On Strike

Sections in this Chapter:

1.     1900 and 1902 Coal Strikes

2.     Images from Anthracite Coal Communities

3.      Mine Disasters


Section 1. 1900 and 1902 Coal Strikes

This strike would have been an all-consuming topic of conversation for our ancestors and for everyone in the coal fields. Indeed, our ancestor’s children were the Breaker Boys!        

A. Chronology of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902

1890 formation of the United Mine Workers of America

1894 unsuccessful UMW-led strike in the bituminous coal fields

1897 successful UMW-led coal strike in the bituminous coal fields.  The 1897 bituminous coal strike had several results: 1The strike resulted in an "interstate joint conference" in which the bituminous operators and the miners cooperated to stabilize labor costs, and to improve wages and working conditions.2The strike greatly enhanced the UMW. It grew from less than 10,000 members before the strike to become the nation's largest trade union, with over 100,000 members.3The bituminous coal operators in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois recognized the UMW as the representative of the miners and their bargaining agent.

 1898 John Mitchell, a bituminous miner from Illinois, elected president of the UMW1900Mitchell tried to bargain with the anthracite coal operators of northeastern Pennsylvania for a similar settlement that would recognize the union and improve wages, hours, and working conditions for the anthracite miners

1900 The anthracite coal operators refused to negotiate, and on September 17 Mitchell called a strike of the anthracite miners. Those miners responded almost to a man. The strike was settled when representatives of Mark Hanna, the Chairman of the Republican Party and a bituminous operator from Ohio, urged representatives of J.P. Morgan, whose bank was reorganizing the railroads that owned most of the anthracite coal mines, to settle; and representatives of President William McKinley urged the anthracite operators themselves to settle. Neither Morgan, the operators, Hanna, nor McKinley wanted the strike to interfere with McKinley's reelection. The anthracite operators viewed the events as a defeat, and one that was dictated to them them hemby political motivations. The result was a settlement that granted the anthracite miners a wage increase of about ten per cent, but which did not recognize the UMW as their representative.

 1902  June 2 Anthracite coal strike officially began.   July Newspapers began to report incidents of violence in the mining region.  July 30 A store owner was beaten to death by a mob while a deputy sheriff was escorting two miners who refused to join the strike. The Pennsylvania Governor began to call out militia to guarantee order. August 21-30 Press commentary on letter by George F. Baer.  October Growing fear of a "coal famine" as winter approached October 3 Roosevelt invited UMW leaders and operators to a White House conference.  October 6 Entire Pennsylvania militia ordered to duty; eventually 8,750 men served in the anthracite fields.  October 8Miners at mass meetings voted unanimously to continue the strike, belying the operators' assertions that, if given police protection, the majority of miners would go back to work.  October 12 J.P. Morgan pressed George Baer to agree to arbitration of the strike.  October 13 Roosevelt discussed with General John M. Schofield having he U.S. Army seize the coal mines and operate them until such time as the owners agreed to arbitration.  October 14J.P. Morgan met with Roosevelt regarding arbitration.  October 16 Roosevelt announced the appointment of a commission to arbitrate the dispute.  October 23 Miners returned to work.  October 24 Arbitration commission met with Roosevelt.


B. Strike of 1900 On Strike!  By Earl W. Mayo This article was scanned from Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, November, 1900.

To the thoughtful observer the armies of peaceful toil are more impressive than the panoplied hosts of war. Such an army, a hundred and fifty thousand strong and mighty in deeds of labor, springs into view every afternoon when the sun is slanting across the rugged Pennsylvania hills. Black with the soil of a hundred cycles past, they emerge from the thousand yawning pit-mouths that scar a thousand mountain sides, rising out of the very earth like the growth of the dragon's teeth that Jason sowed. With soot-grimed hands and faces they seem part and parcel of the soot-grimed landscape. Broad-backed Slavs and Lithuanians are there; burly Welsh and Cornishmen, nimble Irish, sturdy Poles, lithe Italians and stolid Huns: strangers in tongue and manners, but bowed with the same weight of heavy toil, blackened by the sooty touch of a common occupation, united in the performance of the same body-crushing labor.These are the fuel-finders of the world, the motive power behind the dashing express locomotive, the warming power in our cozy winter hearths, the driving power of the whirring mills that turn out the silken fabric of my lady's gown and the coarse weave of the workman's blouse.

It is an instructive lesson to stand upon some vantage point of the carbon hills of an afternoon and watch this army moving homeward with heavy-footed tread from its daily battle for the reluctant treasure of old Mother Earth. At four o'clock the scene is deserted and desolate, save for the spurts of steam that rise from the gaunt, specter-like breakers scattered here and there about the hills, or the friendly smoke of the little houses clustering under their black shadows.At five o'clock the scene is alive with men moving silently in little groups of two or three toward these same houses. It gives one a better understanding of what each blazing fuel lump means in the muscle and sweat of human toilers to watch the progress of a single regiment in this vast army of mine workers—the army that laid down its weapons of attack on the seventeenth of September last and instituted the greatest strike, in point of numbers at least, that the country has ever seen. It gives one a better understanding of the extent of the anthracite coal industry in the Pennsylvania fields—the most extensive deposits of their kind that are being worked anywhere in the world—and it enables one to judge more clearly of the great difference in the daily sum total of the world's work that has been caused by the action of these miners.

Comprehension of the subject is scarcely helped by the statement that the amount of coal taken out of these hills during the year 1899 was more than 54,000,000 tons. A better grasp of the immensity of the industry may be gained perhaps by computing that the 4,500 fifty-ton cars of coal mined during each working day would form a solid train more than thirty miles in length. A million dollars for every five days of idleness is the price paid by the miners in wages for laying down their tools.

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