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Anthracite Strike


ANTHRACITE STRIKE. The anthracite coal strike of 1902 involved over 147,000 of the ethnically diverse miners of eastern Pennsylvania. Their goals were to gain operator recognition of the United Mine Workers (UMW), increased wages, and improved working conditions. When the mine operators rejected miners' demands, UMW president John Mitchell called the strike on 12 May 1902, and within several weeks the miners—including both established miners and newcomers from southern and eastern Europe—were joined by many engineers, firemen, and pumpmen in labor's greatest walkout to that time. By the fall of 1902, urban dwellers were in a near panic over what they feared was an imminent coal famine. This perception, along with clashes between strikers, nonstrikers, and management's private forces, resulted in the first federal intervention into a labor dispute that was not completely in support of management.

In October 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt invited representatives of both sides to meet with him in Washington, D.C., and asked them to compromise in the public interest. When the coal operators demurred, Roosevelt threatened federal seizure of the mines and sent his representative, Secretary of War Elihu Root, to negotiate with J. P. Morgan, whose firm had major interests in the railroads that owned the mines. Morgan and Root outlined the basis for arbitration while aboard Morgan's yacht, The Corsair. The Corsair Agreement was announced on 14 October 1902, with the coal operators forced to accept UMW head John Mitchell as the miners' representative on the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission. Ultimately, for the miners, the agreement was a defeat in one major respect: the document's preamble refused the UMW's primary objective: union recognition.

The results for miners and operators were mixed. An important union victory was the permanent establishment of the UMW in the anthracite coalfields, along with a nine-hour day, a 10 percent pay increase, and a structure for discussion and arbitration. But the anthracite commission had compromised on hours and wages, forced no changes in work rules, and decided that union recognition was beyond its jurisdiction. The labor-management boards that the commission established approximated collective bargaining, but in reality the power rested with federal judges. It was thirteen years more before the unions received actual recognition. Also, against the UMW's wishes, the commission recommended separate unions in bituminous and anthracite coal and condemned the union shop. The anthracite strike is noteworthy for making government the third party in labor disputes and earning Theodore Roosevelt recognition as the first president of the modern era not inextricably tied to business interests in labor-management matters.


Cornell, Robert J. The Anthracite Strike of 1902. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1957.

Harbaugh, William Henry. Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Octagon Books, 1975.

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Perlman, Seig, and Phillip Taft. History of Labor in the United States, 1896–1932. Vol. 4, Labor Movements. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

Wiebe, Robert H. "The Anthracite Strike of 1902: A Record of Confusion." Mississippi Valley Historical Review: A Journal of American History 48 (1961): 229–251.

Williams, John Alexander. Appalachia: A History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Martha AvaleenEgan

See alsoCoal Mining and Organized Labor ; Strikes ; Trade Unions ; United Mine Workers of America .

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