President Theodore Roosevelt Meets With Miners And Coalfield Operators

On October 3, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt met with miners and coalfield operators from the anthracite coalfields in Pennsylvania in an attempt to settle the strike, then in its fifth month.

The country relied on coal to power commerce and industry and anthracite or "hard coal" was essential for domestic heating. The miners had left the anthracite fields on May 12, demanding wage increases, union recognition, and a shorter workday. As winter approached, public anxiety about fuel shortages and the rising cost of all coal pushed Roosevelt to take unprecedented action.

When he met with miners and coalfield operators in Washington, Roosevelt became the first president to personally intervene in a labor dispute. Presenting himself as a representative of the millions of people affected by the strike, he urged both parties to resolve their differences and the miners to return to work.

The Coal Strike of 1902 was a strike by the United Mine Workers of America in the anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania. The strike threatened to shut down the winter fuel supply to all major cities (homes and apartments were heated with anthracite or "hard" coal because it had higher heat value and less smoke than "soft" or bituminous coal). President Theodore Roosevelt became involved and set up a fact-finding commission that suspended the strike. The strike never resumed, as the miners received more pay for fewer hours; the owners got a higher price for coal, and did not recognize the union as a bargaining agent. It was the first labor episode in which the federal government intervened as a neutral arbitrator.

When our President, in his brave and direct way, acting out of his deep feeling for the needs of his people, undertook to get coal for them against the coming winter by urging the substitution of peace for war in the anthracite region, Mr. Hill in New York and Mr. Olney in Boston condemned him, but I have an idea that the people of the country do not agree with them; and I have an idea also that his action will prove in the end to have resulted, not merely in getting the coal, but in making a valuable contribution to the peaceful and reasonable process of development I have been describing. ”

— Speech of Hon. Elihu Root, Secretary of War, at Cooper Union, New York, October 30, 1902