Workers and Managers

“The American Twins,” Harper’s Weekly, 1874
“The American Twins,” Harper’s Weekly, 1874

Courtesy of HarpWeek

Workers, Kohinoor mine, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, 1884

Workers, Kohinoor mine, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, 1884

Managers, Kohinoor  mine, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, 1884

Managers, Kohinoor  mine, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, 1884

Mining

The struggle between workers and managers in the workplace played out vividly in the Pennsylvania coal mines. Workers focused on the pace of work, safety, and wages. Managers worried about competition, costs, and controlling workers who spoke multiple languages and labored out of view.

Coal pick, 1880s

In the late 1800s mining was rough physical labor. Miners would lie on their backs and use a pick to undercut the coal.

View object record

Steam whistle

With industrialization, workers lost control of when to start, eat, and end their day. Management’s steam whistle now set the times.

View object record

Miner’s hat, about 1930

The miner’s world was dark and dangerous. An open flame provided the only light, and the cloth cap barely kept lamp soot away.

View object record

Man’s hat, about 1900

Coal mine owners and superintendents rarely went underground. Managers concentrated on business decisions, such as arranging transportation and selling their product.

View object record

Immigrant’s cross, about 1890

A Latvian immigrant and devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Old Believers, Michael Simon wore this cross as he labored in Pennsylvania coal mines.

View object record

Hamilton pocket watch, about 1902

Time became important to managers as they changed their labor model. Instead of paying miners by the ton, they hired them as employees and paid an hourly wage.

View object record
Safety sign in eight languages, about 1910

Safety sign in eight languages, about 1910

Managers liked immigrants because they worked for low wages. But the chorus of foreign languages confirmed management’s fears that companies were slipping out of control.

Miner’s lunch pail, about 1930

Miners spent their entire shift underground, taking lunch, drinks, and snacks with them. Meal time was cold, cramped, and wet.

View object record

Coal miner’s homemade prosthetic leg, about 1950

Despite significant danger, miners received little compensation for injuries. Following legal tradition, companies usually placed blame and responsibility for injuries on the workers.

View object record

Colt revolver, 1895

Owners claimed property rights and managerial entitlements over the workplace. Sometimes they hired guards or brought in government troops to maintain order and control strikers.

View object record

Pinkerton Detective Agency badge replica

Burrell methane detector, about 1922

The mine foreman was legally responsible for safety. One task was to test for the build-up of flammable methane gas.

View object record

Mine anemometer

Engineers used anemometers to measure airflow within mines. They designed complex ventilation systems with fans and interior doors to keep dangerous gases from causing explosions.

View object record

Company supply token

Before the 1920s most miners were independent contractors. They provided their own equipment and often hired assistants; managers extended credit for supplies like dynamite.

View object record

Company tokens and scrip, 1920s

Coal operators often provided services like company stores. Typically, workers could get an advance on pay, in company-issued paper currency, called scrip, or tokens to buy goods.

View object record

Mule whip, about 1910

Coal miner Bill Keating composed the ballad “Down, Down, Down” to “break my loneliness and to show my mule I was in a friendly mood.”

View object record

President John L. Lewis, United Mine Workers, convention badge, 1936

The union was very important to miners. Most of their houses had images of union president John L. Lewis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Jesus.

View object record
Mine model, about 1900

Mine model, about 1900

Engineers working for Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. used this model to visualize the coal seams and design their mines.

Coal powered industrial America. In 1900 almost 2 percent of Americans were coal miners.

Coal powered industrial America. In 1900 almost 2 percent of Americans were coal miners.

Coal carving, breaker building

Processing plants called breaker buildings were symbols of pride for mine communities. Boys labored inside, sorting coal by size and removing rock.

View object record

Coal carving, Pottsville, Pennsylvania