,100 oral histories, ongoing collection of related archival documents, and work with the State Historical Society of Iowa to ensure preservation of materials recovered by the project.

Original ILHOP interviews captured diverse experiences of miners who had worked in 19th-century Iowa coal mines, women who entered previously all-male industries during World War II, and labor leaders who helped establish many of Iowa’s first craft and industrial unions during the first half of the twentieth century in communities including Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque, Ottumwa, the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Waterloo.

Oral Historian John McKerley joined the Labor Center in 2013 to conduct new ILHOP interviews focused especially on preserving stories reflecting major events and struggles since the 1970s, including the origins and growth of Iowa’s public sector unions; workplace impacts of industrial, economic, and political transformations in recent decades; and experiences of women, minorities, and new immigrants in Iowa workplaces.

Interviewees represent 75 different occupational groups, ranging from barbers, machinists, rubber workers, letter carriers, and teachers, to Iowans employed by railroads, in the building and construction trades, and in key Iowa industries such as farm implement manufacturing, meatpacking, and grain processing; for example, more than 200 interviews deal directly with the packinghouse industry in various locations around the state.

The collection now stands at some 1,500 interviews and counting. Click here for a more complete history of the project.

For More Information

Contact the Labor Center ( for general ILHOP information.

Contact State Historical Society Special Collections for information on accessing physical files associated with ILHOP interviews, as well as other archival and manuscript materials in the Iowa Labor Collection: 319-335-3926.

Visit the ILHOP website.

Visit the Iowa Labor History Society website.

Order Solidarity and Survival from the University of Iowa Press or contact the Labor Center for information on ordering discounted copies of the book for your members: 319-335-4144.

Recent Projects

  • Documenting the history of UAW Local 450 in Ankeny, including the recent strike at John Deere that inspired workers around the world. with support from a Community Betterment grant from Prairie Meadows. The project will form the basis for a new website, podcast, and labor education curriculum.
  • Working with a research team in the UI's Department of Neurology to support new methods to study cognitive function and speech patterns.
  • Collaborating, under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, with the Center for Worker Justice to document base building strategies
  • Expanding and improving ILHOP's  digital accessibility with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Working with SEIU International to document an historic contract campaign conducted by SEIU 1199NE’s long-term-care members in Connecticut.
  • Working with the Iowa Labor History Society and the Des Moines Public Library to develop a new version of the traveling exhibit, Speaking of Work, which highlights stories and images from the collection.