Anthracite Coal Strike


The Anthracite Coal Strike (May-October 1902) began after mine operators refused to meet with representatives of the United Mine Workers of America. Anthracite—or hard coal—was solid and rich in carbon, ideal for industrial and domestic use. The strike began in eastern Pennsylvania, where almost all anthracite coal was mined at the time, on May 12, 1902, after the railroad companies which owned the mines refused to meet with representatives of the union. Workers’ requests for better wages, a shorter work week, and recognition of their union had also been denied. Coal prices doubled as production dropped. As the autumn began and negotiations between the owners and the miners were ineffective, President Theodore Roosevelt feared that a coal shortage would result in hardship to Americans during the winter. 

With the conflict unresolved, Henry Cabot Lodge, a senior Republican and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, warned the president of the potentially disastrous consequences for the party if the anthracite strike dragged into November, when elections were to be held. Heeding Lodge's advice, Roosevelt worked behind the scenes to gather information and propose ways to settle the strike. In Washington on October 3, 1902, he met with presidents of the mine-owning railroads and union leaders. At that meeting the union president, John Mitchell, outlined the union's case while the railroad bosses asserted the impossibility of compromise. The conference disbanded without resolving the crisis and Roosevelt formed a commission to investigate the strike. Secretary of War Elihu Root and banker J. P. Morgan convinced railroad leaders to abide by the findings of the presidentially appointed commission. The union also accepted the commission and, on October 20, voted to end the anthracite strike.

The anthracite-coal commission recommended in March 1903 increasing miners' pay by ten percent (one-half of their demand), reducing the working day from ten to nine hours, and other concessions. By negotiating with organized labor Roosevelt championed a new approach to relations between capital and labor, often cited as an example of his Square Deal.