Labor Violence and the Industrialization of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1871-1902

This is the second in a series of posts about labor violence in the anthracite coal region by Robert Schmidt. “Dynamite Bombings in Northeast PA, 1871-1957” was the first. 

Robert Violence Cover Photo

During the 1877 strike, Pennsylvania Governor John Hartranft ordered militiamen to the anthracite region after suppressing the riot in Pittsburgh. On their way to Scranton, militiamen were temporarily halted in Plymouth by strikers who had sabotaged the railroad tracks. This is a depiction of the violent conflict that ensued. Allan Pinkerton described the strikers in Plymouth as “more persistent and vituperative than at any other point within the State of Pennsylvania, save at Pittsburgh.” Citation: Allan Pinkerton, Strikers, Communists, Tramps and Detectives, p. 239.

To ask men to unite in self-sacrifice for principles, involving, as most strikes necessarily must, deprivation and distress to themselves and those dependent on them, and expect them to see their places filled without resentment that would kill the thing it hates, is to imagine men emancipated from the passion that sent Cain forth a fugitive on the face of the earth. A strike without violence of some sort is a barren ideality that exists only in the minds of self-deceived sentimentalists, professional agitators, and unsophisticated economists.

– Slason Thompson, 1904.[1]

by Robert Schmidt

Labor War and Oligopoly Formation

The postbellum industrialization of anthracite mining transformed Northeast Pennsylvania into a wellspring of labor militancy and launching pad for one of the first and largest trade union in the U.S. of its time. Established 1868, the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (W.B.A.) coordinated an industry-wide strike the following year, negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in mining, and won important legislative victories.[1] The W.B.A.’s success, however, triggered a concerted union-busting campaign that by 1875 led to its utter defeat. Over the twenty-year period between the W.B.A.’s collapse and the arrival of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in the mid-1890s, anthracite workers were largely unorganized. Even without union leadership, workers remained militant. Between 1881 and 1892, for example, there were more than 100 strikes across more than 100 mines—most of them wildcat and many of them successful in the short-term.[2]

Multiple failed attempts at coordinating a region-wide strike could not deter union organizers in their ambition to unify anthracite workers. From 1877 through the early 1890s, the region held firm as a stronghold of the Knights of Labor, a national organization that aimed to organize workers across trades led by Terrance Powderly, an area native and two-term Scranton Mayor. The Knights played a limited role the Great Strike of 1877, but they proved valiant (though unsuccessful) in its collaborative attempt in 1887-1888 with the Amalgamated Association of Miners and Mine Laborers to lead anthracite workers in a region-wide campaign.[3] However, it was not until the late 1890s that grassroots militancy, stoked by the Lattimer massacre of 1897, found a vehicle to region-wide trade unionization in the UWMA, which in 1902 led anthracite workers to what heretofore was the greatest labor victory in the U.S.[4]

In the late nineteenth century, Northeastern Pennsylvania was a forerunner of the labor movement and veritable microcosm of labor wars that were repeated in many parts of the U.S.[5] Anthracite workers pressed and challenged capital during the Civil War and over the decades that followed, erupting in labor war in 1863, 1869, 1871, 1875, 1877, 1887-1888, 1900, and 1902. Rather than a linear progression, the advancement of labor between the Civil War and the monumental strike of 1902 was a cycle of building and rebuilding: workers gained traction in the face of internal division and insurmountable opposition, only to collapse, rebuild, and press forward again. Neither did the success of anthracite workers follow a pattern that was spatially uniform. Rather, it unfolded unevenly across the region with interruptions of stalled momentum, disappointing failure, and violent (and sometimes self-defeating) conflicts.

Labor wars ultimately stemmed from the internal contradictions of industrial capitalism. Profit motives, the constraints of competition, and market gluts prompted wage reductions and other encroachments on the working-class, including cost-saving measures (which usually created unsafe working conditions), weight falsification, and the use of child labor. In response, workers pushed back against these encroachments and pursued higher wages, economic security, and a modicum of control over their working conditions. If collective bargaining failed, workers were inclined to use their most powerful weapon: the strike. Protracted strikes, in turn, led to the introduction of strikebreakers, which quickly antagonized anger and rage, leading in many instances to mob violence and sabotage of company property. Mine operators hired Allen Pinkerton’s spies to infiltrate worker meetings and the Coal and Iron Police to guard company property, and called in state and federal militias to suppress strikes and riotous activity. Leading up to the U.S. military occupation of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Mauch Chunk during the Great Strike of 1877, Pennsylvania’s militia had already been ordered to the hard coal region on four different occasions to subdue upheaval. The period between 1903 to the 1922 bestowed economic stability and prosperity unto the region, but industrial peace proved far more elusive. From 1905 until the onset of World War II, the Pennsylvania constabulary (known locally as the ‘American Cossacks’) became something of a fixture in the region.[6]

If discontent was inevitable under the anthracite industry’s working conditions, the unionization of its workforce certainly was not. Battling on two fronts, union organizers were tasked with harnessing a workforce divided by ethnicity, culture, geography, and skill-level, only to face off against a concerted, well financed, and well-armed union-busting campaign.[7] The short-lived W.B.A. provides instruction in this regard. The W.B.A. proved that workers could collectively bargain with small, independent operators, but it was wholly overmatched by large operators, including Franklin Gowen’s Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R) in Schuylkill County, and the combination of three large firms in control of the Scranton and Pittston area, that were hell-bent on suppressing workers and squeezing out small, independent operators.[8] Union-busting campaigns were reinforced, to a considerable extent, by regional disunity, ethnic divisions within the workforce, and deep economic depressions, which culminated to topple the W.B.A. in Scranton by 1871 and elsewhere after the Long Strike of 1875.

If unions agitated for higher wages, they also tempered the violent and self-defeating impulse of their rank-and-file. Unions were reluctant to call a strike, but they were adamantly against violence and destruction. After all, strikes were as disruptive to the worker as they were the operators, and violence undermined labor’s appeal to the community for support. Instead, unions championed collective bargaining and advocated for constructive ways to manage grievances and settle disputes. Absent collective bargaining and an institutional framework to absorb and direct discontent, however, workers resorted to independent action and, when triggered, were apt to a convulsive and violent response.[9] “Violence tends to appear where the workers are fighting a losing fight without it,” wrote Willard Atkins and Harold Lasswell, and when “the ordinary processes of collective negotiation are denied…. [workers may] decide that no other recourse exists than… guerrilla strikes.”[10] Decades of capital-labor conflicts escalated an arms race that led to a series of innovations. Capital broke strikes with the use of labor spies and private police, the state and federal militia, the blacklist, and the court injunction. In response to violent suppression, including mass shootings, the working-class introduced an innovation all their own, using dynamite to target strikebreakers and company property.

Over the last quarter of the nineteenth century, absentee investors secured a tight grip on the mining industry and truncated labor’s repeated attempts at unionization. Patterns of collective violence were the social cost of a tumultuous industry and the birth pangs of oligopoly formation that developed out of the actually-existing local conditions of class struggle: this violence was not “the preserve of one or another ethnic group or preindustrial culture,” but the expression of community solidarity that enforced a moral code that held “scabs” as an offender.[11] As one resident told an editor for Outlook in 1902, “The spirit of the group binds union men; for it they are willing to sacrifice, and according to its intensity so is their hostility against all antagonistic forces.”[12] Put simply, the cause of industrial conflicts rest not within some innate militancy of the working-class, but in the historical circumstances that set capital and labor in perpetual conflict: the industry’s exploitative conditions, danger, and the economic insecurity; the stubborn refusal of operators to recognize unions; and the use of strikebreakers.[13] The introduction of dynamite to labor war did not signal the radicalization the working-class (whether by anarchism or the Wobblies), but developed out of local conditions of class struggle that ushered along an arms race.

From the Draft Riots to the Lattimer Massacre: The Shifting Geography of Industrial Violence

In the annals of nineteenth century history, the U.S. is exceptional only for its industrial violence.[14] Before 1900, federal and state governments repeatedly backed capital in labor conflicts and escalated violence by providing militia support. As a major producer of steel and coal, Pennsylvania stood out among its peers as a landscape of recurring industrial conflict. For its size, in fact, the northeast corner of Pennsylvania rivaled Pittsburgh for its bloody disputes. The most serious labor disturbances during the Civil War were in the anthracite region, where a combination of labor militancy and resistance to conscription ultimately led to federal occupation, including military-subdivisions based in Scranton, Pottsville and Mauch Chunk.[15] Federal enforcement of the Conscription Act aided operators in the suppression of labor by construing strikes as organized resistance to the draft, which prompted militia interventions.[16] This set a pattern of occupation and violent suppression that endured well into the twentieth century.

After the war, Schuylkill County stood as the epicenter of Northeastern Pennsylvania violence through the Long Strike of 1875. The so-called Molly Maguires, a reputed conspiracy of insurgent Irish Catholic miners veiled behind the Ancient Order of Hibernian, allegedly perpetrated assaults and vengeful murders against mine bosses and company officials. The story has been the substance of local lore and a Hollywood film, but it has also sparked serious historiographical debate. The Molly Maguire conspiracy has been challenged and thoroughly debunked, but the myth was undoubtedly true in its consequence: ‘Molly Maguireism’ conflated violence and terror with all labor activism between the onset and the Civil War and the end of the Long Strike, and criminalized Irish-Catholics as its source.[17] The waves of violence attributed to Molly Maguires must be examined in the context of recurring industrial unrest.  For the decades that followed, a pattern of industrial conflict similar to the Molly Maguire episode was repeated across various parts of the region and involved different ethnic groups—a strong indicator that industrial violence was not attributable to ethnicity or culture, but the product of local conditions.

The Molly Maguire hysteria was weaponized by the P&R’s concerted union-busting campaign. Leading a $4 million-dollar campaign to break the W.B.A., Gowen hired on the infamous Pinkerton spies to infiltrate W.B.A. meetings and the Coal and Iron Police, a publicly sanctioned but privately funded police force, to guard company property and escort strikebreakers.[18] With support from local newspapers, Gowen mobilized the Molly Maguire hysteria to sway public opinion against the trade union movement. Media representations ranged from unsubstantiated to exaggerated.[19] The Miner’s Journal, for example, repeated anti-Irish sentiments that branded workers as barbaric and beholden to an Old World tradition of violence.[20] In 1874, a letter from Mahanoy City to the New York Herald claimed that the power of the Mollies “is so great that law officials are seemingly powerless to effect their arrest and incarceration.”[21] John Morse, covering the Molly Maguire trials in 1877 for the American Law Review, described the region as “one vast Alsatia” (an esoteric reference to a land of lawlessness and debauchery in Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia) for its murders and other crimes.

Even after ten so-called Molly Maguires were convicted and hanged on a day the Philadelphia Ledger called “a day of deliverance from as awful a despotism of banded murderers as the world has ever seen in any wage,” the Mollies continued to be blamed for anonymous threatening letters and unsolved murders.[22] The Riot Committee investigating the anthracite region’s share of the 1877 strike averred that the Mollies were chased out of Schuylkill County into Scranton where they were accused of instigating violence.[23] Throughout the 1880s, the Knights of Labor were disparaged as a veiled Molly Maguire conspiracy.[24] The Molly Maguire narrative fizzled out completely by the 1890s as the Irish experienced a modicum of class mobility with the push of Southern and Eastern European immigrations. Anarchists and later communists supplanted the Molly Maguires.

Mollies Pamphlet - Robert S

The cover of F. P. Dewees’ The Molly Maguires: The Origin, Growth, and Character of the Organization exemplifies the sensationalism of the Molly Maguire narrative.

If some Irish Catholics ostensibly perpetrated murder and assault against mine managers, operators, government officials, strikebreakers, and others, their violence was not wholly inspired by ethnic heritage rooted in Ireland’s countryside. As Kevin Kenny cautioned his seminal study, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, the region’s wave of violence occurred in response to immediate and specific historical conditions that require close examination. Kenny was unequivocal in dismissing the “gigantic conspiracy” hyped-up by contemporaries, calling it exaggerated and implausible.[25] For one, the Molly Maguire hysteria far exceeded a pattern of crime that a conspiracy could have possibly been responsible for. “Violence was endemic to the coal fields of the time,” wrote Ann Lane in her 1966 review of Molly Maguire historiography, and union-busters were successful in linking “the general violence of the period to the labor movement for the purpose of destroying it.”[26] Violence was also far too widespread throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, including the burgeoning cities and towns of the northern field, to be attributable to the coordinated and criminal handiwork of Irish Catholics alone, much less an oath-bound organization that worked in secret and left no discernable evidence of their conspiracy. The crime-solving capacities of law enforcement were limited. There were law enforcement officials to police crime; the Coal and Iron Police were a publicly charged organization that focused narrowly on protecting company property. Dozens of murders in the 1860s and 1870s remained unsolved—e.g., in Schuylkill County alone there were 46 unsolved murders from 1863 to 1866—and the Molly Maguires (and Irishmen more broadly) conveniently served as the ‘usual suspects’.[27]

Irish immigrants represented a disproportionate share of a destitute and economically insecure working-class. As such, they were criminalized wholesale and assigned an ethno-culturally subordinate position within the division of labor and class stratum—a status that would soon be inherited by Southern and Eastern European immigrants. The violence perpetrated by the working-class must be examined in relationship to the criminalization of labor activity and the legal and extralegal violence that they were the victim of. In the case of the Irish in the 1870s, Sidney Lens agreed that they “engaged in violence, but they were as frequently the victims as victimizers.”[28]  In fact, “there was much more terror waged against the Mollies than those illiterate Irishmen ever aroused.”[29] Indeed, Pinkerton spies, the Coal and Iron Police, and vigilante committees were tasked with targeting labor leaders and others active in the labor movement.[30] To be sure, there is no shortage of evidence that W.B.A. rank-and-file (of various ethnicities) engaged in violence, but the union itself did not encourage it. For whatever the W.B.A. may be faulted for, it went to great lengths to reign in the frustrations of the working-class and, at its height, was successful in doing so. There was an inverse relationship between unionization and violence: violence peaked in the years preceding the W.B.A., during the strike as the W.B.A. weakened, and over the months immediately after the union’s collapse.[31]

If the Molly Maguire narrative could provide Gowen and others the justification to suppress and criminalize the labor movement, it also obscured the power differential between capital and labor and the role violence had served for each. For labor, violence was a desperate, episodic, and last-ditch effort; for capital, it was state-sanctioned, organized, overwhelming, and most often the winning gambit. By reducing labor activism to criminality, union-busters could justify the asymmetrical violence that belay their dominance and dismiss the structural conditions that stoke the ambers of working-class militancy to begin with. Such widespread violence was not the doing of a coordinated secret society, but conditioned by protracted periods of economic insecurity, exploitation, and convulsive social change that rendered the working-class combustible, easily ignited to riot and violence by the spark of wage reductions, wage-theft, and the use of strike-breakers. To the extent that Molly Maguireism existed, it is best understood as a method of responsive violence, not a coherent secret society.

Broadening the geographical scope of analysis also challenges the narrative that Schuylkill County violence was transplanted from Ireland. The late nineteenth century was an epoch marked for violence across many rapidly industrializing regions of the U.S. Much like in the southern field, episodic violence had meanwhile swept the northern and middle fields from late 1874 through the middle of 1875. In the Scranton area, for example, where a suspension in early 1875 idled some 15,000 men, a Chicago Tribune correspondent reported that “distress, squalidness, and crime prevail at an alarming degree” where “not a day or night passes but what a burglary or highway-robbery is recorded, and frequently an unfortunate falls beneath the murder’s weapon.”[32] On a few occasions, the press blamed the Molly Maguires for unsolved crimes in Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and accused them of conspiracy in Carbondale. In late 1874, for example, the Mollies were accused of igniting a powder keg in the basement of a mine manager from Hazleton, causing structural damage to his North Wyoming street property. In Scranton, they were accused of mob attacks, rape, and the murder of Michael Kearney, a miner whose body was found horribly mutilated at the bottom of an 80-foot embankment.[33] However, the Molly Maguire hysteria did not sweep the northern field as it did in Schuylkill County. Beyond speculation and rumors, there were no arrests and no evidence to substantiate that these crimes were committed by a conspiracy ring.

If Molly Maguireism was a truly a violent tradition transplanted from Ireland, then surely Scranton would have been a crucible of Irish-perpetrated terror.[34] Census records for 1870 and 1880 document not only more Irish-born immigrants, but also a greater share of their respective totals, in Luzerne County (and in Lackawanna County by 1880 after it formed out of Luzerne County two years before) than Schuylkill County. According to the 1870 census, Irish-born immigrants represented 23 percent of the total population (24,610 of 106,227) in Luzerne County, compared to 15 percent in Schuylkill County (12,465 of 85,572). In the 1880 census, Irish born represented only 10 percent of the population (10,836 of 103,826) in Schuylkill County, whereas for Lackawanna and Luzerne they were 20 percent (12,497 of 62,352) and 14 percent (13,598 of 97,349), respectively. [35] The northern field—and Scranton in particular—had all the important characteristics to antagonize a deep-seated Molly Maguire tradition of vendetta and guerilla war, including oppressive and unfair working conditions and a weak (and largely non-existent) union. Scranton boasted the third largest diaspora of Welshmen in the world, offering an abundant supply of likely victims: Welshmen occupied managerial roles, demonstrated a pattern of preferential treatment to their fellow countrymen, and subjected the Irish to violence and chronically exploitative working conditions. Furthermore, considering the fluid movement of workers throughout the region, it is conceivable that alleged conspirators rooted in Schuylkill County would have moved northward into Scranton and surrounding areas.[36] Benevolent societies, including a large and vibrant Ancient Order of Hibernian, flourished throughout the Scranton area. Furthermore, if Irish nationalism and sympathy for the Irish countryside might stoke a violent Molly Maguire tradition allegedly rooted there, then Scranton and rest of the northern field were well suited to nurture Irish-perpetrated terror. The anthracite region was site of some of the most active fundraisers of the Land League Fund through the Irish World in the early 1880s, but of the region’s 47 branches, 16 were in Lackawanna and 21 were in Luzerne, whereas only 4 were in Schuylkill.[37]

If the Molly Maguire narrative was particular to Schuylkill County, it was not because there were lower wages or more exploitative conditions there.[38] The Irish-born faced exploitative and oppressive conditions across the entire region. Rather, the geography of Molly Maguireism is best explained by Gowen and the Miners’ Journal’s led a campaign to criminalize the labor movement. In contrast to the northern field, where corporate capital had already secured its dominance over the workforce of the northern field by 1860 and swiftly toppled a unionization effort in in Scranton in 1871 (discussed below), mine operators did not need to weaponize an anti-Irish narrative to sustain its union-breaking campaign or criminalize the labor movement.[39]

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the bitter antagonism between the Irish and Welsh was the only violence transplanted from Europe. To be sure, this Old-World conflict was replicated not because of some deep-seated and eternal hatred between the two groups. Instead, the anthracite industry reproduced an ethnically stratified labor regime nearly identical to those in the mining regions of South Wales.[40] Operators enjoyed ethnic division and compounded it by playing on it to their benefit.[41] Native protestants and Welshmen likewise enjoyed a position of privilege within the industry. In Scranton, it was not the Irish, but the Welsh who demonstrated a pattern of intimidation and violence in the workplace and community in the 1870s. Here, the Irish were used as strikebreakers and more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

Ethnic cleavages undermined unionization efforts across the region, but in Scranton these cleavages were particularly acute. In January of 1871, a thirty percent wage reduction prompted Scranton’s W.B.A. to strike. Led by the Welsh, the strike was peaceful until Irish and German laborers, compelled by hunger, returned to work in early April.[42] As skilled-miners and chieftains of union, the Welsh were far better situated to absorb the strike’s cost in comparison to the low-skilled and lower paid  laborer positions that the Irish and German filled. Suffering starvation for a cause that Welsh miners had far more to gain from, the Irish and German returned to work in early spring. In response, Welsh strikers used violence to intimidate strikebreakers and sabotaged company property to idle mining operations. On April 7, for example, hundreds of Welshmen marched “with drawn revolvers and muskets, defying the police and civil authorities,” to six mines to halt their operation.[43] Workers leaving the Tripp Park colliery for the day were ambushed with stones and clubs; three men were shot and killed and many more were stoned nearly to death.[44] A small militia tried to halt the mob but was overpowered and disarmed.[45] Many strikebreakers were attacked at their home—in one instance strikers shot a man in the leg they had mistaken for a “scab.” Strikers also used explosives to destroy the mouth of the Morris and Weed’s coal works and tore up nearby rail tracks and they set fire to the Nay Aug and Rockwell breakers.[46] It wasn’t until the governor ordered some 900 militiamen that the rioting was quelled.[47]

A month later, Welshmen raided a meeting of a few dozen laborers as they planned another return to work. The Scranton Republican, a paper otherwise favorable to the Welsh, was outraged to report that two dozen “frenzied Welsh females” led the charge as some thirty men followed, calling strike-breakers “blacklegs and every opprobrious epithet their filthy tongs could utter,” which ignited a riot.[48] The strike finally ended a week later, as the superintendent of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company (LI&C), William Walker Scranton (W.W. Scranton), reopened the Brigg’s shaft and escorted workers home with an armed militia.  Met by a crowd of some two hundred Welshmen, W.W. Scranton and his militia were poised for a violent confrontation. Accounts of the conflict are discrepant, but one reports that a stone thrown by a striker provoked the militia to fire into the crowd, killing two Welshmen and wounding a few others.[49] The shooting ended the strike, but animosities between the Irish and Welsh led to the W.B.A.’s defeat and undermined unionization efforts for twenty years that followed.[50]

WELSH 1 - Robert S

Meanwhile in the southern and middle fields, the W.B.A. coordinated with operators to limit output to thereby increase coal prices and raise wages. However, Gowen intervened by using freight rates to discipline operators into halting cooperation with the W.B.A. Gowen’s aim was twofold: 1.) end the coordination between

WELSH_2 - Robert S

This image and the one above it are artist renditions of the Scranton strike of 1871 published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, April 29, 1871.

labor and operators that controlled output and prices and 2.) reverse the wage gains the W.B.A. achieved in 1869. Following Gowen’s direction, some operators resumed operation with strikebreakers, which, like in Scranton, sparked violence.[51] In Mount Carmel, for example, strikers surrounded a boardinghouse in early March around 1 a.m. and used explosives to destroy the property. When one of the strikebreakers, George Hoffman, woke up from the sound of an angry mob trying to break in and looked out the window, a gunman fired a shot through the window that ultimately killed him. As twenty-eight others fled the property to escape gunshots, the mob carried in a keg of powder, which they ignited with a long fuse, blowing the “gable end and side off, and entirely gutting the building.”[52] According to the Miners’ Journal, “their hellish design would have been accomplished only for the timely awakening of Mr. Hoffman, who only awoke for a moment to gaze out into the night upon his assassins, preparatory to closing his eyes in the last long sleep that knowns no waking.”[53] To make amends for what was likely the earliest documented case of bombing in the region, the W.B.A. disavowed this attack and offered a $500-dollar reward for bringing the culprits to justice.[54] Ultimately, Gowen was successful: the Schuylkill region’s strike ended in May and the strike of Lehigh workers ended the following month.[55]

The strike of 1871 was a mere dress rehearsal for the Long Strike of 1875, when some forty-thousand miners of the middle and southern fields held-out for more than five months. Gowen triggered a strike in November of 1874 by imposing a drastic and non-negotiable wage reduction.[56] His primary aim was not cost savings, but to break the W.B.A. stronghold of the southern field and continue asphyxiating independent operators.[57] Anticipating the strike, Gowen stockpiled coal near their markets to withstand a protracted suspension. Meanwhile, he unleashed Pinkerton spies to infiltrate the W.B.A. and hired Coal and Iron police to guard company property. Gowen had plenty reason to be guarded: the wage reduction coupled with his unwillingness to bargain was bound anger strikers. The first few months of strike had been largely peaceful, made up of parades and demonstrations, but it turned violent when collieries began operating with strikebreakers.

Unable to target their rage at Gowen, strikers of Schuylkill and parts of Northumberland counties attacked strikebreakers and destroyed company property. Local newspapers and company officials were much obliged to document (and sometimes embellish) the violence and destruction that occurred frequently during the strike. A committee investigating the Philadelphia and Reading provided an informative, though not exhaustive, account of the incidences of violence and property damage that occurred in the Schuylkill and Northumberland counties during the strike between December 13th of 1874 and July 15th of 1875.[58] The New York Times published this list of outrages along with a sample of threatening letters:

Robert Violence Letters Image

Sample of letters sent to scabs. See “List of Outrages in Schuylkill and Shamokin Regions 1874,” New York Times, 06 August 1875.

It was a mistake to dismiss anonymous letters as idle threats. Strikers were apt to follow through, assaulting non-striking miners and stoning or setting fire to their home. Strikers also sidetracked and destroyed trains and set fire to loaded cars and company buildings. During the spring and early summer, hundreds of striking miners marched throughout the southern and the middle fields to halt mines in operation. As colliers began to operate with a tickle or returning workers, strikers mobilized to intimidate and assault them, but were met with armed militiamen. Strikers marched to the homes of strikebreakers in the Wilkes-Barre area. In one case, they unloaded revolvers into a doll of a “scab” they hung in effigy.[59] According Francis Dewees’ contemporary account on violence at the Philadelphia and Reading, “The repairmen on the railroad were stopped from their work, train-hands were threatened, railroad-tracks obstructed and barricaded, engines and cars thrown off the tracks, cars unloaded, property stolen and destroyed, houses burned; mobs riotously assembled, took possession of engines and trains displayed firearms, and drove men from their work.”[60]

When the Coal and Iron police and local forces proved too small and ineffectual to handle the riots, local officials called on the governor to send militiamen. In Hazleton, where riots and dozens of assaults of strikebreakers were taking place, some 500 militiamen were ordered in April. A correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the streets in Hazleton had a “warlike appearance… crowded with countrymen and uncouth mountaineers, and the sidewalks sprinkled with militia.”[61] At the height of the strike, an estimated 1,500 National Guardsmen occupied communities across Luzerne and Schuylkill counties.[62] An editorial from a Wilkes-Barre paper complained that the military had supplanted civil authority and decried the threat to liberty that occupation posed, writing, “This city has been lately too much like a military camp.”[63]

In April of 1875, the Chicago Tribune’s report on the strike titled “Civil War in Pennsylvania” perhaps exaggerated local conditions, claiming that “barbarism reigns” and that “civilization, law, and society have apparently ceased to exist,” but to call it a civil war was not inaccurate: from militia shootings and beatings of strikers to striker assaults on scabs, violence occurred with near impunity. The paper reported one feud between neighbors in Pittston over the strike had escalated to murder, but the perpetrator was not brought to justice: “No Sheriff dare seize him; no jury would venture to convict him; no Judge could safely sentence him in that mod-ridden country.” Sympathetic to labor and not beholden to mine operators, the Chicago Tribune held operators, not workers, as the ultimate source of the violence: “The coal-owners are largely responsible for the state of things. For a series of years they have treated their men like machines, have shown not the slightest interest in their welfare, have spent no cent of their great gains in bettering the condition of their work-people, have fomented strikes and formed lock-outs for the sake of gambling in coal in New York and Philadelphia…”[64]

A divided workforce would invariably succumb to the united pressure of operators. And where militia occupation could not batter workers into submission, the long-smoldering starvation of the population over the course of the strike certainly would. It was against the backdrop of “scenes of woes and want and uncomplaining suffering seldom surpassed,” as Andrew Roy explained, that violence and discontent festered. Thousands of families “rose in the morning to breakfast on a crust of bread and a glass of water, who did not know where a bite of dinner was to come from… But workingmen must work that they may eat, and must eat that they may work, while capital can wait.”[65] After exhausting their credit, savings, and foodstuffs, mineworkers begrudgingly returned to work for reduced wages in June. Absent union representation to harness their animosity and discontent, the merciless defeat of the strike ushered in a crime wave attributed to the Molly Maguires over the months that followed.[66]

The wave of violence that swept Northeastern Pennsylvania occurred less than two years later and was prompted by wage cuts and economic insecurity at the depths of economic depression in 1877. In July of that year, a month after ten so-called Molly Maguires were condemned to hanging, the great railroad strike that swept much of the country had set Northeastern Pennsylvania aflame “like tinder.”[67] Perhaps mild in comparison to Pittsburg, the violence in the hard coal region was considerable nonetheless. In late July, mineworkers in the Shamokin area went on strike and sabotaged a Philadelphia and Reading station until they were squashed by armed vigilantes that killed at least one person and wounded several others.[68] In Wilkes-Barre, mobs of striking miners attacked freight trains and damaged property. Elsewhere in Luzerne County, strikers halted mine operations in Hazleton, Kingston, Plymouth, and Nanticoke.[69] The epicenter of violence, however, centered in Scranton, a city that “rested on a complex powder keg of social injustice…[that] needed but a brief spark to light the fuse that had lain exposed for so long.”[70] On July 24th, the Lackawanna Coal and Rail Company, a ten percent wage reduction on top of a wage reduction a month earlier, triggered its 2,000 workers to strike and demanded a 35 percent increase. Meanwhile, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, which had reduced wages by fifteen percent, suspended six collieries and reduced twelve others to halftime the previous March, reduced wages again by another ten percent, prompting a strike.[71] The strike paralyzed rail traffic and, without rail to transport coal, disabled mining operations. Mineworkers did not let this opportunity to strike for higher wages pass.

Scranton’s general strike did not last long. At the end of July, the rail and iron workers returned to work. Meanwhile, mineworkers met to plot out whether to return to work or continue their strike for higher wages. Already frustrated with the return of DL&W and LI&C employees, the otherwise peaceful gathering of mineworkers had ignited to rage and upheaval by a provocative letter read aloud, allegedly written by W.W. Scranton, that threatened to “either have them working for thirty-five cents a day, or be buried in a culm pile.”[72] The mineworkers began marching to the DL&W and LI&C workshops to enforce a work stoppage.[73] As workers made their way to Lackawanna Avenue, city mayor Robert McKune, who played key role in negotiating the return of rail, iron, and mine pump workers to work a few days earlier and was braced for unrest in his city, directed the crowd to disburse. Anticipating a violent conflict, the local militia was poised at various points and ready to assemble to disperse the crowd.

Jacob Riis, a housing reformer and journalist, known most widely for his How the Other Half Lives, was front and center of this conflict to chronicle what he saw. Fleeing mounting labor trouble in Elmira, New York, Riis was unexpectedly sidelined in Scranton because of sabotaged rails.[74] After setting about to explore the downtown, Riis bore witness to a large crowd of strikers as they faced off with “a line of men with guns, some in their shirt-sleeves, some in office coats, some in dusters” who were blocking advance onto LI&C property. McKune, aiming to preempt the conflict that had engulfed Pittsburg, confronted the crowd head on, “haranguing the people, counselling them to go back to their homes quietly.”[75]

Unphased by McKune’s appeal, the crowd attacked him clubs and rocks and almost killed him, but for the intervention of a Catholic priest. The attack on McKune triggered militiamen to fire into the crowd. Armed with Winchester rifles and totaling some fifty in number, many of the militiamen were local businessmen and clerks and officials of LI&C with deep hostility to strikers.[76] Organized and armed by W.W. Scranton and instructed to be ready to shoot-to-kill, the militiamen did not hesitate to shoot into the crowd.[77] Riis recounted the horror and panic he experienced as shots were fired into the crowd indiscriminately: “A man beside me weltered in his blood. There was an instant’s dead silence, then the rushing of a thousand feet and wild cries of terror as the mob broke and fled. We ran with it. In all my life I never ran so fast… one might have played marbles on my coat-tails, they flew behind so.””[78]

If workers initiated the violence by attacking McKune, the militiamen were responsible for escalating it to a massacre. Hyman Kuritz commented: “It is difficult to see how bloodshed could have been avoided considering the swashbuckling, arrogant, and militaristic attitude of W. W. Scranton toward the workers of the city. At first sign of possible trouble he was all for leading the Citizen’s Corps out to stop the demonstration by force, melodramatically telling his men now to be afraid to ‘shoot to kill.’”[79] Estimates of the death toll vary and details of those injured are discrepant, but there were at least three killed and between twenty-five and fifty seriously injured.[80] This violence prompted the governor to order five thousand Pennsylvania National Guardsmen to occupy Scranton and other communities across the region.[81] The militia was not well received—their Scranton-bound train was met with an ambush of rocks in the Wilkes-Barre area and halted by sabotage to the rail line.[82] Workers might have sustained their strike for longer, had it not been for famine and impoverishment over the course of two-months of occupation. They returned to work mid-October and the occupation ended in early November.

In justifying the shooting deaths, the Riot Committee argued that Scranton would have been as violent as Pittsburg, they concluded, had it not been for the swift and overpowering occupation by local and federal militias. Nowhere else in Pennsylvania “was there a harder set of men than at Scranton and vicinity,” they reported, and the violence was instigated by the Molly Maguires who were “driven out of Schuylkill County, having gathered in and about the city, besides the scores of other hard cases who have been there for years.”[83] For as sure as they were that the Molly Maguires were to blame, the source of the violence was far more complex. Harold Aurand’s study on the anthracite region argued that violence erupted because workers were left without an institutional framework through which to express their grievances.[84] Aurand drew an important connection between the conflict of the northern and southern fields, arguing that W.W. Scranton and Gowen manipulated violence to their own ends. “The outbreak of violence is understandable only in terms of an institutional breakdown,” Aurand reasoned, and though Scranton’s 1877 riot and the Molly Maguire episode of 1875 appear “superficially poles apart,” they represent an “institutional vacuum” in which violence filled.[85]


Artist rendition of the assault of Mayor McKune published in Allan Pinkerton, Strikers Communists, Tramps and Detectives.

Labor wars like those in the anthracite region were repeated in other industrialized areas of the U.S. over the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The great railroad strike of 1877, the Haymarket bombing of 1886, the Homestead strike of 1892, the Pullman strike of 1893, and many other smaller episodes of industrial conflict were ultimately squashed by violence.[86] In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the violent suppression of workers had taken its toll, and with the help of blacklisting, labor spies, private police, mass shootings, military occupations, and rising anti-union sentiments, it did so with chilling effect. Between the end of the 1877 strike and the Lattimer massacre of 1897, unionization efforts in the hard coal region remained weak and ineffectual. There were dozens of strikes over this period, but most were wildcat, sustained only for a very short period, and involved no more than four collieries at a time. “The operators’ success in running the mines on a nonunion basis is further reflected,” Perry Blatz argued, “in that almost no strikes from 1881 to 1894 had union involvement, except for less than one third of these from 1885 to 1887.” [87]  In fact, only 16 of 73 strikes between 1881 and 1887 were union-led. It was undoubtedly difficult to organize an effective strike when for most years of this period there were less than 200 days of work.

In late 1887, the Knights, which had established its power center in and around Scranton after 1877, and the Amalgamated, a reorganization of the former W.B.A. with its base of support in the middle field, had joined hands to coordinate a region-wide strike for higher wages, accurate weighing of coal cars, fair work assignments, and standardized hiring and firing practices. However, their effort was botched from the beginning. Mineworkers of the northern field were too weak and unorganized to sustain a strike. The strength of labor rested in the middle-field, where the last vestige of independent operators faced competition from larger firms and invariably shifted the of competition by squeezing workers even tighter. With support from the Knights, the Amalgamated, representing workers in and around Hazleton, Shenandoah and the Panther Valley, called a strike on September 10th and pressed for a fifteen percent raise. Some 20,000 men went on strike. Among them were a large share of Southern and Eastern European immigrants—a population that natives had deep distrust and union organizers did not expect support from. In the southern field, the Knights found the P&R, facing bankruptcy, willing to negotiate and make a temporary 8 percent increase in August of 1887, but joined the strike in January when the company reneged on its concessions and lowered wages.[88]

Operators in the middle-field refused to negotiate and were poised for a quick victory. They went on the offensive by importing scabs and denying strikers credit at the company store. They even tried evicting strikers who lived in company housing but were stalled by a court injunction. Many local businesses came to the rescue by extending credit and the Knights provided modest financial resources. Workers and their families relied on savings and mutual aid as they had during strikes in the past; some workers even trekked to colliers in operation in the northern and southern fields or pursued temporary employment outside the region entirely. And like strikes before, it remained largely peaceful until collieries began operating with strikebreakers.[89] All the usual intimidation and violence followed as a trickle of workers returned.  One strikebreaker outside of Wilkes-Barre woke up one morning to find “a piece of black crepe and a dead cow hanging to the front door of his house.”[90] A P&R general manager testified that his workers “were threatened; they were met at night by bodies of men and told if they returned to work they would be shot. In many cases notices were sent to me, ordering them to keep away, and calling them scabs.”[91] One engineer received an anonymous letter with a picture of a coffin, skull, and crossbones with a caption that read, “This will be your fate. Drop that engine. Your doom is sealed you —-. A huckleberry like you running an engine! A warning!”[92] Physical assaults on strikebreakers were common—many of them were family affairs in which strikers’ wives and children participated. In Glen Carbon, for example, a large group of women led a charge against strikebreakers, yelling epithets and hurling bread at them.

The most violent episode occurred in early February at a Shenandoah colliery.[93] As some fifty workers left for the day, a crowd of some 800 Polish strikers began throwing rocks and harassing them. When the Coal and Iron policemen intervened to protect the workers, they too were assaulted and knocked to the ground, which in turn prompted two of them to fire into the crowd, seriously wounding at least six.[94] As one stone-throwing striker was arrested and taken into custody before a magistrate, a group of some five hundred followed. The mob began stones and demanding the police release their prisoner and “pulled off an iron railing and used it to beat down the door” of the magistrate’s office. “Judging appeasement healthier than valor,” the magistrate released the prisoner was released on bail. The two Coal and Iron Policemen who shot into the crowd were meanwhile arrested by local law enforcement and transported another magistrate’s office. Behind them followed an angry mob of Polish strikers until sheriff arrived with an armed posse.[95]

The 1887-1888 strike was utterly unsuccessful, but important none-the-less for what it revealed. Southern and Eastern Europeans were far more likely to support a strike than violate the trust of their neighbors by working during one. And like the Irish and Welsh before them, these immigrants might resort to violence if it meant deterring scabs and keeping an operation idled. Set apart other immigrant groups in the region, however, this new wave was of a size and scale that proved a force to be reckoned with. The anthracite workforce had tripled between 1870 and 1890 and Southern and Eastern European immigrants led the region’s population’s expansion. If they were only a small percent of the population in 1880, they represented over forty percent of the workforce twenty years later.[96] Despite their size, however, they were on the receiving end of xenophobia and nativism befitting of a minority group. It is remarkable that these immigrants supported the labor movement at all.[97]

And as workers fled the Knights and Amalgamated after the strike, the weak position labor created deepened a void that nativism and xenophobia filled.  As Hirsh argued, “Immigrants were convenient scapegoats for a vanquished generation of industrial workers…Nativism provided an outlet for frustration, a way of feeling strength on the face of weakness and demoralization.”[98] Of course, it was not just native workers who held anti-immigrant views. In his 1903 survey of the social and cultural life in the anthracite region, Peter Roberts, a sociologist and local minister, depicted Eastern Europeans (“Slavics”) as a barbaric and uncivilized population, prone to excessive drinking and violence.[99] Henry Rood, writing for Century in 1898, likewise called them “superstitious and murderous” and claimed that they “do not hesitate to use dynamite if they desire to blow up the home of one whom they particularly hate.”[100] In another publication, Rood said they were, “Violent by nature, accustomed to drinking vile concoctions of alcoholic liquors which would drive ordinary men crazy, they added a very undesirable element to the population.”[101] He said it was a pity that the resource-rich anthracite region was overrun and “denationalized by the scum” of Europe.[102]

Southern and Eastern European immigrants were subject to all the usual persecution and violence reserved for bottom rung of an ethno-racialized class system. Examples of hate and animosity abound. In 1884, about 100 Hungarian workers recruited and lodged by the P&R were met by 75 native workers who stormed their boarding house late in the evening as they slept, firing six shots toward the workers to terrorize them and using stones and brickbats to destroy the property.[103]  In 1894 a camp of Hungarian workers hired to lay track between Pittston and Fairview was bombed in what heretofore and remained the most heinous and malice-filled dynamiting in the region’s history. A portable shanty that housed 58 Hungarians was bombed in the middle of the night, killing four and seriously injuring a dozen more.[104] Frank Shafer, with the assistance of four men and two women, all African-American laborers living in a nearby boxcar, confessed to placing dynamite under all four corners of the boarding house. Successful in exploding only 25 of the 100 cartons of dynamite with a battery timer, they would have likely killed all of them had their plot not been botched by faulty execution. In his confession, Shafer admitted his aim was robbery, but he expressed malice against Hungarians, telling investigators: “We blowed up the Huns to get ‘em out of the country. They’re no good and they all ought to be blown out.”[105]

If the 1894 bombing was indicative of a xenophobic mood and demonstrated the utter disregard for the lives of immigrants, it was also a harbinger of the Lattimer Massacre of 1897. In August and September of 1897, lower Luzerne County was set to erupt by a hair-trigger. The Campbell Act, a tax placed on male aliens that was lobbied for by the UMWA to put the brakes on immigrants flooding the workforce, was a major source of frustration, as was an unpopular mine foreman, Gomer Jones, who instituted new rules that squeezed workers. In mid-August, workers set up a picket at the Honey Brook colliery to protest Jones’ policy for mule drivers that added two hours of work with no additional pay. Angered by their defiance of his order to return to work, Jones used a crowbar to attack a young boy and was himself overpowered by the crowd and nearly killed. Other small strikes ensued into early September in which immigrants armed with clubs and guns that shut down collieries.[106] The united front that immigrant workers held could only be broken by overwhelming force.[107] On September 10, following instruction from UMWA leadership to be peaceful, some 500 unarmed mine workers, most of them recent immigrants, began a seven-mile march from Harwood toward Lattimer, outside Hazleton, to encourage a work stoppage at the Pardee Company.[108] However, these marchers were met by a posse of 86-armed Luzerne county deputies, who unloaded point-blank into the crowd, killing 19 and seriously wounding more than thirty. The Lattimer massacre holds the dubious distinction as the bloodiest industrial conflict to that point in U.S. history and the deadliest mass shooting in the region’s history.

The deputies who perpetrated the massacre were brought up on charges, but none were convicted. The xenophobic commentary and reactionary sympathies for the sheriff deputies that virtually repeat sentiments about the Irish from the Miners’ Journal from decades earlier. For example, the matter-of-fact sympathies the Philadelphia Inquirer just days after the massacre was particularly illustrative of the xenophobic mood:

Unfortunately, there is in the coal regions a vast population of foreigners, dragged here from the slums of Europe, who cannot speak the English language, and who are, for the most part, lawless and ready to fight…The flooding of the mining regions with an ignorant foreign population has filled the dockets of the various courts with all sorts of trail cases. Crime has greatly increased, and the outlook is anything but reassuring. The events of the past few days offer another argument in favor of a more drastic immigration law. The coal companies are largely responsible for the crime…They have brought here swarms of ignorant people, oftentimes vicious.[109]

In a similar vein, Henry Rood said, “…the terrible affair at Lattimer… never would have occurred had not English-speaking labor agitators aroused the immigrants to a frenzy because of alleged “wrongs.” The ignorant, hulking Slovaks and Polacks, and the brawny, cunning Italians, who formed the mobs, would not have thought of [marching]… had it not been for politicians and agitators.”[110]

As the anthracite industry continued its move toward oligopoly, the prospect of region-wide unionization seemed unlikely. And if victory was possible, it was not immediately apparent that the latest wave of immigrants would be the driving force behind it.[111] However, two important developments had set the stage for success. First, the UMAW, needing to expand their union as much as anthracite workers needed representation, set their sights on organizing the anthracite industry, entering the field in the early 1890s and absorbing the Knights of Labor and what was left of the Amalgamated, and had made important inroads in forming a region-wide union. Second, as the 1887-1888 strike demonstrated, recent immigrants were not a detriment to organizing that native workers and UMAW organizers imagined, but a pillar of the labor movement, particularly after the 1897 massacre. Building homes and churches in the region, the new immigrants were firmly planted and poised to fight.[112] Redirecting ethnic and regional divisions toward unity, the UMWA leadership took grievances to operators and ultimately to the White House and Wall Street in the 1900 and 1902 strikes as the working-class waged a concerted battle on the ground. It was at this point that that the pendulum began to swing in favor of labor.

Landscape and Labor War: The Introduction of Dynamite and the 1900 and 1902 Strikes

Over the second half of the nineteenth century, anthracite workers saw a laggard industry beset by anarchic competition and chronic overproduction blossom into a vertically integrated oligopoly controlled and coordinated by a coalition of J.P. Morgan-led investors.[113] This syndicate of absentee investors consolidated anthracite mining and railroad interests through a systematic elimination of independent coal operators and a series of railroad bankruptcies and consolidations.[114] To be sure, a handful of independent operators managed to survive the century, but they stood as “islands in a sea of corporate enterprise.”[115] However, the formation of this anthracite-rail oligopoly was not a seamless process, but a tumultuous one beset by internal contradictions. As coal was extracted from the earth and profits flowed to New York and Philadelphia, profound social and environmental costs were externalized locally in the form of landscape degradation, economic insecurity, poverty, and conflict.

If labor wars were endemic to the rapid industrialization of the region, they were not challenges to the capitalist system as such. Nor were they led by anarchists or outside agitators. Instead, recurring conflict developed out of local conditions and represented class struggle over the allocation of surplus value. As workers fought for a greater share of the fruits of their labor, operators defended their prerogative to exploit workers, decimate and under-develop the landscape, and return profits to investors. The reproduction of the working-class—indeed, the reproduction of the capitalist system itself—depends on the former; the competitive constraints of the industry (i.e. what Karl Marx called “the coercive laws of competition”) demands the latter. Force may determine the outcome, but it cannot settle the underlying contradictions that structures conflict in the first place.

Nothing fails like success. As capital toppled labor and harnessed the industry’s self-destructive tendencies, a series of transformations within and external to the region shifted the balance of power to workers. Entering the anthracite region in 1894, the UMWA led workers to their first major victory in decades in 1900 and a historic victory in 1902. It was an emerging union that used its momentum and resources from its 1897 win in the bituminous fields to unite the workers of the hard coal fields of Pennsylvania. It united workers behind a pragmatic and tangible goal of higher and equitable pay and job security. Pure-and-simple unionism, as the conservative trade union ideology of the UMWA came to be known, was a depart from the republican critique of industrial society that had informed and directed worker militancy after the Civil War into the 1880s. Meanwhile, at federal level the sweep of progressive era politics had redefined the role of government in labor disputes, which set the stage for political intervention in the 1900 and 1902 strikes not as a strikebreaker, but as an arbiter.

Innovations in worker suppression evolved out of a quarter century of labor war. By the 1890s, capital could rely on a tactical ensemble to break strikes and squash militant organizing, including labor spies, private police, professional strike-breakers; the Pennsylvania National Guard; the blacklist; and the court injunction.[116] Mass shootings and other forms of asymmetrical violence—used most demonstrably in the Lattimer massacre—made it increasingly difficult for crowds to organize in demonstrations, pickets, and other mobilizations. And though capital could not suppress labor’s militant impulse, it did displace much of the conflict across time and space. Strikers were not at all deterred from intimidating and attacking strike-breakers, company foreman and superintendents, and Coal and Iron police, and they continued to sabotage company property as they had before. However, by the late 1890s they did so increasingly with a campaign of terror that introduced dynamite to the conflict. After Latimer, violence and sabotage that might otherwise occur in daylight by angry mobs of strikers gave way to midnight bombings carried out in secret. Put simply, mass shootings led workers to dynamite.

The way in which workers perpetrated a pattern of dynamite bombings, assault, intimidation, and sabotage cannot be dismissed as random, senseless acts of violence and destruction. Rather, this response developed inextricably to the provocations of militiamen, Coal and Iron Police, local sheriff deputies, and by 1905 the Pennsylvania constabulary that assaulted workers with clubs and shot their rifles into crowds with regularity. T.S. Adams, writing in 1906, explained that, “capital and labor have been playing the game of war for more than a century, and the game has been reduced to a science.”[117] The rules of engagement transitioned from “spontaneous outbursts… [that] was sporadic, passionate, defiant” to a sustained and systematic violence was cunning, coordinated, and institutionalized. He explained that “the real gravity of this systematic violence … is the state military preparedness which it connotes, the intensification of the conflict between labor and capital which it signifies, the armies of strike-breakers, spies and counter-spies whose existence it reveals.” Even the strike itself was becoming less a spontaneous (and often ill timed) reaction and more a coordinated attacked to assert maximum damage. As Shalloo so aptly commented, “If the nineteenth century may be characterized as ‘long violence,’ the first years of the twentieth century may be characterized as ‘decisive violence.’”[118]

The Northeastern Pennsylvania landscape was not passive, neutral ground, but a mediating factor that shaped the contours of labor war. Nature divided anthracite mining into separate fields, which allowed operators to play one field off against the other, much as they did one ethnicity against the other within fields.[119] Physical distance separated towns and cities across a 400 square mile area, and the barriers of culture and language further slowed communication between fields and dampened attempts at igniting an industry-wide strike.[120] Variegated work regimes and pay differences among collieries likewise frustrated union organizing. Before the formation of the anthracite oligopoly in the 1890s, the inter-regional competition among operators undermined the prospects of a region-wide strikes—a strike in the southern and middle anthracite fields increased demand and output elsewhere, allowing operators from the northern field to raid the market and raise wages and hold workers from joining a region-wide strike.[121] The industry as a whole kept an oversupply of collieries so that, as one operator described, “if a strike should occur at one point, the supply of coal could be kept up at another point.”[122]

Anthracite mining comprised a single-industry, but it operated across an uneven industrial landscape that was internally divided and set against itself. On one hand, King Coal dominated the region and provided its primary source of economic lifeblood. Workers were left with few employment alternatives not directly or indirectly tied to mining and its auxiliary industries, including rail, ironworks, and explosives. To maintain worker dependency and keep wages depressed, operators oversupplied the workforce by recruiting waves of destitute European labor. On the other hand, in creating a region that was decidedly working-class, King Coal set the conditions in which the working-class became self-consciously so. Workers relied on mutual aid and a dense economy of exchange, strengthened in large measure by community organizations and religious institutions, to endure low wages and chronic underemployment. In turn, the cohesiveness and resource mobilization that sustained and supported workers and their families during periods of insecurity and depression became the foundation upon which they could weather strikes and sustain union-breaking efforts.[123]

Strikes were family affairs—it was not at all unusual for mineworkers’ wives and children to participate in demonstrations and often led attacks on scabs. The importance of women to community solidarity and to solidifying the labor movement cannot be overstated. Their wages and homemaking, to say nothing of their resource mobilization and participation in strikes, allowed families to settle permanently. In fact, textiles, including silk, lace, and hosiery, gravitated to region in the 1880s, as did other low-wage, non-durable manufacturing over the decades that followed, because of its comparative advantage of cheap female labor: the wives and daughters of mineworkers desperate enough to work under sweated conditions.[124] Though wages were low, they were steady and provided a substantial source of household support, most crucially during slumps and strikes. Women also fulfilled a significant role in the informal economy. As operators of unlicensed saloons, boardinghouses, and bawdyhouses, for example, they provided important services to migratory, unmarried male workers in a region with an imbalanced sex ratio. Altogether, women reinforced the labor movement and played a crucial role in reproducing the chronically underemployed male workforce upon which the anthracite industry depended.[125]

The cities and towns of Northeastern Pennsylvania were not isolated company towns that could easily discipline the working-class.[126] On the contrary, anthracite communities were incubators of militancy.[127] Workers and their families made up nearly the entire population: the region lacked a middle and upper-class of corporate leaders and professionals that would typically be found in prototypical company towns. In fact, Gowen and W.W. Scranton, for all the power they wielded, were merely resident managers of businesses controlled by absentee investors.[128] Workers did not have to fear eviction during strikes because very few lived in company housing; and most purchased supplies through non-company owned establishments.[129] During strikes, public sentiment supported labor and held operators as the primary threat to social order. Workers also controlled local politics and public service positions, including the local police, magistrates and jurors, which established a check on corporate power, especially with regards to law enforcement in the 1900 and 1902 strikes.[130] As Edward Martin observed in 1877, anthracite communities have “the character of business and social centers, but the mining classes, being largely in the majority, regulate and control them.”[131]

Working-class solidarity made it difficult and costly for operators to suppress labor activism and break strikes. The Coal and Iron Police were an expensive necessity to guard property and escort strikebreakers.[132] In fact, the absence of law enforcement in some communities, and the utter lack of their cooperation in many others, led operators to lobby for state sanction to establish the Coal and Iron Police to begin with—the source of violent provocations and shootings. Men had to be imported from Philadelphia and elsewhere because it was difficult to recruit private police or raise a militia from among the very population they were ordered to suppress. In 1875, for example, the general for the Pennsylvania National Guard dismissed Pittston’s militia from duty because they were “composed almost entirely of miners, many of whom are strikers, and their sentiments leaned too favorably on the side of the labor element.”[133]  The Iron Age complained, “The turbulent element of the mining population has long enjoyed immunity of restraint at the hands of the civil authorities, and, should a collision occur, we hope the troops will make the occasion memorable by a judicious distribution of cold lead among the rioters.”[134] In his 1878 address, Pennsylvania governor John Hartranft said that lawlessness was permitted by a citizenry disinclined to serve as militiamen. “The men who engage in these riots are voters and the tenure of the offices of those in authority depend in a large measure upon the god will of these turbulent electors,” he said. These communities had an “unhealthy moral public sentiment that in the event of a disturbance permits the officer to neglect his duty, refuses itself to uphold the law.”[135] Conscientious of the cost to occupy a community, Hartranft and other governors were reluctant to send in the Pennsylvania National Guard. The Guard was no panacea for labor unrest, however. Coal operators were frustrated with the Guard’s limited focus on keeping the peace and the fact only adjunct generals, not operators, could make direct orders.[136]

The restructuring of the U.S. economy after the Civil War reshaped the relationship between labor and capital and presented an insurmountable challenge to the republican ideology that workers held. Before the Civil War, industrialists and the working-class were embedded in everyday interactions.[137]  Industrial disputes were settled primarily on a person-to-person basis. Workers believed they were not subordinate to capital, but coequal, and strikes were not meant to disrupt industry as much as put it back into balance. Mineworkers viewed themselves as skilled and semi-skilled workers with a high degree autonomy: they were not subject to strict discipline and managerial authority that would be typical in a factory setting under Taylorism.[138] In contrast to a factory worker’s routine tasks, mineworkers carved intricate underground mines and extracted hard coal from unique and complex geological formations.[139]

Workers believed wholeheartedly in America’s promise of equality under the law and believed it was a place set apart from its peers where class mobility, self-sufficiency, and even prosperity were ensured for those willing to work for it.[140] For all its fury, the labor movement was fighting for the ideals and promise of the American republic. However, instead of finding the political equality, economic stability, and independence, workers confronted enduring wage labor dependency and all the social inequities it entailed.[141] In response to the tumultuous and sweeping change ushered in by postbellum industrialization, workers developed a critique of industrial capitalism, evident in the Knights of Labor platform, which aimed for broad social, economic, and political transformation of American society. During the 1887-1888 strike, for example, the Knights urged American citizens to “rise up…to assert their independence, to restrain the monopoly tendencies of incorporated wealth, and to restrict the arrogant capitalistic element that is assuming ascendency in this country” that if let continue would “destroy our republican form of government.”[142]  Scranton Times editor Aaron Chase displayed a similar antimonopoly worldview in his commentary during the depth of the 1877 strike on September 28th.

The trouble lies in the greed of the corporations, and their habit of dictating terms to laborers, dealing with them as if they were serfs if not machines, instead of treating them as reasonable beings with feelings, and a conscience as well as a stomach. Americans brought up on the Declaration of Independence instinctively rebel against this kind of tyranny. The corporation is an impersonality. It issues orders. It is not a mere question of wages between the corporations and their working people, but also and very largely a question of method of dealing. The workingmen insist on being treated like human beings. They demand that the human elements of reason and conscience and sympathy shall have a place in the relations between employer and employee. The law of supply and demand, which ignores the existence of brain and heart and even stomach may operate on commodities, but should not be allowed to sweep human beings into its remorseless and insatiable maw.


In 1897 strikers marched behind an American flag on their way to Lattimer where they were massacred by Sheriff deputies. It was not atypical to see workers march behind an American flag during a strike or other demonstration. Whether immigrant or native, workers in the labor movement understood their participation as a struggle to attain the promise and ideals of the American republic.

If workers were deeply resentful of the destabilizing impact of industrialization, they did not develop a radical, anti-capitalist ideology in response. Workers were class-conscious, but the vast majority of them did not aspire to the revolutionary change that Marx believed inevitable. Rather, the majority of anthracite workers fought not against capitalism as such, but against an emerging industrial order that depreciated their status. If Northeastern Pennsylvania’s labor wars were of a frequency and “of a kind that most Marxists had long believed would convert any proletariat to socialism”[143] then socialism was conspicuously absent. Part of the explanation rests in the fact that strong trade unionism was a prerequisite. In contrast to the strongholds of municipal socialism in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Schenectady, New York where trade unionism was entrenched, anthracite mineworkers held only a tenuous grasp of trade unionism between the Civil War through 1888 and were overtaken by nativism and antiunionism in the 1890s. [144] Second, and more important, is the fact that socialism was crowded out by the political power that workers wielded at the local level. Ethnic machine politics, the growth of the public sector, and public spoils absorbed much of the working-class, particularly after the turn of the century, and affirmed the legitimacy of local political institutions.[145] As David Montgomery commented, “The capacity of America’s political structure to absorb talent from the working class was perhaps the most effective deterrent to the maturing of a revolutionary class consciousness among the nation’s workers during the turbulent social conflicts of the nineteenth century.”[146] Put simply, the growing public sector not only took actual and potential leaders away from the labor movement, but also repudiated the tenets of socialism, which rendered the working-class impervious to its seduction.

Absent radical ideology, what could have inspired workers to weaponize dynamite? Contrasting sharply with the Haymarket Affair and many other cases of dynamiting that reviewed national attention, the introduction of dynamite in the hard coal region did not stem from anarchist ideology. (To the extent that ideology played a role at all, there was a demonstrable correlation between the propensity of dynamiting and the entrenchment of the UMWA’s conservative trade unionism.) Nor were outside agitators to blame. Worker access to dynamite and the skillset to use it successfully were principal factors, yet not alone sufficient, to explain the timing and scale of its weaponization.[147] Dynamite was accessible for more than decade before it became weaponized: the anthracite industry began using it in large quantities for extraction by the early 1880s after its U.S. patent expired and important innovations made it a viable explosive. And yet, it was not until the turn of the century, some years after workers had already developed proper practices in handling, preparing, and executing it, that those skills were transferred to bombing properties.

Dynamite became a mundane part of the working-class experience across most of the U.S. over the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The anthracite region, in particular, was saturated with it. Local firms manufactured it; local merchants sold it; and it was easy to steal from work or purchase stolen at a low price. And with so many trained in its use, law enforcement found it difficult to narrow a suspect pool after a bombing. As Frank Nealis from the Scranton Republican said in 1929,

the percentage of the population that understands explosives is on about the same pro rata basis as automobile drivers. Most every male resident in this end of the state did his turn at some time or another… in the mines. They are learned how to set off explosives both blasting power and dynamite. Not only does every other man in this section understand the uses and abuse of dynamite but he understands fuses, squibs and the manner of control of blasting charges.[148]

Before the introduction of dynamite, the use of explosives in labor conflict was uncommon: dynamite was an explosive uniquely well suited for bombing and offered far more precision and destructive capacity than black powder. Bombings also required careful planning and execution, which did not accommodate the convulsive passions of a riotous mobs of the 1870s and 1880s. The foremost aim of strikers was to intimidate potential scabs and keep operations idle. In this regard, bombing was a less preferred method if face-to-face confrontation was a viable option, particularly if the aim was to persuade would-be scabs to join the cause. Furthermore, a narrow focus on ideology only obscures the broader arms race of labor war that mass shootings had escalated. Dynamite bombings were not at all a symptom of radicalism: they were a common and quite ordinary act of violence and destruction that occurred in a variety of contexts.[149] The key advantage of dynamite was that it permitted an individual to execute an attack without confrontation and therefore without the risk of being shot. Slow burning fuses and timers could make it easy to escape planting a bombing undetected.[150] The fact that bombings occurred across the region immediately after 1897 is instructive that the working-class used dynamite in response to asymmetrical violence that they were the target of. As Lattimer so spectacularly demonstrated, labor activism of all variety, violent or nonviolent, including worker marches, demonstrations, and other gathering of groups, were likely to prompt a violent result that ends with worker casualties. Non-union workers were likewise swept up in the arm-race as they began carrying firearms to defend attacks.

Dynamite Bombings per Month

Minitab software generated 55 random months between 1890 and 1902. A Boolean search of “dynamite or dynamited or bomb or outrage” was used for each monthly sample from local newspapers, including the Scranton Republican, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Pittston Gazette, among others on False positives were disregarded and only those instances of dynamite bombings relating to labor conflict were documented. This sample does not include instances of criminal activity in which dynamite was used to blow up a bank’s safe or organized crime bombings.

If dynamite was weaponized with terrific effect in labor warfare after 1897, it certainly was not a source of empowerment that anarchists imagined. Instead, dynamite was a real danger and major risk factor that workers and their families invariably borne the brunt of. Accidents during its production at local explosives plants, to say nothing of accidents in the mines caused by botched detonation or improper handling, killed many at a clip. Industrial accidents were common enough, but the transportation, storage, handling, and everyday use of it probably claimed even more lives. Local newspapers were inclined to report accidents and suicides that occurred regularly—A bloke might defrost it with his kitchen stove and destroy his home and kill everyone in it as a result; A curious child might lose a few fingers, an arm, or worse; Independence Day celebrations were sure to invite accidents, of course, as did the use of dynamite for fishing, removing tree stumps, or cutting into the earth to lay pipe. Furthermore, the frequency and damage of bombings paled in comparison to industrial accidents involving explosives. Three months before 3 Hungarians were killed and 10 others injured from a boarding house bombing in 1894, an explosion at a nearby colliery killed 7 Hungarians a mine foreman. In contrast to accidents, and despite the fact that destruction and terror of a well targeted mid-night bombing made great headlines, the typical bombing usually left only property damage in its aftermath. In fact, few bombings led to injuries, and far fewer resulted in death. From Black Hand extortionists, to crime syndicates of the underworld, to labor war, the use of dynamite was typically a substitute of violent confrontation.

UMWA leaders adamantly denounced all violence because it detracted from their conservative posture of responsible unionism. It also undermined efforts to lobby political leaders and appeal to public support at a time of national anti-union sentiment. The UMWA struggled to harness rank-and-file militancy and dissuade wildcat strikes. They had even less control over mid-night bombings. The UWMA’s approach was nonviolent and aimed to unite an otherwise divided and ethnically heterogeneous working-class of different skill sets behind a practical goal of “pure and simple” unionism. Their concerns were immediate and pragmatic: job security, fair and safe working conditions, and a greater share of the fruit of their labor. The UMWA rejected “the vision of a broader social, economic, and political construction of American society” that workers held firm in the 1860s-1880s and focused intently on improving the lot of the American worker. “Reconciling itself to the irrevocability of modern industrial capitalism,” as Hirsh explained, the UMWA “rejected the reformism of the Knights of Labor, and sought through arbitration and conciliation to achieve social and economic security for the American miner.”[151]  UMWA maintained that the only way to take on the JP Morgan-led combination was to unify the workforce and rally behind attainable, job related goals: higher wages, standardized work rules, protections from the usurious company store, and prohibition of child labor.

The focus on Mitchell’s leadership tends to minimize the important role the rank-and-file played on the ground in sustaining strikes. Scholars have credited a confluence of factors largely external to the region, namely the resources and leadership of the UMWA, along with federal intervention, as the catalyst of anthracite mineworkers’ change of fortune in 1900 and 1902.[152] Most accounts construe the historic 1902 strike as a morality play between the UMWA’s President John Mitchell, who bargained on behalf of workers with for the just rewards of their labor, and George F. Baer, the arrogant president of the P&R, who fashioned himself as a conduit of God’s will charged with defending management’s prerogative to set wages and ignore unions. The dramatic and well documented White House meeting between President Roosevelt, Mitchell, and the most powerful operators, which led ultimately to the intervention of financier JP Morgan to force operators to cooperate, obscures the frequent battles in communities across the region to idle operations and keep men from returning to work.[153] As if examining the role violence were to condone it, there has been a reluctance to evaluate working-class violence as an important facet of a united, combative front worthy of examination.  Workers not only marched, picketed, and mobilized resources, but they also fought back against the Coal and Iron Police and other armed gunmen and put operators and strikebreakers on the defensive. Even if the role of violence in sustaining strikes and preventing non-union workers from tipping the struggle towards operators can be dismissed as inconsequential to the victory, the human toll that conflicts took on workers (union and non-union alike), their families, and even police and militiamen, certainly cannot. [154]

The success of the UMWA was as much attributable to local conditions as it was to Mitchell’s leadership and the organization’s mobilization of resources. UMWA recruitment ascended after Lattimer and rode the coattails of a rank-and-file militancy that was erupting in wildcat strikes in Pittston, Duryea, and Nanticoke in 1899.[155] By 1900, workers in the anthracite region aimed for the UMWA to deliver for them what they delivered to bituminous workers a few years earlier. With pressure mounting by late August, local UMWA delegates began a campaign to agitate for a 20 percent wage increase, standardized coal cars and unionized weighmen, an overhaul of work rules to prevent favoritism, and union recognition. Mitchell was receptive, but discouraged a strike, fearing the union was not yet strong enough to sustain a campaign. Ohio Senator Marcus Hanna, heading William McKinley’s Full Dinner Pail campaign, intervened for fear the strike might spread into the Midwestern states. Their interventions failed to sway operators, and by September, to even Mitchell’s surprise, some 125,000 workers went on strike.[156]

Like many strikes before, strikers demonstrated in the streets and marched to mines in operation to shut them down. In fact, Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones, a renown and experienced agitator, organized and led some of these marches.[157] However, important difference between this strike and the others before is a discernable pattern of strikers using dynamite against non-union men. With operations in the northern field nearly all halted, violence centered primarily in the area spanning Pottsville and Hazleton to Mahanoy City and Minersville, where some mines remained in operation with non-union men.. In late September, for example, strikers placed a stick of dynamite under the window of a scab’s home in Hazleton, where his family of seven and five boarders escaped with minor injuries.[158] Meanwhile in Shenandoah, a group of 1,500 strikers (mostly Polish and Lithuanian) marched to the Indian Ridge colliery to halt operation. When workers ending their shift were escorted out by deputies, strikers followed, harassing and throwing stones at them. A few miles away from the Lattimer massacre of three years before, deputies opened fire on the crowd, this time killing only one, but seriously injuring seven others, including a twelve-year-old girl.[159] After the melee, 2,500 National Guardsmen were called in and operators hired 400 special policemen. The following month in Oneida, just north of Shenandoah, 500 strikers attacked a Coxe colliery that was operating with non-union labor, leading to a showdown with mine police. One policeman was shot, another seriously wounded, a striker was hit in the groin, and ten non-union men were seriously injured from stoning and assaults.[160]

Operators conceded a 10 percent raise and a reduction on the price of powder, but workers held out for the abolishment of the sliding scale. In October, Hanna once again lobbied operators and Morgan, warning that a Republican defeat would be a likelihood if the strike in Pennsylvania metastasized west. This time successful, Morgan agreed to a ten percent increase, but refused to force operators acknowledge the UMWA as a bargaining agent. The UWMA called off the strike October 29th. In the end, the region’s 150,000 workers took on one of the largest industrial combinations with unity and resolve not seen since the 1860s. If the strike outcome was a modicum of victory, the fact that workers did not collapse under the weight of internal division and hunger set the stage for the 1902 strike.

While the anthracite strike was on pause, in late 1902 streetcar workers in Lackawanna County went on strike for a 10-hour workday and twenty percent raise and led a boycott with support from UMWA leadership and rank-and-file.[161] In November and December, riots and dynamite bombings ensued as strikebreakers were imported.[162] Among more than a dozen bombings, dynamite was fastened to streetcars in operation and tracks in Carbondale, Old Forge, and Scranton. The militancy of the streetcar strike took the legendary professional strikebreaker James Farley to break.[163] In fact, Farley credited Scranton for giving him his “closest shave” (with death) when he and 25 of his strikebreakers fixed a sabotaged track in community outside Scranton. When one of Farley’s men was arrested in Old Forge, residents of the town recognized Farley and yelled, “Lynch Farley!” Farley recounts being chased through a wooded area by two groups firing gunshots at him.[164]

While the streetcar strike broken, the UMWA were becoming disillusioned by the 1900 settlement—a tenuous concession with little material affect. A ten percent increase was modest and industry wages remained comparatively low. Frustrations began to mount once again, as Mitchell continued attempts at negotiation. UMWA men went on strike in May of 1902 and would sustain a united front through October. This time, many had savings they could tap into and the men could rely on support from the well-resourced UMWA and extended credit from local merchants.

The early part of the strike was largely peaceful. Demand for coal was low in the spring and summer, and operators were therefore less inclined to use strikebreakers. By the fall as many as 17,000 non-union men were working. Scabs, local law enforcement, and the Coal and Iron Police became targets of harassment and assault. In a few cases, they were kidnapped and even killed. Strikers were likewise on the receiving end of assault and bullets. Though not exhaustive or comprehensive, a tally created by Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company between May and October in Carbon and lower Luzerne countries provided to Anthracite Coal Strike Commission (ACSC), supplemented with more than a dozen newspapers from across the region, sketch outline of the violence.

The earliest instances of violence were centered in the middle-field. In mid-May, strikers surrounding non-union men who lived in company lodging loading stock coal in Nesquehoning and threatened to stone them if they did not quit. The following month, “four Coal and Iron policemen, in trying to make arrests at noon, were surrounded by a mob, pushed around, beaten, and one badly wounded.” A few miles away, a police chief and mine superintendent were attacked by a mob, “thrown to the ground, jumped on, and robbed of their revolvers.”[165] A Hungarian was kidnapped in Coaldale and marched to Tamaqua. All the usual sabotage was in order—rail lines were destroyed or blocked with stones and iron. In Summit Hill, two trolley poles were sawed off; two poles connecting Lansford and Coaldale were dynamited.

In June, violence in Schuylkill County was virtually a repeat of the 1875 strike:  trains carrying non-union men were attacked; non-union men working pumps were attacked. In Wilkes-Barre, Coal and Iron Police stationed at the Stanton Colliery, where two nights before was set ablaze by strikers, shot a 12-year boy through the chest from 30 yards away, igniting a small riot.[166] In the middle field, the wave of dynamite bombings was particularly fierce and included the home of Coal and Iron policemen James Applegate for the Cranberry Colliery was dynamited. In Lackawanna County, meanwhile, a group of non-union were fired upon by strikers on their way to a colliery in Mayfield, injuring one man in the leg.[167]

In July, Coal and Iron policeman standing guard from behind a stockade a shot and killed an Italian man outside a colliery in Duryea.[168] Later in the month, in Pottsville strikers rioted and shot a mine foreman in the face and shoulder.[169] in Mahanoy City the Coal and Iron police, facing off with a large crowd of strikes, “climbed the stockade and leveled their Winchesters, threatening to shoot into the crowd.”[170] No shootings or injuries were reported there, but a dozen strikers sized a deputy, relived him of his rifle, and marched him to the Justice of the Peace. The same day, a scene on Center Street in Shenandoah was as violent as the 1900 episode. A melee started when sheriff deputies escorted non-union men through a large crowd of pickets. When of the strike-breakers were attacked, a deputy opened fire on the crowd, injuring two. A crowd of 5,000 strikers gathered as the deputies fled, taking cover at a P&R depot. The brother of one deputy, working his way through the crowd and thought to be delivering ammunition and supply to the stockade, was apprehended and beaten to death. All told there were an estimated 1,000 bullets discharged, resulting in three deputies and twenty strikers seriously wounded.[171]

In August, when a large group of strikers surrounded a barricaded washery in Duryea, the Coal and Iron Police showered bullets into the crowd, hitting two who sustained only minor injuries. An African American man working behind the barricade, however, ran to escape the oncoming siege, but was chased down the street. Strikers captured him with the intent to lynch him. Thankfully, he was rescued by local law enforcement.[172] In Archbald, strikers shot two non-union men working at the Edgerton colliery—one in the leg, requiring amputation, and the other in shoulder. The same day in Nesquehoning, strikers and deputies clashed and when unarmed Patrick Sharp approached deputies in a plea for them to disband he was shot dead. The shooter was tried but not convicted.[173]

The apex of violence and sabotage was probably in September. A railroad bridge near the Silver Creek colliery was dynamited and set ablaze.[174] In Nanticoke, James Sweeney, a non-union man whose brother, a mine guard, was killed by strikers just six weeks before, killed a striker.[175] In Scranton, the DL&W railroad bridge near the Lackawanna station was dynamited.[176] Elsewhere in Lackawanna County, some 200 strikers ransacked the quarters of some 40 non-union men housed at the Raymond Colliery in Archbald, drove pumpmen and engineers from the working, and hit the electric breaker, cutting electricity throughout the town. The melee resulted in one striker and one non-union man shot.[177] In a separate incident at the Raymond Colliery, a man who claimed he was in the wooded area looking for his cow was shot by a guard posted up in the stockade.  In Edwardsville, a crowd of workers followed and harassed two Coal and Iron Police until they attacked. The police fired into the crowd, hitting one 60-year-old woman in the arm, which in turn enraged the crowd. The one escaped, but the other was beaten nearly till death.[178]

In Olyphant, a mob of strikers attacked and shot the chief deputy.  The National Guard there attacked two non-union foreigners as they traveled by the camp on their way to work at a washery; a short distance away two men were shot by the militia. Two Arabian peddlers were mistaken as strikebreakers and beaten. After strikers sieged on a stockade, two African American non-union workers fled but were captured by a mob who “bound their hands and started for the bridge over the Lackawanna [river]…with the avowed intention of throwing into the water, about 23 feet below,” but were stopped by law enforcement.[179] In Old Forge, two non-union men returning home from a day’s work were held up by fifty Italian strikers, badly beaten and stoned.[180] Meanwhile, a steam pipe at one colliery there was dynamited. The railroad tracks at the Jenkins switch outside of Wilkes-Barre were also dynamited. At Ashland, a train was blocked by a mob and stoned. It took some 40 deputies and hand-to-hand combat to fight off strikers and rescue the crew.[181] Violent confrontations continued right up until news of a settlement October 13th spread. In Kingston, when the house of one scab was stoned, he fired his revolver into the crowd, hitting one man in the neck.[182] In Tamaqua area, a section of track of the P&R was dynamited; meanwhile; days later, a striker believed to be setting dynamite was shot dead by a sentry after he was spotted near the home of a non-union worker.[183] On the 13th, the National Guard stationed in Pottsville were fired upon from a wooded area. The guard returned fired. Nobody was hit.[184]

National and local papers published a partial list of violence on September 30th tallied by the Hillside Coal and Iron Company: 14 had been killed, 16 shot from ambush, 42 others severely injured, and 67 aggravated assaults had occurred. 1 house and 4 bridges were dynamited; 16 houses, 10 buildings, 3 washrooms around mines and 3 stockades were set on fire; 6 trains were wrecked, and strikes tried to wreck 9 others. In 14 instances, students went on strike against teachers whose fathers or brothers were working during the strike. Another tally cited 20 killed, over 40 seriously wounded.[185] Even though violence and dynamite bombings made sensational headlines, there is good reason to suspect underreporting. Testimony in the ACSC hearings provides some insight in this regard. Of those who testified to being victims of violence and bombings, many instances were not reported in local newspapers. Before the anthracite strike commission, for example, Max Lazar of Scranton testified, with corroborating testimony from a Scranton police detective, that his home was attacked on four separate occasions.  However, the dynamiting of his property was not reported in local newspapers.[186]

If the everyday culture that shunned, intimidated, harassed, and attacked non-union workers was responsible for violence, it was also responsible for reaffirming working-class solidarity. Like strikes before, this the community was mortally divided: “Clergymen were notified not to bury dead non-unionists, and union men refused to worship at the same alter with the industrious “scab” who preferred to work rather than to see his family starve.”[187] Testimony at the ACSC revealed that non-union workers were expelled from benevolent societies; family members who were teachers were not reappointed. Among the most egregious examples was the disruption of a funeral of a Hungarian strikebreaker who died in a work accident: Strikers “held up the funeral for an hour and a quarter, insulting the preacher of the Lutheran Church, to which the Hungarian belong, while conducting the services, and threatening the pallbearers with severe punishment if they attempted to remove the corpse from the house. At the graveyard a mob of about 1,000 gathered to hoot and jeer, and when the grave was partially filled up desecrated it.”[188] In Hazleton, after a non-union worker on his way to get married was confronted by “A crowd of 200 surrounded the carriage when it stopped at the church door. He was grabbed by the coat by a man in the crowd and jostled about. His brother rescued him and he hurried into the church with his bride. The crowd called him “scab” and other vile names and kept shouting opprobrious epithets while the ceremony was being performed. The groom’s father, who is a union man, was assaulted when he entered a protest. When the ceremony was concluded the bridal party found the crowd so turbulent that it was decided best not to leave…”[189]

At the height of the occupation between July and October, some 10,000 National Guardsmen were camped in five hard coal producing counties. The New York Times said, “Men so ignorant, or so besotted by the evil passions generated by the strike that they require the entire National Guard of PA to hold in restraint are of no benefit to any organization and have no place in a civilized community.”[190]  The Guard’s cost was high, as was the five thousand Coal and Iron Police guarding property of collieries across the region that cost some $1.8 million in wages, food, and lodging by late August. However, the occupation was not enough to stop the violence, much less subdue workers into submission. If there is any doubt that this united front across the landscape created a condition of possibility for victory, consider the Guard’s adjunct general commentary on the strike: “There are not 50,000 soldiers in existence who can patrol every colliery, every home, and every road in a district as large as the anthracite region of eastern Pennsylvania. There is such a species of intimidation that although I have very excellent secret service men, and my officers are as diligent as officers could be, there are so many things that could be done that I cannot do them all at once.”[191]  Collieries in operation functioned only as stockades with armed guards and barbed wire fencing. Those inside risked injury by venturing outside the stockade. According to one account, for example, two deputies whose “thirst for alcoholic drink was stronger than their fear of bodily harm” went into town to buy alcohol and were confronted by a mob. One of deputies was captured and a “rope was tied around the neck … and the cry ‘Lynch him, lynch him,’ was instantly raised.”[192]

A Wilkes-Barre area photographer wrote George Baer, asking that he end the strike, and appealed that God would “send the Holy Spirit to reason in your heart.” In what became an abstract of the operators’ stance toward workers, Baer responded, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for—not by agitators, but by Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends…” A New York Times editorial retorted, “A good many people think they superintend the earth but not many have the egregious vanity to describe themselves as its managing directors.”[193] Baer and other operators brought this same arrogance with them to the White House when they were summoned by Roosevelt to meet with the UWMA. Frustrating Roosevelt, the operators expressed an outright refusal to negotiate with the UMWA.[194] Roosevelt was motivated to end the strike. Angered and disrespected by Baer’s incorrigible stubbornness, he instructed his military to be ready at on short notice to “invade Pennsylvania and dispossess the owners and run the mines as receivers” and even sent his Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to inform J.P. Morgan that if operators would not arbitrate, the military would take over the times.[195] Morgan was receptive to negotiations and worked out a memorandum with the operators to establish an impartial commission. Workers returned to work on the 23rd of October, and the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission (ASCS began its work a week later. Interviewing hundreds of witnesses, including many workers, the commission concluded in March of 1903 with a 10 percent wage increase, an 8 to 9 hour workday, a union checkweighman, standard coal car sizes, and instituted a board to settle labor disputes.

Workers maintained a united front for six months and made defending property and strikebreaking a costly and protracted venture. And though the working-class perpetrated violence, they too were subject to it. Much of their violence was provoked: the mere presence of Coal and Iron Police was enough to spark outrage. The ACSC criticized the Coal and Iron Police for both perpetrating and instigating violence: “The employment of this body of police is authorized by the law, but they are really the employees of the coal companies, and thus do not secure the respect and obedience to which officers of the law are entitled. Their pretense is an irritant, and many of the disturbances in the coal regions during the late strike grew out of their presences.”[196] And as Mitchell pointed out, had the mines been operating during this period, many dozens more would have died from usual industrial accidents—the banal danger that workers were striking so hard for in the first place. Many labor historians have called the strike of 1902 “the most important strike in American labor history.”[197] Never settled and always an uneasy balance, labor peace would continue to remain elusive even over the 20-year period of sustained economic growth that followed.


Robert Schmidt is an independent scholar and critical geographer. He is currently preparing a manuscript tentatively titled “Revitalization and its Discontents: Economic Development and Corruption in Northeastern Pennsylvania.” This essay is part of a working paper on labor violence in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Critical feedback is welcome at


[1] The W.B.A. was among the largest labor unions of the period, with an estimated 30,000-35,000 members. For an overview of W.B.A. successes, see Marvin W. Schlegel, “The Workingmen’s Benevolent Association: First Union of Anthracite Miners,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 10, no. 4 (1943): 243-67; The New York Times commented in 1869, “The history of the labor movement cannot show anything more thorough and marvelous than the organization of the anthracite miners.” See “The Coal Strike,” New York Times, 15 May 1869.

[2] See Perry K. Blatz, Democratic Miners: Work and Labor Relations in the Anthracite Coal Industry, 1875-1935 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 38-41.

[3] See Harold W. Aurand, From the Molly Maguires to the United Mine Workers: The Social Ecology of an Industrial Union (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1971), 121-130; see also Donald L. Miller and Richard E. Sharpless, The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 215. See also Terrence Powderly, Thirty Years of Labor, 1859-1889 (Columbus, OH: Excelsior Publishing House, 1890), 186-222

[4] For a discussion of the important role of grassroots-militancy, see Perry K. Blatz, “Local Leadership and Local Militancy: The Nanticoke Strike of 1899 and the Roots of Unionization in the Northern Anthracite Field.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 58, no. 4 (1991): 278-97; for the important role of Eastern European immigrants to the unionization of anthracite mineworkers, see Victor R. Greene, The Slavic Community on Strike: Immigrant Labor in Pennsylvania Anthracite (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

[5] The anthracite region was a microcosm of nineteenth century labor history. Its recurring strikes, violence, vicious capitalists, and the oligopoly of absentee investors that dominated the region, according to Rowland Berthoff, were the “stock types of nineteenth-century capitalist oppression and labor resistance.” See Berthoff “The Social Order of the Anthracite Region, 1825-1902,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 89, no. 3 (1965): 261.

[6] See Gary R. Jones, “American Cossacks: The Pennsylvania Department of State Police and Labor, 1890-1917,” (PhD Thesis, Lehigh University, 1998).

[7] Describing the divisions among the working class in her study on John Mitchell, Elise Gluck said, “The miners were divided by racial, national, economic and social conditions. The economic line was drawn between the skilled miners [and unskilled miners] …[and] re-enforced by the barriers of race and religion.” See Gluck, John Mitchell, Miner:  Labor’s Bargain with the Gilded Age (New York: The John Day Company), 68.

[8] The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company; the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company; and the Pennsylvania Coal Company dominated the area in around Scranton. See George O. Virtue, “The Anthracite Coal Combination,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, no.10 vol. 1 (April 1896): 296-232. See also Elliot Jones, The Anthracite Coal Combination in the United States: With Some Account of the Early Development of the Anthracite Industry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914).

[9] The U.S. was exceptional in its labor violence because capital refused to recognize unions and were quick to introduce strikebreakers. Philip Taft and Philip Ross, “American Labor violence: It’s Causes, Character, Outcome,” in Hugh D. Graham and Ted R. Gurr, eds., The History of Violence in American: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (New York: Bantam, 1969), 281-304.

[10] Willard Atkins and Harold Lasswell, Labor Attitudes and Problems (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1930), 360-361.

[11] See Mark G. Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic: Trade Union Ideology in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania, 1875-1902,” (PhD Thesis, Harvard University, 1984), 242.

[12] “The Coal Strike: A Near-by View,” Outlook, 18 October 1902.

[13] For the source and inspiration of this idea, see H.M. Gitelman, “Perspectives on American Industrial Violence.” The Business History Review 47, no. 1 (1973): 1-23, particularly page 3.

[14] For a discussion of the exceptional history of U.S.  labor violence, see Paul F. Lipold and Larry W. Issac, “Striking Deaths: Lethal Contestation and the ‘Exceptional’ Character of the American Labor Movement, 1870–1970,” International Review of Social History 54, no. 2 (2009): 203. For a survey of U.S. strikes, see Jeremy Brecher, Strike! Revised, Expanded, Updated Edition (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014).

[15] See William August Itter, “Conscription in Pennsylvania During the Civil War” (PhD Dissertation, University of Southern California, 1941), 143-154.

[16] Grace Palladino argued that the enforcement “provided industrialists and their supporters with the federal force necessary to override whatever local economic and political power the miners had thus far managed to achieve.” See Palladino, Another Civil War: Labor, Capital, and the State in the Anthracite Regions of Pennsylvania, 1840-1868 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 6.

[17] The “historical elasticity” of the Molly Maguires has been the driving force behind serious historical debate. The authoritative studies on the topic include Walter Coleman, The Molly Maguire Riots: Industrial Conflict in the Pennsylvania Coal Region (New York: Richmond, Garret and Massie, 1936) and Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). For an important work skeptical of the Molly Maguire narrative, see Harold Aurand and William Gudelunas. “The Mythical Qualities of Molly Maguire,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 49, no. 2 (1982): 91-105. The debate centers on whether there was indeed a conspiracy and whether there was something rooted in an Irish tradition that ignited labor war of Schuylkill County. Michael A. Bellesiles offers a synthesis of literature. While there is some evidence that an ethnic gang of Irishmen did exist, there were other ethnic gangs. And there is a considerable disjuncture between myth and reality. He said, “There is no evidence that the Molly Maguires as an organization was imported from Ireland; rather, Irish workers drew upon that heritage in response to conditions in the Pennsylvania coal fields and the group never expanded from that area.” See Bellesiles, 1877: America’s Year of Living Violently (The New Press, New York, 2010), 136.

[18] See Jeremiah Patrick Shalloo, Private Police, with Special Reference to Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: The American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1933), 61. See also Stephen R. Couch, “Selling and Reclaiming State Sovereignty: The Case of Coal and Iron Police,” Critical Criminology 11, no. 1 (1981): 85-91.

[19] For a prime exhibit of both exaggeration and unsubstantiated claims, see “The Pennsylvania Reign of Terror,”

[20] For example, the Miners’ Journal editor wrote, “Foreigners are welcome to come here and improve their condition and the prospects of their children but they make a mistake when they bring with them their Old World traditions of hostility of capital to labor.” See Miners’ Journal, 23 April 1875.

[21] “Crime in the Coal Fields,” Sunbury American, 27 November 1874

[22] “Justice at Last,” reprinted in the Reading Times, 22 June 1877.

[23] Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July, 1877 (Harrisburg, PA) 1878.

[24] Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, 281. Kenny said the Knights were “accused of being the Molly Maguires under a new name, partly because of the secrecy that surrounded their organization, and partly because of their rapid expansion in the region after the collapse of the miners’ union in 1875.” Allen Pinkerton called the Knights “an amalgamation of the Molly Maguires and the Commune.” See Pinkerton, Strikers, Communists, Tramps, and Detectives (G. W. Carleton & Company, 1878), 88.

[25] Kelly, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, 7; See also KEVIN KENNY. “The “Molly Maguires,” the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Bloody Summer of 1875,” Pennsylvania Legacies 14, no. 2 (2014): 18-25.

[26] Ann J. Lane, “Review: Recent Literature on the Molly Maguires,” Science & Society, vol. 30, no. 3 (summer, 1966), 319.

[27] See Miners’ Journal, 30 March 1867; One source claims that between 1865 and 1870 there were over 140 unsolved murders in Schuylkill County. Rosemary L. Gibdo et al., “The Irish in Schuylkill County Prison,” Prison Journal 86, vol. 2(2006): 264; See also Hyman Kuritz, “The Pennsylvania State Government and Labor Controls From 1865 to 1922,” (PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1953), 34.

[28] Sydney Lens, The Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sit Downs, (Doubleday, 1973), 15.

[29] Ibid., 31.

[30] On vigilante committees, see James Walter Coleman, “Labor Disturbances in Pennsylvania, 1850-1880” (PhD Dissertation, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 1936), 104; See also Kenny, Making Sense, 202-204.

[31] The height of the Molly Maguire hysteria occurred over the months immediately after the Long Strike of 1875. Five murders attributed to the Molly Maguires occurred in August of 1875. John B. Andrews argued, “In the early sixties, when the society became known, until 1876, when it was finally stamped out, its criminal activity varies inversely in frequency and violence.” See Andrews, “The Molly Maguire’s,” in A History of Labour in the United States, John R. Commons, ed. (New York, 1921), 181.

[32] “Coal Troubles,” Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1875.

[33] See “The Coal Regions,” Philadelphia Inquirer 21 November 1874.

[34] For an example of this perspective, see Mark Bulik The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). For Bulik, the Irish “carried their own legacy from the deadly competition for land in the north of Ireland” that ultimately became “the American branch of the Molly Maguires.” This uncritical claim that the Irish imported a tradition of violence overlooks the historical circumstances in Northeastern Pennsylvania that led to violence. Furthermore, the Irish did not make a neat transition from agricultural work in Ireland to anthracite mining in Pennsylvania in their migration to the U.S. has been challenged. David Morris documents that many of the region’s Irish-born first worked in south Wales, where they labored to save enough for the transatlantic migration to the U.S. See Morris, “‘Gone to Work to America’: Irish Step-Migration Through South Wales in the 1860s and 1870s,” Immigrants & Minorities, Vol. 34, no. 3 (2016): 297-313.

[35] See U.S. Bureau of the Census, The Statistics of the Population of the United States: Ninth Census of the United States (June 1, 1870), (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872), 369-370; Lackawanna County formed in 1878 after it split from Luzerne County.  For demographic data from 1880, see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Tenth Census of the United States, 1880: Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880) (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 481-482.

[36] For an important overview of Irish-Americans in the anthracite region, James Rodechko, “Irish-American Society in the Pennsylvania Anthracite Region: 1870-1880,” in John E. Bodnar (eds.), The Ethnic Experience in Pennsylvania (Becknell University Press, 1973).

[37] Eric Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 70-71.

[38] This point stands in stark disagreement with Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, 49.

[39] Thomas J. Keil offers up a competing explanation that is worth consideration. He argued that the Irish of Schuylkill County, squeezed by the anarchic competition of the industry at that time, were a super-exploited class driven to violence and terrorism. However, Keil argues that, in the northern field, there were no significant differences among mineworkers, which overlooks the conflict between the Welsh and Irish in Scranton. Keil, “Capital Organization and Ethnic Exploitation: Consequences for Miner Solidarity and Protest (1850-1970), Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Vol. 10 (1982): 237-255.

[40] See, for example, Ronald L. Lewis, Welsh Americans: A History of Assimilation in the Coalfields (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 198.

[41] A correspondent for the New York Times in 1872 wrote, “The Welsh people everywhere are Protestants; the Irish miners, on the other hand, are nearly all serous Catholics. Both nations have from time immemorial been arrayed against each other on these grounds. No one would have dreamt…that the religious antagonism existing among the miners would have caused the death of the W.B.A.” See “The Coal Regions,” The New York Times, 15 June 1872.The local and national press held an anti-Irish posture in their reporting. See for example, “Rioting in the Coal Region: A Murderous Jealousy Between the Irish and Welsh and English,” New York Times, 11 October 1875.

[42] Harold Aurand, “The Anthracite Mine Workers, 1869-1897: A Functional Approach to Labor History,” (PhD Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, 1969), 167.

[43] “The Situation,” The Scranton Republican, 10 April 1871; see also Frederick L. Hitchcock, History of Scranton and its People Volume 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1917), 489.

[44] For an account of the riot, see “Assault Upon the Men Working at Tripp’s Slope,” The Morning Republican,  7 April 1871 and “The Riot Yesterday,” The Morning Republican, 8 April 1871; One report said that rioters were waving an Irish-American flag and seized muskets and revolvers from the local militia. See “National Production and Workmen’s Strikes,” Commercial and Financial Chronicle 8 April 1871.

[45] George O. Virtue, “The Anthracite Mine Laborers,” Bulletin of the Department of Labor vol. 13 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, November 1 897), 738-741.

[46] David Craft, History of Scranton, Pennsylvania (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing, 1891), 220-226.

[47] “Riot in the Coal Regions,” Juniata Sentinel 12 April 1871. See also Steven Patrick Schroeder, “The Elementary School of the Army: The Pennsylvania National Guard, 1877-1917,” (PhD Thesis, University of Pittsburg, 2006), 38-39.

[48] “Riot in Hyde Park,” Scranton Republican, 9 May 1871; see also “The Irish Aroused,” Scranton Republican 10 May 1871.

[49] “Two Miners Shot Dead,” The Morning Republican, 18 May 1871; see also Hitchcock, History of Scranton, 488-492.

[50] The Welsh of Luzerne County, a fraternal organization, fully understood the way ethnic division benefitted the operators. They issued a resolution in the wake of the this conflict, calling “the attempt to divide people into nationalities, and put one against the other in a community composed of so many heterogenous elements is a cowardly act, and a dangerous precedent, full of seeds of future discord, having a direct tendency to incite riot, and contrary to the genius of American institutions.” See “Resolutions Adopted by the Welsh of Luzerne County,” The Luzerne Union, 31 May 1871.

[51] Aurand, “The Anthracite Mineworkers,” 159-196.

[52] See the Miners’ Journal article reproduced as “The Coal Mining Outrages,” The Evening Telegraph, 7 March 1871.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Aurand, “The Anthracite Mineworkers,” 164.

[55] Perry Blatz, “Ever shifting Ground,” 72-78

[56] Wayne G. Broehl, The Molly Maguires (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), 185.

[57] See Aurand, From The Molly Maguires, 88-95. Mineworkers of the Scranton area, who had yet forgotten their ill-fated effort a few years earlier, were far too weak to join the strike, but did contribute to the cause by raising funds for relief to striking miners.

[58] See list of daily instances of violence, intimidation, and sabotage see Francis Dewees, The Molly Maguires: The Origin, Growth, and Character of the Organization (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877), 359-372.

[59] “The Striking Miners,” New York Times, 8 May 1875.

[60] Ibid., 115.

[61] “Internal Trouble,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 9 April 1875. The Chicago Tribune reported that there was a skirmish between strikers and militia, resulting with a few wounded but no deaths. There were also a few instances of mob violence other communities of the middle anthracite field. See “The Miners’ War,” Chicago Tribune, 10 April 1875.

[62] See “The Miners’ Riots,” New York Times, 1 April 1875;

[63] “Military! Military!” Luzerne Union, 12 May 1875.

[64] “Civil War in Pennsylvania,” The Chicago Tribune, 8 April 1875.

[65] Andrew Roy, A History of the Coal Miners of the United States (Columbus: J. L. Trauger Printing Company, 1907), 99.

[66] See, for example, “Coal Region Riots,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 October 1875.

[67] Robert Bruce, 1877: The Year of the Strike (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 295.

[68] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Adjutant General, Report of the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, 1877 (Harrisburg, PA: 1877), 91.

[69] Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 109.

[70] Dennis M. Johnson, “An Investigation into the Scranton Railroad Riots of 1877,” (MA Thesis, University of Scranton, 1969), 53.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, General Assembly, Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July 1877 (Harrisburg, PA: 1878), 719.

[73] “The Working Men’s War,” New York Times, 3 August 1877.

[74] Jacob Riis, The Making of An American (New York: Macmillan Company, 1902), 189-190.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Hirsch, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 128-130.

[77] Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots, 769.

[78] Riis, The Making of an American, 189-190. See also, “Mutinous Miners,” Boston Daily Globe, 3 August 1877.

[79] Kuritz, “The Pennsylvania State Government and Labor Controls,” 100.

[80] “More Bloodshed: A Terrible Riot at Scranton,” The Times (Philadelphia), 2 August 1877. See also Johnson, “An Investigation into the Scranton Railroad Riots of 1877,” 77.

[81] Bruce, 1877: Year of Violence, 297-298.

[82] “The Inevitable,” Chicago Tribune, 3 August 1877.

[83] Scranton credited Gowen for clearing “out the Mollies in Schuylkill,” but made an unsubstantiated claim that “a great many of them who had not been apprehended have come here… These Mollies are now reorganizing here.” See Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July 1877, 774.

[84] Here, Aurand is borrowing from Phillip Taft’s landmark study on labor violence in the U.S., which identified the introduction of strikebreakers and suborn refusal to acknowledge unions as chief instigators of violence. Philip Taft and Philip Ross, “American Labor Violence: Its Causes, Character, and Outcome,” in The History of Violence in America: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr (ed.) (New York: Bantam Books, 1969) 281-395.

[85] Aurand, “The Anthracite Mine Workers, 1869-1897,” 234.

[86] For the source of this idea see Joseph Rayback, A History of American Labor (New York: The Free Press, 1959), 168-169. See also Rayback’s position on the Molly Maguire episode on page 133.

[87] Blatz, Democratic Miners, 44.

[88] Harold Aurand, “The Anthracite Strike of 1887-1888,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 35, no. 2 (1968): 174. Mill and Sharpless, The Kingdom of Coal, 216.

[89] See, for example, an instance where a riot was provoked by a company in Shenandoah. See U.S. Congress House, Select Committee on Existing Labor Troubles in Pennsylvania, Labor Troubles in the Anthracite Regions of Pennsylvania 1887-1888, 50th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, D.C., 1889), 94-96.

[90] “The Strike Situation” Wilkes-Barre Record, 18 October 1887.

[91] Labor Troubles in the Anthracite Regions, 145-146.

[92] “Strikers Up in Arms,” The Plain Speaker, 4 February 1888.

[93] For an important overview of the riot and the conflicting interpretations that followed, see John Davies, “Authority, Community, and Conflict: Rioting and Aftermath in a Late-Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania Coal Town,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 66, no. 3 (1999): 339-63.

[94] “First Blood Shed,” The Pittsburg Press, 4 Feb 1888.

[95] “Striking Miners Rioting,” Carlisle Weekly Herald, 4 February 1888.

[96] Victor Greene, “A Study in Slavs, Strikes, and Unions: The Anthracite Strike of 1897,” Pennsylvania History 45 (1978): 200.

[97] Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 203.

[98] Ibid., 206

[99] Peter Roberts, Anthracite Coal Communities: A Study of the Demography, the Social, Educational and Moral Life of the Anthracite Regions (New York: Macmillan Company, 1904); See also, William Futhey Gibbons, “The Adopted Home of the Hun: A Social Study in Pennsylvania,” American Magazine of Civics, September 1895; For a social and cultural history of the immigration Eastern Europeans, see Miller and Sharpless, The Kingdom of Coal, 177-212.


[101] Henry Rood, “The Public and the Coal Conflict,” The North American Review 181, no. 587 (1905): 606.

[102] Henry Rood, “The Mine Laborers of Pennsylvania,” The Forum, 14 (September 1892): 110.

[103] “The Huns,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 15 December 1884.

[104] “A Triple Murder,” Wilkes-Barre Times, 29 October 1894.

[105] “The Murderers of Four Hungarians,” The Wilkes-Barre News, 11 June 1895; see also “A Diabolical and Fiendish Act,” Dollar Weekly News, 3 November 1894; “The Dynamite Outrage,” Wilkes-Barre Semi-Weekly, 24 September 1895.

[106] For an overview of these smaller strikes leading to the Lattimer massacre, see Miller and Sharpless, The Kingdom of Coal, 220-224; see also Green, The Slavic Community on Strike, 129-151.

[107] Ibid. 227.

[108] Greene, “A Study in Slavs,” 206.

[109] “The Riot in the Coal Regions,” The Philadelphia Inquirer 12 September 1897.

[110] Henry Rood, “A Pennsylvania Colliery Village: A Polyglot Community,” The Century Magazine, (April 1898): 809.

[111] Greene, Slavic Community on Strike, xv.

[112] There was a strong relationship between community building and union-building. See Ron Rothbart, “Homes Are What Any Strike Is About”: Immigrant Labor and the Family Wage,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Winter, 1989), 267-284.

[113] Jones, The Anthracite Coal Combination in the United States, 46.

[114] For a discussion on the formation of the anthracite oligopoly, see Clifton K. Yearly, Jr., Enterprise and Anthracite: Economics and Democracy in Schuylkill County, 1820-1875; Mark Wardell and Robert Johnston, “Class Struggle and Industrial Transformation,” Theory and Society, vol. 16, no. 6 (1987): 781-808; see also Jules Bogen, The Anthracite Railroads: A Study in American Railroad Enterprise (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1927).

[115] Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 16.

[116] The court injunction essentially criminalized picketing and the harassment of strikebreakers or anything that might interfere with strikebreakers. See Hyman Kuritz, “The Labor Injunction in Pennsylvania, 1891-1931,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 29, no. 3 (1962): 306-21.

[117] T.S. Adams, “Violence in Labor Disputes,” American Economic Association, vol. 7, no.1 (1906), 192. The historical transformation modernized labor war and created an arms race between labor and capital. He continued, “When violence is employed, therefore, it will be employed scientifically…blows are no longer struck at random, they are directed at the nerve-centers. The mere extent of this systemic violence is relatively unimportant. The serious development of the century is the systematization of the boycott and blacklist, the constant and fairly successful effort of trade union and employers’ association to improve and perfect their respective weapons of coercion, to give them a legal status and transform them…into lawful instruments which are doubly oppressive, because doubly efficient, by reason of their legality. Both sides are incessantly planning to perfect and legalize coercion and monopoly.”

[118] Shalloo, Private Police, 85.

[119] See, for example, J. G. Brooks, “Impression of the Anthracite Coal Troubles,” Yale Review VI (November, 1897), 308-309.

[120]Ibid., 78.

[121] As Peter Roberts explained, “The jealousies existing between the operators of the Northern and Southern coal fields were reflected also in the employees. The Northern miners refused to join their brethren from Schuylkill in 1868, as the latter had refused to aid the Wyoming Valley men in 1865. That year the employees of the Delaware and Hudson, of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. had a three months’ strike. The miners of Schuylkill county during this time supplied the market demand and their brethren in Luzerne, after three months’ conflict, were glad to return to work on the old terms.” Roberts, The Anthracite Coal Industry (London: The Macmillan Company, 1901), 176.

[122] Wilkes-Barre area operator J. H. Swoyer released a statement through a proxy, providing insight into the depression of wages through importation of immigrant labor: “…[I]n order to keep the labor in the coal fields in subjection it was necessary to do two things…. First, that twice as many coal openings as were necessary to supply the demand should be made and prepared for operation; and second, to get a supply of cheap foreign labor large enough to overstock the region, so that when any trouble should arise there would be plenty of surplus labor on hand…” See U.S. Congress, House Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Alleged Violations of Contract Laborers, Paupers, Convicts, and Other Classes, 50th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 444 (Washington, D.C., 1888), p. 207.

[123] As John Bodnar said,” But family and community provided insufficient means for these hard-pressed people to achieve all that was necessary to make ends meet. Consequently, they applied their communal approach to the problem of economic security by supporting the United Mine Workers of America.” See Bodnar, Anthracite People: Families, Union, and Work, 1900-1940 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1983), 2.

[124] The migration of ‘parasitical industries’ to the region in the late nineteenth century did provide a modicum of economic diversification, particularly in Scranton and Hazleton, but even these firms developed in relationship to mining.

[125] The success and strength of the labor movement was prefigured by women’s labor. Specifically, women’s labor allowed families to settle in the region, giving the labor movement a solid base from which to press for higher wages and better working conditions. See Rothbart, “Homes Are What Any Strike Is About,”271-273.

[126] This idea is borrowed from Hirsch, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 13-16. See also Marie L. Obenauer, “Living Conditions among Coal Mine Workers of the United States,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 111 (1924): 12-23.

[127] Herbert G. Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History (New York: Vintage Books, 1977).

[128] See, for example, Samuel Walker, “Varieties of Workingclass Experience: The Workingmen of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1855-1885,” in American Workingclass Culture: Explorations in American Labor and Social History, ed. Milton Cantor, 363; Ed Davis’ study presents a more complicated picture in the late nineteenth century, but over the first decades of the twentieth century many local industries were purchased and controlled by outside interests. See Davies, The Anthracite Aristocracy: Leadership and Social Change in the Hard Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1800-1930 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1985).

[129] At the turn of the century, only ten percent in the northern and southern fields, and thirty-five percent in the middle field, lived in company housing. See U.S. Anthracite Coal Strike Commission, Report to the President on the Anthracite Coal Strike of May-October 1902, 58th Congress, Special Session (Washington, D.C. 1903), 42-43. For a survey on miner purchases, see Peter Roberts, The Anthracite Industry (New York, 1901), 138.

[130] Berthoff, “The Social Order of the Anthracite Region,”;Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 62-64;

[131] Edward Martin, History of the Great Riots, (Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1877), 460-461.

[132] Even the day to day exploitative working conditions demanded militiamen and Coal and Iron Police. Jerimiah Shallo, in his 1929 study on private police in Pennsylvania, wrote of the anthracite region: “Besides the cultural differences giving rise to violent conflict, the emotional release of many lately arrived from countries where they were little better than serfs, the isolated and elemental character of the regions where the mines were located, plus the extremely hazardous nature of the work at poverty wages, all combined to make imperative police protection which, while not specially legally military, would function as an army does function.” Shalloo, Private Police, 84.

[133] “Capital and Labor,” Chicago Tribune, 13 April 1875.

[134] “Anarchy in the Anthracite District,” Iron Age, 8 April 1875.

[135] This speech was published in many Pennsylvania newspapers. See “Governor’s Message,” Reading Times, 05 January 1876.

[136] Schroeder, “The Elementary School of the Army.”

[137] Walker, “Varieties of Working Class Experience.”

[138] Mark Hirsh explained, “In the absence of supervision, miners were left in virtually total control of their working  environment.  Foremen,  to be  sure,  entered  the chambers  to  inspect  safety  standards,  but  their  visits  were’ short  and sporadic  and  rarely  concerned  the  pace  or  character  of  labor. These issues were the concern of the miner alone. Like other craftsmen who exercised broad discretionary power over the labor process, the miner worked to the beat of a preindustrial drummer. In some cases, this work pattern was externally imposed. Coal cars were often in short supply, and miners could do little but wait for them. On the whole, however, the miner chose his own hours and rested at will.” Hirsch, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 24.

[139] Carter Goodrich, The Miner’s Freedom (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1925), especially pages 5-100. The exception was the monotonous cleaning and processing of coal, which was performed primarily by young boys.

[140] See Montgomery, Beyond Equality; see also Eric Foner, Free Labor, Free Soil, Free Men

[141] H.M. Gitelman, “Perspectives on American Industrial Violence,” Business History Review, 46 (Spring 1973): 22. See also Hirsch, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 255.

[142] Pottsville Daily Republican, 6 December 1887.

[143] Michael Nash, Conflict and Accommodation: Coal Miners, Steel Workers, and Socialism, 1890-1920 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982), 69.

[144] Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 256-259.

[145] As Alan Dawley argued, “Local politics provided a convincing demonstration to wage earners that men from their ranks could rise to the highest position of honor in their community, and this experience tended to reinforce a belief in the legitimately of the existing political system. Electoral victory was a crucial force in shaping working-class consciousness because it occurred when the Civil War effect was wearing off and when workers were showing disbelief in the concept of America as a land of opportunity.” Dawley, Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 216

[146] David Montgomery, Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 215.

[147] Press accounts provide some insight. In the Pottsville area alone, by 1894 more than 300,000 lbs. of dynamite were used. By 1900, however, the anthracite industry was consuming more than 3 ½ million lbs. dynamite. See “Anthracite Output,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 26 March 1901.

[148] Frank Nealis, “News In Review,” Scranton Republican, 15 October 1929. Nealis also indicated that Scranton’s engineer soldiers put their skills to use in World War 1, playing a crucial role in detonating and exploding duds and plants left by the Jerrys before the armistice.

[149] Northeastern Pennsylvania’s history of labor violence and organized crime offers an added dimension to Beverly Gage’s important discussion of violence between 1877-1929 in a way that challenges her emphasis on radicalism. See Gage, “Why Violence Matters: Radicalism, Politics, and Class War in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era,” Journal for the study of Radicalism,” 1, no. 1 (2007):101. Gage offers up a fair critique of Philip Taft’s reluctance to consider “ideological violence.” However, if the Northeastern Pennsylvania experience is indicative of labor violence across the U.S., the emphasis ought to center on the actually-existing conflict between labor and capital on-the-ground. That is, the violence and terror perpetrated by the working-class must be examined in a local context and can only be understood in relationship to the weaponry of state and capital.

[150] See, for example, Norman B. Wilkinson, Lammot Du Pont and the American Explosives Industry, 1850-1884 (University Press of Virginia, 1984), 248-249.

[151] Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 214.

[152] For example, George O. Virtue said of the 1900 strike, “It was only by a fortunate combination of circumstances, such as has recently occurred, that they had any chance of securing better conditions by means of a general strike.” See Virtue, “The Anthracite Miners’ Strike of 1900,” Journal of Political Economy 9, no.1 (December 1900): 1. In a similar vein for the 1902 strike, Robert H. Wiebe locates the success of the 1902 strike in three separate factors that “converged almost by chance in 1902: a growing union and its young leader; a group of businessmen who were gaining control of the anthracite industry; and two politicians who were fighting for dominance within the Republican party.” See Wiebe, “The Anthracite Strike of 1902: A Record of Confusion,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48, no. 2 (1961): 230.

[153] Melvyn Dubofsky’s assessment of the strike downplayed the violence. He commented, “despite repeated stories of violence, local and state authorities had no difficulty maintaining order.” See Dubofsky, The State and Labor in Modern America (Chapel Hill: University of Carolina Press, 1994), 41.

[154] The source and inspiration of this idea is borrowed from Hirsh, “Coal Miners and the American Republic,” 251.

[155]See, for example, Perry K. Blatz “Local Leadership and Local Militancy: The Nanticoke Strike of 1899 and the Roots of Unionization in the Northern Anthracite Field,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 58, no. 4 (1991): 278-97.

[156] Robert J. Cornell, see chapter titled, “The Full Dinner Pail Victory of 1902,” 38-59.

[157] See, for example, her role in shutting down operations in the middle-field. “Pardee & Co’s Colliery at Lattimer Force to Close,” Wilkes-Barre Times, 06 October 1900. Mother Jones visited the region over the next couple years, providing leadership and support for textile strikes and the 1902 strike.

[158] “Dynamite Used to Blow up A Miner’s House in Hazleton,” Wilkes Barre Times, 29 September 1900; See also “Attempted to Blow Them Up,” The Plain Speaker 29 September 1900; See also other instances of dynamite bombings: “Tried to Blow up House,” The Evening Times (Washington, DC), 03 October 1900; “Attempted to Blow Him Up,” The Plain Speaker, 19 September 1900.

[159] See “The Riots at Shenandoah,” Harrisburg Daily, 22 September 1900; “First Bloodshed of Strike,” Los Angeles Times, 22 September 1900; “First Fatalities of Miners’ Strike,” New York Times, 22 September 1900; “Shenandoah Quiet Peace Now Reigns,” Wilkes-Barre Leader, 23 September 1900.

[160] “Bloodshed at Hazleton,” Scranton Republican, 11 October 1900; “Fatal Coal Strike Riot,” New York Times, 11 October 1900.

[161] “Keep Up The Fight,” Scranton Republican 13 December 1901. On the boycott, see “People Will Not Ride,” The Baltimore Sun, 25 November 1901; see also the level of public support from the strike the year before, “Public Sympathy for Strikers,” San Francisco Call, 25 December 1900.

[162] See, for example, “Shots Fired in Strike Riot,” New York Times, 10 December 1901.

[163] Robert Smith, From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003), 44-47.

[164] For Farley’s account of his brush with death Old Forge community, see “Jim Farley as Romancer,” Scranton Truth 12 September 1904.

[165] ASCS

[166] “Young Boy Shot at Wilkes-Barre,” Scranton Republican, 06 June 1902.

[167] “Strikers Shot at Mayfield,” Scranton Republican, 30 June 1902.

[168] “First Loss in Life in the Anthracite Strike,” New York Times, 2 July 1902.

[169] “Strikers Go on Warpath,” Los Angels Times, 29 July 1902.

[170] “Guns Cowed Miners,” The Times (Philidelphia) 31 July 1902.

[171] “Blood Spouting in Coal Regions,” Atlanta Constitution, 31 July 1902.

[172] “Volleyed at Mob,” Washington Post, 15 August 1902.

[173] “Testimony in Sharpe Case,” Scranton Republican, 23 August 1902.

[174] “Dynamite and Torch,” Boston Globe, 21 September 1902.

[175] “Strikers Shot and Killed by Non-Union Men,”

[176] “Rioters Use Dynamite,” New York Times, 24 September 1902.

[177] “Troops Called Out at Scranton,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 23 September 1902.

[178] “Shot Woman,” Boston Daily Globe, 8 September 1902.

[179] “Effort Made to Lynch Colored Non-Unionists,” Scranton Republican, 29 September 1902.

[180] “Two Non-Union Miners Attackd at Old Forge, PA” The Daily Herald, 20 September 1902.

[181] “Dynamite was Used,” Scranton Republican, Boston Globe, 28 September 1902.

[182] “Strikers Angry; Riots Expected,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 06 October 1902.

[183] “Striker Shot Dead,” Buffalo Evening News, 9 October 1902.

[184] “Troops Fired from Ambush,” Scranton Republican, 13 October 1902.

[185] “Both Sides of Strike Told to President,” Chicago Tribune, 04 October 1902.

[186] “G.W. Bowen Creates Commotion,” Scranton Republican, 20 December 1902.

[187] Thompson, “Violence in Labor Conflicts.”

[188] Proceedings of The Anthracite Mine Strike Commission (Scranton, PA: Scranton Tribune, 1903), 113.

[189] Ibid.

[190] “Violence in the Coal Region,” New York Times, 24 October 1902.

[191] Nash, Conflict and Accommodation, 71.

[192] “The Coal Strike: A Near-By View,” The Outlook, 398.

[193] “Responsibilities of the Coal Operators,” New York Times, 21 August 1902

[194] John Markle, representing the intendent operators, copped an attitude with Roosevelt, asking, “Are you asking us to deal with a set of outlaws?” Markle went so far to ask Roosevelt that he “perform the duties invested in you as President of the United States, to at once squelch the anarchist conditions of affairs existing in the anthracite coal regions by the strong arm of the military at your command.” See Robert L. Reynolds, “The Coal Kings Come to Judgement,” American Heritage, 11 no. 3 (1960).

[195] Melvyn Dubofsky and Joseph A. McCartin, Labor in America: A History (Wiley, 2017), 174.

[196] U.S. Anthracite Coal Strike Commission, Report to the President on the Anthracite Coal Strike of May-October 1902, (Washington, D.C. 1903), 83-84.

[197] Earl Cummins, The Labor Problem in the United States (New York: Van Nostrand Company, 1932), 251.

[1] Slason Thompson, “Violence in Labor Conflicts,” Outlook, (December 17, 1904): 927


Like what we’re doing? Become a Patron!AU_360x360_FB_300_dpi


  1. Frank Hughes · ·

    thanks for this robert. incredibly rich and valuable.


  2. […] Want to read more about these issues in the Pennsylvania Coal Region? Check out this story from Anth… […]


%d bloggers like this: