Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in Pennsylvania Coal Country (Culture, Labor, History)

17 Nov

Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in Pennsylvania Coal Country (Culture, Labor, History)

Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in Pennsylvania Coal Country (Culture, Labor, History)

Language: English

Pages: 288


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

If the railroads won the Gilded Age, the coal industry lost it. Railroads epitomized modern management, high technology, and vast economies of scale. By comparison, the coal industry was embarrassingly primitive. Miners and operators dug coal, bought it, and sold it in 1900 in the same ways that they had for generations. In the popular imagination, coal miners epitomized anti-modern forces as the so-called “Molly Maguire” terrorists.    
Yet the sleekly modern railroads were utterly dependent upon the disorderly coal industry. Railroad managers demanded that coal operators and miners accept the purely subordinate role implied by their status. They refused.   
Fueling the Gilded Age shows how disorder in the coal industry disrupted the strategic plans of the railroads. It does so by expertly intertwining the history of two industriesrailroads and coal miningthat historians have generally examined from separate vantage points. It shows the surprising connections between railroad management and miner organizing; railroad freight rate structure and coal mine operations; railroad strategy and strictly local legal precedents. It combines social, economic, and institutional approaches to explain the Gilded Age from the perspective of the relative losers of history rather than the winners. It beckons readers to examine the still-unresolved nature of America’s national conundrum: how to reconcile the competing demands of national corporations, local businesses, and employees.   


















was coal that enabled managers to strip craftsmen of their status; coal that freed intellectuals and corporate managers to embrace the seemingly more certain science of abstract economic theory over the seemingly less certain alchemy of democratic politics; coal that allowed financiers to fund factories and railroad systems of optimum scale and scope. In sum, coal helped to shift the nation from more stable, customary, and place-based loyalties to a faster paced, more dynamic, modern society.

regardless of their nominal party affiliation or class status. As he found, while the Republican and Democratic parties expected to dispense power and patronage as much as ideology, the Greenback Party demanded a more difficult sort of activism, with neither the easy legitimacy of mainstream politics nor the monetary rewards of serving the two main parties, nor the stable purposefulness of power or patronage. An observation from political scientist Mark Voss-Hubbard applies, “Third party

self-serving, men who accepted monetary relief in a strike one day and then scabbed the next, or men who demanded the right to work on any particular day without fulfilling the vaguely defined obligations of Knights to community, class, or political citizenship. If they were to fight battles and negotiate settlements, the coal miners needed to impose group decisions on all workers. As one trade unionist in coal pointed out, the selectivity of the Knights had become an organizing problem as early

ephemeral but durable nature of Dennis White’s kind of unionism. The pit committees that managed production in each mine became strike committees and came together in the larger delegate committees. Then they dispersed. What were the strengths of this sort of organization? Including as it did almost all the miners of the region, the informal mix of pit committees, mass gatherings, and delegate meetings created little distance between leaders and followers. Its leaders could engage in negotiations

transmission of authority. It was a transmission missing from earlier strikes which had been regional, and ultimately decided upon by mass meetings and delegate assemblies in each mine. Yet it was made possible not by legal authority but by a cultural shift in the understanding of coal miners as to what scale of organization was necessary and desirable in this corporate age. Moreover, it had its limits. The connections between local and national remained weak and most resources came from the

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