Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential One Dollar Coin remembers when the coal operators yielded to the miners’ request 115 years ago.
The anthracite coal miners working under poor wages and poor conditions began their strike in early May 1902.
The coal operators refused their demands and refused to negotiate.
After five months with winter approaching, coal stores almost depleted, and public opinion siding with the miners, the coal operators finally agreed to an arbitration team on October 13, 1902.
After a quick vote among the miners’ representatives, the men resumed their work in the coal mines just a few days later.
After President Roosevelt’s death, The Survey Journal of January 18, 1919 included articles remembering the coal strike and the president’s involvement:
The anthracite coal strike of Pennsylvania in 1902 was pivotal and epoch-making. Besides winning a decisive victory for the workmen it engendered a better understanding and created a spirit of mutual interest between the contending elements in the conflict.
It marked the upward trend of the rights of the laboring classes of the nation and was the forerunner of higher wages, shorter hours and better conditions of workmanship in every craft, trade and laborious occupation the country over from that day to this.
Foiled at the very outset in their demand for a 10 percent increase in wages, the miners, under the wise and able leadership of John Mitchell, sought to arbitrate their cause, which was also peremptorily refused.
But blinded by arrogance and puffed up with a spirit of pride and the power of wealth, the coal barons dashed on to defeat when they encountered the unarmored giant of the White House.
‘Tis well that the last of the great industrial wars of the country ended with the miners’ strike of 1902, else we should have to deal in our day with rampant Bolshevikism on the one hand, and repulsive autocracy on the other.
By a stroke of good fortune, or the clandestine operation of divine Providence, there happened to be a man in the White House at Washington in those days whose eyes were open to the situation in Pennsylvania; whose heart glowed with affectionate love for the lowly of his country, and whose mind was evenly poised on the doctrine of the “Square Deal.”
From afar he watched the storm spreading beyond the confines of the Keystone state, though raised he not a hand, nor spoke he not a word.
The newspapers of the country were ablaze with realistic accounts of the misery and suffering of the miner and his family.
The populace of the nation was beginning to rise from its supine attitude towards the growing menace in the land. Winter was soon to set in, when coalless homes meant famished tenants and subsequent death.
In the meantime, the “Watchman on the Tower of Israel” was formulating a plan whereby peace must come to the region of strike and turmoil, and safety from an icy grip of an oncoming winter, to the people of the nation.
He knew all about the autocratic bearing of the coal magnates on the one hand, and felt that the striking miners must have a grievance worthy of consideration on the other.
This was his plan, at once unique, daring and patriotic, namely: to send the regular army of the United States into the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania, as he himself said, to mine coal.
Having previously consulted with General Schofield, who went along with him on the proposed venture, he was ready to strike a blow which would shake the ground beneath the feet of arrogance and autocracy, and crumble into dust the hitherto invulnerable citadel of wealth and power as exemplified in the haughty conduct of the coal barons of Pennsylvania.
Flanking this strategic movement, he had selected the members of a board of arbitration at whose head he had placed no less a personage than ex-President Cleveland himself.
In narrating this phase of the strike situation to me afterwards, he said: “Of course, had the coal operators refused to arbitrate, and had I carried out my project, they could have had me impeached; but by George they would not have dared to try it.”
Having got wind of the “Big Stick” concealed beneath the cloak of the President, the operators finally, but reluctantly, admitted that there was really something to arbitrate.
The Anthracite Strike Commission then created went to work soon after, and to the credit of its findings, peace and prosperity have reigned in the coal regions to this day.
May the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt forever hover over these regions; may it sway the destiny of the nation which mourns his loss today, and may the doctrine of the “Square Deal” find a ready response in the hearts of all men in their daily relations to one another, thus supplementing the divine precept of the Golden Rule.
J. J. CURRAN. Pastor Holy Savior Church, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The Anthracite Strike
Colonel Roosevelt was my friend.
It was my proud privilege to have enjoyed his confidence, to have participated in some degree in his activities.
This relationship began during the great strike of anthracite coal miners in 1902.
It will perhaps be remembered that because of the refusal of the executives of the railroad companies, which operated the mines, to grant to their employees reasonable wages and fair conditions of employment, 147,000 mine workers were impelled to strike and that the strike continued for five and one-half months.
As a consequence, the supply of coal was cut off from all eastern and seaboard cities; winter was approaching, suffering was intense; offers of arbitration on the part of the miners were rejected by the railroad companies; all hope of settlement by agreement was abandoned; disaster threatened the consumers of coal, especially in all the large eastern cities.
It was at this juncture that Colonel Roosevelt, then President of the United States, invited the presidents of the railroad companies and the representatives of the miners’ union to confer with him in the hope that he, by presenting on behalf of the nation the seriousness of the situation, might prevail upon the parties to the dispute to come to an agreement and settle the strike.
The conference, which was presided over by the President, began, as I remember, on the morning of October 3, 1902.
In most lucid and emphatic language the President stated to the representatives of the railroads and of the miners’ union that the situation existing in the eastern portion of the United States was such as to warrant him in demanding a settlement of the strike and the immediate resumption of coal production.
The President then adjourned the conference, requesting the participants to give careful consideration to what he had said and to meet with him again in the afternoon.
When the conference reconvened I, as president of the miners’ union, proposed that all questions of dispute be referred to a tribunal to be appointed by the President of the United States; that the miners would immediately resume work provided the railroad executives would agree to the appointment of such a tribunal and agree to be bound by its findings.
This proposal the executives of the railroad companies unanimously rejected and the conference was adjourned.
The action of the railroad executives so incensed the American people that a few weeks later J. Pierpont Morgan and representatives of other banking institutions hurried to Washington and agreed to the appointment of a commission with full power to investigate the conditions existing in the anthracite coal mines and to be bound by the award of such commission.
President Roosevelt then sent for me and advised me of the proposal of the railway presidents as it had been conveyed to him by Mr. Morgan and his associates.
Thereupon a convention of anthracite miners was held; by unanimous vote the delegates—more than 1,000 in number—agreed to resume work and to submit all questions of dispute to the commission which was to be appointed by President Roosevelt.
Thus came to an end the most protracted and most stubbornly contested strike that has ever occurred in the United States.
The award of the commission, which was made several months later, gave to the miners increased wages, less hours of labor, and improvements in the conditions of their employment.
It is a pleasure to record that from that time to the present the relations between the mine owners and the miners of the anthracite coal fields have been cordial, that many further improvements in the conditions of labor have been introduced, that all opposition to the miners’ union has been withdrawn.
For all these changes the anthracite mine workers owe an everlasting debt of gratitude to Colonel Roosevelt.
While the whole nation mourns his death, none regret more than the miners that he is no longer with us to preach the principles of industrial and social righteousness.
In that regret, in that sorrow, I participate beyond my power to express.
John Mitchell. Former President, the United Mine Workers.
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential One Dollar Coin shows with an image of John Mitchell in a parade through Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town, circa 1902.