History of the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeships

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Ancient Toilets

The concept of the journeyman and his apprentice goes back thousands of years. In America, many men were serving apprenticeships even before our nation was founded. In fact, the father of our country, George Washington served an apprenticeship to become a land surveyor. When he wasn't leading troops into battle, this was George Washington's profession. And it was a most important skilled trade for someone seeking to lay out a whole new country.

This sort of hands-on instruction has always been the means by which an individual could train to become a journeyman within any given skilled trade. Only after successfully completing this long apprenticeship could a person call himself a journeyman. Upon becoming a journeyman, the individual was free to travel anywhere his services were needed. This is where the term journeyman came about, because the journeyman could travel and bring his unique skill-set anywhere he chose to practice. He was also now free to take on his own apprentice, thereby continuing the process of hands-on learning.

Early Steam Engine

Our other skilled trade, that of the Steamfitter came into being when the industrial revolution began to employ steam pressure to power machinery, equipment, and various forms of transportation from steamships to steam locomotives. Because of the many similar skills involved in the two skilled trades, they came to be known together as Plumbers and Steamfitters

old steam machine
Young Abe

Charlie Stewert instructs apprentice welders of the Local 157 circa 1940

The roots of the Real Journeyman™ Plumbers and Steamfitters of the Local 157 date back to September 1, 1896. That was the date of the founding of Local Union of the United Association of Journey and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA), Local 157. There were ten founding members the Local 157. They included: Fred Arleth, Johnathan O' Donnell, Frank Rinnington, Harry Coppage, George Schaeffer, Louis Jentz, Marley Boyer, Phillip Dinges, John Lusner, and J.C. Thompson. It was Thompson who also held the 157's first elected office, that of secretary.

Charlie Stewert instructs apprentice welders of the Local 157 circa 1940

Local 157 Business Manager Mark Swaner

Today's Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 157 based in Terre Haute, Indiana, has over 2,000 members working in the 24 Indiana and Illinois counties over which it has jurisdiction, with satellite field offices in Lafayette, Indiana and Danville, Illinois. Each year the 157's JATC (Joint Apprenticeship Training Center) will graduate as many as twenty-five new Real Journeyman™ Plumbers and Steamfitters as the candidates complete their fifth and final year of their apprenticeships.

Local 157 Business Manager Mark Swaner