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Coal Culture Timeline

The history of bituminous coal mining in Central and Western Pennsylvania spans two centuries.  The following dates represent major historical events.  

Major Events in Central Pennsylvania's Coal Industry

  • 1816-1817: Colonel Isaac Meason builds the first rolling mill west of the Alleghenies at Plumstock in Fayette County. Here, for the first time in the United States, so far as records indicate, coke was made and put to use in puddling and heating iron.
  • 1819: The first coke blast furnace in the United States, the Bear Creek Furnace in Armstrong County, was designed and put into operation by Thomas C. Lewis, a Welsh ironworker who initially worked at Meason's Plumstock mill.
  • 1835: Broad Top coal in Huntingdon County is coked and used in the Mary Ann Furnace owned by William Firmstone. Firmstone reports having made good iron for one month.
  • 1836: The Fairchance Furnace, near Uniontown, produces one-hundred tons of coked pig iron. The Oliphant family, owners of the furnace, abandon their experiments due to the poor response of the coke iron under the forge hammer and return to using charcoal.
  • 1837-1839: Several hundred tons of coked pig iron are made at Farrandsville, between 1837 and 1839.
  • 1838: Peter Ritner and John Say make coked pig iron at Karthaus, Clearfield County. Henry C. Carey, John White, Burd Patterson, and others buyout Ritner's & Say's Clearfield Coke and Iron Company, but poor transportation and inferior ore rather than poor coking coal put an end to the project by 1839.
  • 1840: By the 1840s there are only four coke furnaces in blast in Pennsylvania. These belonged to the Western Iron Works at Brady's.
  • 1841-1842: The manufacture of Connellsville coke begins. The economic depression in the coal and iron industry in the late forties postpones the major development of the Connellsville coke region until the 1850s.
  • 1848: In September the Monongahela Valley coal miners strike against a reduction in wages.
  • 1849: The depression takes the toll of the few early blast furnaces. By 1849 there are no coke fired blast furnaces in operation in Pennsylvania.
  • 1850: The Cambria Iron Works builds four coke blast furnaces.
  • 1853: The standard-gauge Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad are built between Huntingdon and Saxton. A line is also completed to Hopewell in 1856. The first coal is shipped on the railroad from the Old Barnett mine at Dudley by Orbison, Dorris & Company in 1855.
  • 1859: The Clinton Furnace of Graft, Bennett and Company, becomes the first coke fired blast furnace in Pittsburgh. Coke from the Connellsville area is used by the company in 1860. The use of coke and bituminous coal in blast furnaces increases the consumption of Pennsylvania coal approximately one quarter of a million tons a year for the five years preceding the Civil War. The Monongahela Valley miners strike for the installation of scales at the mines to determine the amount of coal dug. The strike affects mines in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties, which produce the bulk of output in Western Pennsylvania. The miners eventually lose. Miners who continued the struggle were eventually starved into submission.
  • 1860s: Experimental use of Broad Top coal by the Pennsylvania Railroad proves that coal can be used successfully as a locomotive fuel.
  • 1861: The Six Mine Run branch of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad is completed from Riddlesburg to Coaldale.
  • 1864: In January, in the Pittsburgh region, mine workers succeed in increasing the mining rate from four- to five-cents a bushel. Rates are raised to six-cents in April when some miners threaten to strike. In response to a strike in August and September operators establish a seven-cent rate. Three-hundred Belgian miners are imported to replace striking miners at Brady's Bend Coal Works. The American Emigrant Company opens a Pittsburgh branch office. The company specialized in bringing in skilled immigrant workers for nearly any type of occupation. The company also specialized in providing immigrant strikebreakers.
  • 1865: The use of strikebreakers in one Western Pennsylvania mine influences the miners to accept the operator's five-cent rate. Because the operator was furnishing coal on a government contract, the strikebreakers were guarded by soldiers. This marks the beginning of official industrial policy regarding the importation of strikebreakers for many companies throughout Western Pennsylvania. This practice continues today.
  • 1868: The Kimble Coal & Iron Company erects the first "modern" blast furnace in the Broad Top area at Riddlesburg. The furnace represents the first large scale use of Broad Top Coal for coking purposes.
  • 1874: The National Miners Association (NMA) holds its annual convention in Pittsburgh. Membership in the NMA increases as they threaten to conduct a strike in the anthracite region. In January, John Siney appeals to the miners of Pennsylvania and members of the State Council of the Miners and Laborers Benevolent Association to hold their annual meeting on March 24 in Harrisburg. In January and February, the National Miners Association campaigns against free trade along the Monongahela River. Miners receive four-cents a ton, the Association said that if there were no tariffs the mines and mills would be closed. The editor of the National Labor Tribune criticizes the Loyalhanna Coal and Coke Company of Latrobe for mistreating workers and having bad working conditions. A branch of the National Miners' Association is started at the Cambria Iron Works in March. In response to rumors of a pending strike, the iron works closes parts of the mill and locks out some of the miners. The miners respond by striking. Miners at Morrisdale, Clearfield County decided to join the National Miners Association. The company responds by trying to discharge and blacklist union organizers. The miners’ strike at the Cambria Iron Works continues into May with more local unions formed. A May 20 demonstration is held and the NMA moves to divide the mining community into a larger district. In May, miners at Fayette City strike at Frazier & Frye mine because of a three-and-one-half-cent wage reduction. By June the Cambria Iron Works strike is still at a stand still. Various unions hold a public meeting, with 900 to 1,000 workers attending. The narrow-gauge East Broad Top Railroad opens between Mount Union and Robertsdale where the Rockhill Iron & Coal Company opens a series of coal mines on the eastern side of the Broad Top field.
  • 1875: Miners in Houtzdale, Clearfield County, go on strike for an advance of ten-cents per ton in April. The National Labor Tribune supports the strikers, arguing that the operators were selfish for not meeting the miners in an open conference. The company responds by hiring 100 strikebreakers ("Buckwheats," sic) and evicts strikers from their homes. The Franklin Coal Company brings in 250 more strikebreakers from Philadelphia in May. More than 150 leave the area when they are met by over 600 strikers. All but four of the remaining replacement workers join the striking miners. The Fisher & Brother Coal Company also tries to bring in strikebreakers, mostly Italian, but they are run out of town. The companies win the strike, blacklist many miners and bring 58 to trial on conspiracy charges. In June, thirty miners in Clearfield County are convicted of the charges while their strike leaders, John Siney and Xingo Parks, are arrested. Siney is later found not guilty while Parks is sentenced to a one-year prison term. He and other miners were later given pardons of all charges from the Governor.
  • 1876: The Huntingdon & Broad Top Railroad constructs the Sandy Run Branch east of Hopewell, Bedford County.
  • 1878: Statistics for the First Bituminous Coal District of Pennsylvania were: total amount of coal shipped: 9,372,881 tons; 217 coal mines operating in 1878; 244 in 1879; 93 reported accidents; 32 fatal. Average number of miners employed in each mine of the first district, 77. Average amount of coal mined by each mine, 500 tons. Estimate of the total number of miners employed in the district, including day hands, 18,011.
  • 1879: In March, 72 miners and their families were given eviction notices in Saltsburg, Pa. The miners, who worked for three-cents a ton, were given seven days to get out of the company houses. Some had their belongings thrown out into the street immediately without advanced notification. Miners conduct a strike in the coke region after the companies impose a wage reduction on them. The miners made twenty-five cents per wagon of coal, they asked for thirty-cents per wagon. The strikers hold a mass protest rally at the Black Diamond Coal Company near Fayette City. Eventually the miners win. Miners at the Mineral Ridge Coal Company go out on strike June 1 against a ten-cent wage reduction; seven of the miners were arrested. They receive support from miners in DuBois.
  • 1879-1882: Two blast furnaces are erected at Saxton while coke ovens and mines are opened at Minersville. The Everett Iron Company opens a furnace at Everett as well as a series of mines and coke ovens at Kearney.
  • 1881: The Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal & Iron Company (R&PC&I) is founded.
  • 1890: The National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers (NFMW) and the Knights of Labor's National Trade Assembly #135 merge to form the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
  • 1894: More than 5,000 miners strike near Brownsville in 1894. The walkout was characterized by massive evictions, blacklisting, and the killing of seventeen miners by a band of deputy sheriffs.
  • 1899: UMWA District 2's first districtwide wage agreement is signed at the Cambria County community of South Fork on May 1.
  • 1906: First general strike in District 2 occurs on April 1. Three striking miners are shot and killed by sheriff's deputies at Windber.
  • 1910-1911: Non-union miners in Westmoreland County respond to a UMWA organizing drive by waging a one-and-a-half year strike. Operators beat back the effort by protecting scab labor with Coal & Iron Police and private deputies. The union spent more than $1 million on the fight.
  • 1916-1922: More than 1,000 local coal strikes occur in Central Pennsylvania.
  • 1916: John Brophy elected president of District 2 of the UMWA.
  • 1919: May 1, Red Scare sweeps Central Pennsylvania. International Labor Day celebrations are banned in various communities throughout the region. District 2 endorses the establishment of Americanization schools at their October 21 convention in Johnstown. Fanny Sellins, the UMWA's first woman organizer in Western Pennsylvania, is beaten to death by sheriff's deputies near New Kensington, Allegheny County. On November 1, 400,000 UMWA miners stage a nationwide strike. More than 75,000 Pennsylvania miners (45,000 from District 2) join the walkout. Central Pennsylvania miners try to organize steel workers in Johnstown. William Z. Foster, head of the National Committee for Organizing Steel Workers, is banned from meeting with steel workers and thrown out of Johnstown by Coal & Iron Police. John Brophy calls for the creation of a national labor party. John L. Lewis calls off the 1919 strike on November 11.
  • 1920: FBI agents from Pittsburgh arrest nine miners at Coal Run, Indiana County, for communist activities. Two are considered for deportation. State police and FBI agents later arrest an anarchist at Sagamore, Armstrong County, for possessing a large quantity of anarchistic literature. The Indiana County sheriff issues a proclamation against May Day celebrations. State Police are sent into the county to enforce the order. Americanization schools are established throughout Central Pennsylvania. On July 10, more than 3,000 miners strike for higher wages at Broad Top, Huntingdon County. Coal production declines in Central Pennsylvania. Mines are closed in Somerset, Indiana, and Clearfield counties.
  • 1921: Wild Cat strikes over the mine car pushing issue spread throughout Central Pennsylvania. This was a major concern for miners because the pushing of loaded mine cars to the coal tipples caused muscle strains, ruptures, and numerous other injuries. John L. Lewis appoints John Brophy to head the UMWA's Nationalization Research Committee. The Ku Klux Klan begins to use Johnstown as a central base for its regional operations. Patriotic rallies are held throughout the region. Operators step up their attacks against the UMWA charging that miners are advocating "Sovietism" for the Central Pennsylvania coalfields. The Red Cross makes public appeals for clothing for the unemployed. Mother Jones speaks at Indiana County's Labor Day celebration at Mack Park in Indiana, Pa. District 2 of the UMWA endorses the Brookwood Workers College of Katonah, NY. John Brophy is appointed to one of Brookwood's administrative committees.
  • 1922: An African-American miner is killed during a strike and riot at the Foster mines near Edri, Indiana County, on January 24. Two Eastern European miners are arrested and later acquitted of murder charges. Governor Sproul meets with representatives from the Pennsylvania State Police and National Guard to formalize plans for protecting private property in the event of a mineworker strike. The commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police circulates a secret memo to all operators requesting the names of radical miners. April 1, 600,000 miners participate in a nationwide strike. More than 45,000 unionized miners in Central Pennsylvania join the walkout. Operators carry out large-scale eviction campaigns against striking miners. The Ku Klux Klan organizes an Indiana chapter. Local newspapers report Johnstown's Klan having more than 1,500 members. A small branch is also organized at Latrobe. On July 21, National Guard units are dispatched to assist operators in reopening their mines nonunion. Company "A," a machine gun and cavalry unit from New Castle, established a central base of operations on Bethlehem Mining Company property at Heilwood, Indiana County. A settlement is reached on August 15. District 2 vows to continue the strike in the nonunion areas of Somerset County. Eighty men are killed in the Spangler mine disaster, Cambria County, on November 6.
  • 1923: Ellis Searles, Editor of the UMWA Journal, with the backing of John L. Lewis, writes a series of articles denouncing the union's Nationalization Committee as communist and operating without official approval from the UMWA. A delegation of District 2 miners attends the Progressive Miners Convention in Pittsburgh in June. More than 7,000 African-Americans migrate from the south to the Central Pennsylvania region in search of employment.  The mayor of Johnstown orders all African-Americans with fewer than seven years residency out of the city in the wake of a shooting incident between police and an African-American male. More than 2,000 heed the order. The mayor is later defeated for re-election in November. August 14, the seventeen-month Somerset County strike ends in a defeat for the coalminers and the union. The Klan increases its recruitment drives and attempts to downplay critical publicity by giving gifts to Protestant churches and the needy. 

  • 1924: On January 27, thirty-two miners are killed at the Shanktown mine of the Barnes and Tucker Coal Company in Indiana County. District 2's newspaper, The Penn Central News, is discontinued on March 19. Clearfield County's American Legion is recognized as having the largest per capita membership in the state. Miners and Klansmen clash in a riot at Lilly, Cambria County.  Two miners and one Klansman are killed. More than 1,000 miners lead a funeral procession for their fallen comrades in Lilly.  An estimated crowd of 12,000 to 20,000 attend the funeral for the Klansman in Johnstown.  Operators begin an open shop drive.  Some operators place machine guns on their tipples and increase surveillance of miners with Coal and Iron Police.  A crowd of 40,000 attend a Ku Klux Klan rally at Cookport, Indiana County.  District 2 endorses Senator Robert La Follette for president.  John Brophy heads the La Follette election committee in Central Pennsylvania. The Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company closes its mines and towns at Adrian, Eleanora, and Helvetia.  More than 2,000 miners are out of work.  The Indiana KKK hosts more than 35,000 at its first picnic. Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard of the KKK, speaks to a capacity crowd at the Punxsutawney Fair.  District 2 holds week-long education events called labor chautauquas throughout the region.   

  • 1925: The Adrian mine is the first of a number of the former R&P mines to be reopened by another company called the Jefferson & Indiana Coal Company (J & I).  The UMWA protests these actions by holding demonstrations.  Operators throughout the region step up their efforts to break the union. The mines which were formerly unionized now are reopened on a nonunion basis.  The Indiana Klan builds a large Klan Farm two miles south of Indiana Borough.  Mine workers destroy the Indiana Klan Farm headquarters with an incendiary bomb. Miners strike at the Buffalo & Susquehanna mine at Sagamore and DuBois.  Bombings, demonstrations, and evictions characterize the conflict.   

  • 1926: British and U.S. anthracite miners strike.  Bituminous coal companies from Central Pennsylvania furnish coal to consumers normally supplied by the British and anthracite coal companies.  Brophy announces his candidacy for the presidency of the UMWA.  His effort becomes known as the "Save the Union Campaign."  On August 26, forty-four miners are killed in an explosion at the Sample Run mine near Clymer, Indiana County.  Brophy calls for a general strike of all miners in Central Pennsylvania on November 1. The strike fails as the majority of workers remain at their jobs.  The Socialist Party of Pennsylvania fails to poll 2 percent of the vote, causing it to forfeit its right to exist as an official fully functioning political party. 

  • 1927: The UMWA International moves to purge miners who are members of radical/left organizations.  John L. Lewis is declared the winner of the 1926 UMWA presidential election.  Brophy and the "Save the Union" group charge that the election was stolen.  Brophy is purged from the union.  James Mark, a Lewis loyalist, becomes president of District 2.  Mine workers strike on April 1.  District 2 miners do not join the walkout until July 1. Miners march on the Adrian mines and are arrested for violating a court injunction that was issued in 1925.  The Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company (CBC) closes and reopens its mines nonunion.  CBC evicts miners and their families.  Evicted miners at Rossiter, Indiana County, continue to strike and take up residency in barracks supplied by the union. Declaring a state of emergency, county sheriffs (throughout Central Pennsylvania) issue sweeping proclamations that amount to martial law. Coal operators impose curfews on miners living in company towns. Clearfield County's proclamation is not lifted until 1930. Judge Langham of Indiana County issues an injunction against the Rossiter strikers that is considered to be the most drastic ever issued in the region. It banned public meetings, mine workers advertising the strike, demonstrations, and church hymn singing. 

  • 1928: The percentage of infant mortality in Central Pennsylvania is among the highest in history with 90-99 deaths per 1,000 live births. The U.S. Senate Committee investigating conditions in the coalfields travels to Indiana County to visit Rossiter and interview Judge Langham.  Langham denies that the Rossiter injunction is a violation of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  The senators disagreed. Governor Fisher, an Indiana, Pa., native and a former attorney for the CBC, defends Judge Langham and asserts that the judge should have thrown all the senators in jail.  The "Save the Union Committee" calls for a general coal strike in Central and Western Pennsylvania.  The strike fails as working miners refuse to leave their jobs. Brophy resigns from the Save the Union Committee. Hiram Wesley Evans, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, addresses a meeting at the Indiana Area High School on June 6. More than 1,500 attend a Klan rally at the Indiana Klan Farm on July 4. Members of the "Save the Union Committee," who are associated with the U.S. Communist Party, form another mineworker union called “The National Miners Union” (NMU).  Portage, Cambria County, becomes the NMU's Central Pennsylvania major base of operations. The R&P Coal Company reorganizes its operations. 

  • 1929: Central Pennsylvania is nonunion. General Motors sends labor agents into the region to recruit workers for its Saginaw, Mich., plant. R&P is operating under the lower 1917 wage scale.  Production declines as the region slips further into the Great Depression.  

  • 1930: Governor Pinchot promises to enact legislation that would abolish the Coal and Iron Police. 

  • 1931: The NMU wages strikes in Washington and Armstrong counties.  The UMWA attempts to persuade the NMU miners to rejoin the Lewis fold. Violence between the two organizations erupts near Pittsburgh and Washington County.  In June, more than 7,000 Western Pennsylvania miners strike, and 4,000 miners rejoin the UMWA in Central Pennsylvania.  Members of the Central Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Operators Association met and formed a labor committee for the purpose of monitoring mineworker organizing activity and providing a list of radical miners to association members. 

  • 1932: The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the inauguration of the New Deal provided a more supportive environment for coal miners and their organization efforts. 

  • 1933: The National Industrial Recovery Act included section 7 (c), which guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining. A special convention for District 2 of the United Mine Workers at which delegates gave their approval to NIRA and attempted to formulate plans for stabilization of the coal industry which they would present to the National Recovery Administration.

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