The history of bituminous coal mining in Central and Western Pennsylvania spans two centuries. The following dates represent major historical events.
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.
Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline
© 2007-2015 Indiana University of Pennsylvania
1011 South Drive, Indiana, Pa. 15705 | 724-357-2100