The name dates back to 1903, when most deliveries were made by horse-drawn wagons. The driver was referred to as a "teamster," because he was the one who managed the team that was pulling the load.
Before they unionized, the average teamster in the late 1800s often worked 18-hour days and was expected to not only haul cargo, but load and unload it—and be financially responsible for it—from shipping point to delivery point. All that for an average salary of $2 per day. Unions are sometimes looked upon with some derision today, but when the Teamsters first organized, it was to prevent worker exploitation and provide a more humane and safe environment (along with a livable wage) for the humble laborer.
Today the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has approximately 1.4 million members, professional and non-professional, in both the public and private sector representing all forms of transportation workers from UPS and FedEx drivers and package handlers to locomotive engineers and trainmen. As of 2009 they also represent railroad maintenance workers and the Graphics Communications Locals, which consists of employees in various craft and skill areas in the printing and publishing industry.
When the Teamsters are mentioned, the name Jimmy Hoffa immediately comes to mind. Hoffa was president of that union from 1958 until 1971, the last four years of which he administered while behind bars after being convicted of attempted bribery and jury tampering.
Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, in 1975. The Red Fox closed in 1996, but in all the intervening years, waitstaff reported that not a week went by without at least one customer asking which booth Jimmy Hoffa had sat in that fateful July afternoon.