Capitalism and Labor


Theodore Roosevelt became president at a time of great economic inequality in the United States. He conceded that big business was a natural part of twentieth-century America, but believed workers should be given a “square deal.” Roosevelt had a spirited relationship with business owners, laborers, financiers, and reform legislation of the era.

Article List

Anthracite Coal Strike

The Anthracite Coal Strike, which took place from May to October 1902, began after mine operators refused to meet with representatives of the United Mine Workers of America.

Billings, Frederick

Frederick Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, was a driving influence to that railroad's expansion across North Dakota.

Elkins Act

The Elkins Act of 1903 was named for Senator Stephen B. Elkins of West Virginia. This piece of legislation was championed by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a way to end the practice of rebates.

Gompers, Samuel

Samuel Gompers was a labor leader who was elected president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) at its creation in 1886.

Harriman, Edward H.

Edward H. Harriman was a railroad financier whose Northern Securities Company tangled with President Theodore Roosevelt and lost.

Hepburn Act

The Hepburn Act of 1906 was a bill that fortified the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and strengthened federal regulation of railroads.

Hill, James Jerome

James Jerome Hill is best known as the “Empire Builder” who masterminded construction of the Great Northern Railroad and created a corporation controlling major lines in the northern tier of the United States.

Interstate Commerce Act

The Interstate Commerce Act was used by President Theodore Roosevelt to regulate America's railroads.

Kelley, Florence

Florence Kelley was an important social activist, settlement house worker, and labor reformer whose work intersected with Theodore Roosevelt’s legislative agenda.

Mitchell, John

John Mitchell was president of the United Mine Workers of America during the 1902 Anthracite Strike in Pennsylvania.

Morgan, J. P.

John Pierpont Morgan was an American banker whose investments helped stabilize the economy, build monopolies, and earn the wrath of Theodore Roosevelt.

Northern Securities Case

The Northern Securities Case reached the Supreme Court in 1904.  It was the first example of Roosevelt’s use of anti-trust legislation to dismantle a monopoly, in this case a holding company controlling the principal railroad lines from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.


Railroads played a crucial role in the Progressive Era as providers of transportation and targets of regulation. Though critical of railroad monopolies, Theodore Roosevelt respected railroad employees. 

Sherman Act

Passed after a series of large corporate mergers during the 1880s, the Sherman Act enabled government departments and private individuals to use the court system to break up any organization or contract alleged to be in restraint of trade.

The National Consumers League (1899-Present)

The National Consumers League (NCL) was founded in New York City in 1899 by two well-known Progressive Era civic activists, Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell.

Villard, Henry

Henry Villard was a railroad capitalist and instrumental in making Portland the terminal for the Northern Pacific Railroad.