Abstract: Ordering Coal: Labor, Law, and Business in Central Pennsylvania, 1870-1900

Andrew B. Arnold


My work challenges the pointed exclusion of worker organizations from narratives of Gilded Age business and financial history. In particular, it focuses on the relationship between the East Coast coal industry and the consolidation of the trunk line railroads. At the time, railroad executives saw control over cheap, reliable sources of coal as a major determinant in their strategic thinking. This belief was why they spent decades trying to control the chaotic coal industry. I show how, despite this determined effort, railroad pooling agreements were held hostage to coal miner activism. From the 1870s through the end of the century, coal miners became the tail that wagged the railroad dog. I argue that one cannot understand the history of America's trunk line railroads without understanding its relationship to the history of the coalfields and their workers.