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Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902

Theodore Roosevelt

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902: Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th American President who served in office from September 14, 1901 to March 4, 1909. One of the important events during his presidency was the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902.

Definition and Summary of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902
Summary and definition:
The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 was one of America's largest industrial strikes and threatened a national coal shortage. The unions were willing to negotiate but the coal miners refused to participate in the conciliation process until President Roosevelt intervened.

The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 resulted in a victory for the hard-coal miners with a 10% increase in wages and an hours reduction in their working day. 

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 for kids: What is Anthracite Coal?
What is Anthracite Coal? Anthracite Coal is a natural, hard, shiny coal that burns slowly and gives intense heat. Anthracite coal has fewer impurities so it burns cleaner than soft coal, with almost no smoke, which made it particularly well-suited for heating. Anthracite coal was the most popular fuel for heating in the northern United States from the 1800s until the 1950s. The largest deposits of anthracite coal were in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 for kids: Big Business and the Corporations
Coal production in the United States was dominated by Big Business and Corporations headed by ruthless industrialist referred to as the Robber Barons. The powerful Corporations built company towns to house the miners and believed that the labor of the miners was a commodity and that gave them the right to set wages, to hire and fire at will, dictate working hours and establish working conditions. All economic and political control was in the hands of the massive corporations.

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 for kids: The Miners
The miners strongly opposed the view that they were just a 'commodity'. The miners believed that they deserved the right to have a say in their working conditions, health and safety issues, their working hours and their rates of pay. Miners had seen a constant reduction in wages over several years but their rents had stayed the same. The mine owners also charged high prices at the company stores that were deducted from the miner's wages.

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 for kids: Socialism
Many of the miners advocated socialism which is based on the idea that the federal government should own and operate industry for the nation as a whole. Socialists wanted the government to buy up the large corporations and companies, especially those that operated in essential industries that affected everyone, such as services like the railroads and utilities like coal.

Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902: Background History - the Mollie Maguires and the US Labor Unions
Miners had long protested about their dangerous working conditions. The 'Long Strike of 1875' was instigated by the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania. The strike failed and 20 members of the Molly Maguires were unjustly hanged for murder. Memories of the unjust treatment of the Molly Maguires were burned into the memory of Pennsylvania, as were the 1896 Twin Shaft Disaster and the 1897 Lattimer Massacre. The mid to late 1800's saw the emergence of the US Labor Unions who fought for the rights of workers. The 1897 strike by the Soft-coal (bituminous coal) miners in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania, resulted in wage increases and the significant growth in Union membership.

Causes of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 for kids
The Causes of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 were:

  • The Mine owners were making massive profits but refused to address the grievances of the miners

  • The hazards and dangers of working in the mines resulted in the miners striking for more money, shorter hours and improved working conditions.

  • The hazards and dangers included roof falls, explosions, mine fires and underground flooding. Another serious safety hazard risks were the "marsh gas" given off by coal which led to massive explosions. Coal dust was breathed into the miner's lungs which often led to a chronic respiratory disease

  • Child Labor: Young boys called "breaker boys", from 9 to 14 years old, processed raw coal by breaking it into various sizes for different types of furnaces

  • The increasing support and success of the Labor Unions.

The Result of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902
The Anthracite Coal Strike Commission was in charge of the arbitration process. The results were:

  • The miners asked for a 20% wage increase, and most were given a 10% increase

  • The miners who worked 10 hours a day had asked for an eight-hour day, they were given a nine-hour day

  • While the mine owners refused to recognize the UMF, but were required to agree to a six-man arbitration board, consisting of equal numbers of labor and management representatives, with the power to settle labor disputes

The Significance of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902
The significance of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 were:

  • The Anthracite Coal Strike Commission estimated that during the Anthracite strike the coal and railroad companies lost about $74 million dollars and the miners lost about $25 million dollars in wages

  • Following the strikers victory, the United Mine Workers became the largest and most powerful labor union in the United States

  • The National Child Labor Committee was established in 1904 with the goal of abolishing all child labor and led to the passage of the Keating-Owen Act in 1916

  • President Roosevelt intervention led to the establishment of the federal government as a mediator between powerful groups in society

For additional facts refer to the Progressive Movement and the article detailing Progressive Reforms at city, state and federal levels.

Great Anthracite Coal Strike for kids
Interesting facts about the Great Anthracite Coal Strike are detailed below.

Statistics: In 1901 the output of anthracite coal totaled over 60 million long tons and generated 15% of America's energy

Statistics: The value at the mines was estimated at $112 million dollars.

Statistics: Between 1870-1901, the number of miners killed in the anthracite industry was 10,318

Statistics: Between 1870-1901 the number of miners injured totaled over 30,000

Statistics: In 1900, there were 143,824 miners working in the anthracite region

The Unions: The United Mine Workers union (UMF) was founded on January 22, 1890 merging the Knights of Labor and the National Progressive Miners Union. The UMF was more open to compromise and arbitration with businessmen.

The Unions: The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was a more radical labor union that was founded in 1893. The WFM had strong ties to socialism and was far more radical than the UMF.

On June 28, 1896 The Twin Shaft Disaster occurred in Twin Shaft Colliery in Pittston, Pennsylvania. A massive cave-in killed 58 miners.

On September 10, 1897 the Lattimer Massacre saw the violent deaths of 19 unarmed striking immigrant anthracite coal miners at the Lattimer mine near Hazleton, Pennsylvania. 10,000 new members immediately joined the UMF

The members of the UMF and the WFM united in their common cause and on May 12, 1902, 95% of the Pennsylvania miners went on strike demanding higher wages, a shorter working day, improved working conditions and the recognition of their union.

John Mitchell was the Union organizer. Under Mitchell's leadership, the ranks of the union swelled from 34,000 to 300,000 members

On June 2 1902 the maintenance workers, consisting of firemen, pumpmen and engineers, joined the minerís strike.

On Friday, October 3, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened, worried that if the strike continued for too long, the nation would face a coal shortage that could close down the factories and leave homes cold in the approaching winter

President Roosevelt said he feared "untold misery...with the certainty of riots which might develop into social war."

The strike lost some of its impact when John Mitchell agreed to negotiate

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones fought for unity among the strikers, opposing John Mitchell.

The coal mine owners, led by George Baer, were determined to break the strike and rejected all union offers to conciliate on the grounds that there was nothing to talk about.

Although he had no legal right to intervene, President Roosevelt sent telegrams to mine owners and the union summoning them to Washington to discuss the problem. President Roosevelt urged the union and the owners to accept arbitration

President Roosevelt, and most of the public, were furious at the mine owners stubbornness in their refusal to negotiate. A precedent for arbitration and conciliation had been set by 1898 Erdman Act , although only to settle railway disputes. President Roosevelt believed arbitration was the way forward.

President Roosevelt threatened to order the US army to run the mines and, under this threat, the mine owners finally accepted arbitration

The anthracite coal strike ended, after 163 days, on October 23, 1902

John Mitchell considered the outcome a victory for the miners and the nation was spared a disastrous coal shortage

US American History
1881-1913: Maturation Era

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