Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in Pennsylvania Coal Country (Culture, Labor, History)

Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in Pennsylvania Coal Country (Culture, Labor, History)

Language: English

Pages: 288


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

If the railroads won the Gilded Age, the coal industry lost it. Railroads epitomized modern management, high technology, and vast economies of scale. By comparison, the coal industry was embarrassingly primitive. Miners and operators dug coal, bought it, and sold it in 1900 in the same ways that they had for generations. In the popular imagination, coal miners epitomized anti-modern forces as the so-called “Molly Maguire” terrorists.    
Yet the sleekly modern railroads were utterly dependent upon the disorderly coal industry. Railroad managers demanded that coal operators and miners accept the purely subordinate role implied by their status. They refused.   
Fueling the Gilded Age shows how disorder in the coal industry disrupted the strategic plans of the railroads. It does so by expertly intertwining the history of two industriesrailroads and coal miningthat historians have generally examined from separate vantage points. It shows the surprising connections between railroad management and miner organizing; railroad freight rate structure and coal mine operations; railroad strategy and strictly local legal precedents. It combines social, economic, and institutional approaches to explain the Gilded Age from the perspective of the relative losers of history rather than the winners. It beckons readers to examine the still-unresolved nature of America’s national conundrum: how to reconcile the competing demands of national corporations, local businesses, and employees.   

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convention in Washington, D.C.13 * * * Nevertheless, the case of John Malee, an early labor leader in the area, shows how membership in one of the major parties helped support the coal miners. In spring 1869, John Malee had led the first major strike of coal miners in Central Pennsylvania and later that summer was convicted for the crime of criminal conspiracy. While in jail, Malee decided to move permanently from Ireland to America and Central Pennsylvania. He made his application for

the faintest ray of promise for coal miners prior to the informal settlement of the 1886 strike that generally permitted checkweighmen at Central Pennsylvania coal mines. Operators still had the upper hand under the law in choosing whether they would allow a checkweighman on the tipple. Yet the decision focused on issues that coal miners could address. Unlike Judge Kirkpatrick of Allegheny County, Judge Krebs of Clearfield built his ruling around the actions of the coal miners, not those of the

freely admitted that at first glance the new organization seemed to be little worth the attention of men in mines that were already members of checkweighman associations. Especially if it cost additional money, he thought, men would probably wish to think twice before joining. Kinsloe suggested, however, that the UMWA might well be worth the attention even of the parts of Central Pennsylvania already joined together in checkweighman associations because as a larger organization it might do some

principle” to meet with any KOL committee. The Knights, after all, were something of a revolutionary organization. Nevertheless, Superintendent S. B. Elliott consented to meet with a non-KOL miners’ committee, even though it just happened to include William B. Wilson and Robert Watchorn (both of whom were publicly known to be Knights), and agreed to ask company headquarters for a point-by-point reply to the miners’ demands. The reply came in the form of notices posted without warning that refused

weeks, Kinsloe interviewed coal operators as well as railroad men and coal miners. The coal miners of these thirty-two operators were pawns in a larger battle, he reported. The larger battle was that between the receivers of the now-bankrupt Norfolk & Western Railroad Company and the thirty-two so-called “independent” coal operators along its lines. The problem of railroad power was more pronounced in West Virginia than in the Midwest or Central Pennsylvania. In West Virginia the railroad owned

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