George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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vanced until it reached the rate of $5 per ton. Under this impetus many firms
embarked in the business, and those who were previously engaged in it having
realized large profits, the building of ovens was pushed so rapidly that by 1880
there was 8,000 ovens in the Connellsville region.

Under the " output " of this large increase of ovens the price rapidly declined
until, in 1883, it had fallen off to 85 cents per ton, and all the coke sold at that
price was, without doubt, below the cost of its production. Under this continued
reduction in the price of coke it was but natural that the manufacturers of it
should try to reduce the cost of the labor used in its production, and a small reduc-
tion was made in January, 1880. In February, 1880, the miners and cokers struck
for 40 cents per wagon and 90 cents per oven, being over 25 per cent, increase over
the wages of 1879. The strike lasted but a few days when the strikers returned to
work at the old prices. In June, 1881, when the price of coke was at an average
of $1.50 a ton, the coke workers inaugurated another strike, demanding uniform
wagons of thirty-three and a third bushels and one cent per bushel, and ten per
cent, advance per oven for drawing. This was the first general strike in the coke
region, and about 7,000 workmen were engaged in it. The demand for uniform
wagons seems to be admitted on both sides, was just. The miners and cokers had,
however, selected an inopportune time for their demands. The coke trade was
dull and the operators indifferent about running their works. There was no vio-
lence ofiered by the strikers, and after a listless lockout of four weeks the strikers
went to work at the old terms. The same result was, however, consequent loss to
both employers and employees. About three-fourths of the ovens were idle. The
cost at that time for making coke was about $1.15 per ton, the selling price on the
average, $1.50, which would make a loss to the operators, from non-production of
about $50,000. The average daily wages of the workers was $1.48. The loss to
the 7,000 men daring the twenty-five days strike was about $194,000, being alto-
gether $240,000. To this should be added the loss to railroads and their employees
which would swell the loss to $275,000, at the least.


In 1882 there was a slight revival in the demand for coke, and a small expan
'«ion in the area of the ovens took place, and plants were put up on the Young
wood branch. Dull times came again in the spring of 1883, wages were reduced,
^nd a number of plants shut down. This condition of affairs continued until the
latter part of 1884. To effect some change in the current of trade, by restricting
production so as to meet the sluggish demand, the operators began, in the fall of
1883, an effort in that direction. It was not until March, 1884, that it took shape,
and a coke pool, controlling 9,585 ovens, was formed. This syndicate acted as
agent for the sale of the production of those ovens. The syndicate was not a rapid
success, and although a fair control of production and prices were obtained, the
trade continued but indifferent in its bulk and profits until the spring of 1885,
when the iron trade of the country somewhat revived.

A slight advance in prices was secured, and a better demand arose ; new ovens
were built, and the output averaged nearly one thousand cars a day, and the price
ranged from $1.20 to $1.40 per ton. With the brighter prospects came murmer-
ings from the cokers, but the prospect of a strike did not seem imminent, as from
the long period of restricted work and low wages they were not in a condition to
sustain a lockout. The Huns, of whom there were many in the region, had not
been saving money, and it was easy for a few dissatisfied men to persuade them
that they were oppressed, and quietly a few designing men began their plotting
for one of the most bitter strikes that ever occurred in Western Pennsylvania, and
the Hungarians were made the positive force. The coke operators have, in the
public opinion, been thought to have introduced this foreign element into the coke
region, and thus been instrumental in bringing on themselves the disaster of the
strike. This is an erroneous impression. The Hungarians came first into the
coke districts in 1879, during the period of high prices and great demand for coke.
Labor was scarce and the cokeries multiplying. An effort was necessary to obtain
workmen]^in the other sections of the country, and a force of Poles and Germans
were obtained in New York, among whom were some Hungarians. In Hungary
the average wages per day is about sixty cents.

The'_Hungarians who obtained work at the cokeries wrote home to their friends
of the'large wages they were making at the coke ovens, and from that time the
Hungarians began to come from their native land to the Connellsville region in
numbers. While they are naturally inoffensive and respectful in their demeanor,
and averse to strikes, from their great desire to save and accumulate money, yet,
when once aroused, they are violent, and pay no regard to law or the rights of life
and property. The coke districts had become filled with men and women of this
nationality, who had obtained employment at the cokeries, for the women were
workers at drawing coke and other divisions of the industry as well as the men.
Their whole object being to save a thousand or so of dollars and return to Hun-
gary, where that sum would enable them to become in a small way owners of a
few acres of land, and thus being raised to the social standard of landed proprie-
tors, be to a certain extent independent. It was from this class that the greatest


violence was experienced in the strike, and with whom the designing agitators of
other nationalities worked up the riot, and brought about its consequences. The
first intimation the public had of the strike was an alleged meeting at Scottdale,.
on Christmas, 1885. It appears since that it consisted of but two men, one of
whom has since become a prominent labor agitator. At that time there was no
idea, in the minds of the workers, of asking for an increase of wages, except in
the thoughts of the two self-constituted delegates.

A second meeting was more largely attended on New Years day. A call for a
general convention of the workmen of the cokeries to be held at Scottdale on Sat-
urday January 16th, 1886, was circulated. When the convention met on that day
there were representatives from nearly every cokery. A demand was made
for ten per cent, advance in wages. The Hungarians demanding ninety cents for
one hundred bushels of coal. It is proper here to remark that the veins of coal
are from seven to eleven feet thick, soft and easilly mined, and a large number of
bushels can be mined in a day. On the same evening a telegram was sent to the
syndicate, before mentioned, demanding an immediate reply. The cokers com-
plained that they were bound by iron-clad leases, and had been robbed in the
prices charged at the company's store, that their rents were too high, and that the
rate of wages were as low as when coke was eighty -five cents a ton, although the
price had been advanced to $1.20 and $1.40.

As against this the operators claimed that they had for a long period conduct-
ed their business without any profit, and for a considerable time at a loss, and that
now if they were making some profit they could not afford to at once advance
prices. That they had had no notice of the intention to strike, no chance to con-
sider the subject, and the strikers were destroying their property and preventing
those who wished to work from so doing. This latter claim was fully correct, as
the Hungarians had inaugurated the strike two days before the convention held
on January 16th, at Scottdale. On Monday the 18th the strike became general
throughout the region. It was precipitated by the Huns, who had been urged up
to it by the labor agitators, and it was principally a Hungarian strike. They be-
gan to drive those from the cokeries who desired to work, and to destroy tools and
other property. The officers who attempted to make arrests were attacked and
their prisoners rescued. The sheriff" of Westmoreland county, finding himself un-
able to cope with the rioters, obtained from Pittsburgh a large number of police-
men and quartered them in the neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant. The Hungarians
encouraged by their success and frenzied by "polinke " an alcoholic drink manu-
factured by them, on Wednesday January the 20th, renewed their riot with great
fury. A mob of some 400 men and women, armed with coke forks, knives, revolvers
and clubs, marched from Mt. Pleasant to Stinerville, stopping at various points^
driving away the men at work, breaking down oven fronts and throwing tools and
supplies into the burning ovens. Though some resistance was ofTered the mob
swept on beating some of the bosses severely. In the afternoon returning elated
with their success they were met at Morewood by the Sheriff's posse numbering


sixty-five men, and an attempt being made to arrest some of the leaders a
fight began, the mob consisting largely of Hungarian women. The Sheriff's posse
made at length a final charge, and the strikers fled up the hill, making an occas-
ional halt and firing on the officers. Fourteen prisoners were captured and taken
to Greensburg. The same condition existed in the southern end of the coke dis-
trict and a number of arrests were made by the sherifi" of Fayette county. On Wed-
nesday the 28th of January, a great mass meeting of cokers, to the number of sev-
eral thousand, assembled at Scottdale. In the meantime the Austro-Hungarian
Consul at Pittsburgh had gone to the scene of the riot, to control, if possible, his
countrymen, but unsuccessfully. He read to them a correspondence between him-
self and the H. C. Frick Coke Company, looking to the settlement of the strikers'
demands. In this he proposed that the operators should give assurances to restore
the rate of wages prevailing before the last reduction, that they agree to accede to
arbitration, and that Mr. Frick should personally visit the coke regions and confer
with the Hungarian strikers. Mr. Frick replied, — " While they maintain this at-
titude of hostility they could claim no relationship to us which deserves consider-
ation. Let them peaceably leave our employment and deliver up our property,
if dissatisfied, or resume work. If they choose the latter course it will then be
time enough to treat with them for higher wages. If coke business improves, as
we hope it will, in the near future the price will advance, and we will then as we
3iave always said and intended, gladly share the benefit with our employees by
advancing their wages."

Although a number of persons of influence in the region addressed the mob
and others of the strikers, no progress was made in quieting the cokers, and on
February 8th, 1886, another convention was held by them at Scottdale. As a
-delegation of three hundred and fifty strikers were passing the Henry Clay mine
of the H. C. Frick Company, on their way to the convention, they attacked and
drove away a number of men at work. One of the workmen, who had been
terribly beaten a few days before, drew a revolver and fired on the strikers, shoot-
ing one of the delegation. His companions became violently enraged, and the
whole delegation rushed to the scene, threw car slats on the floor of the engine
house, saturated the building with oil, and set fire to it. The entire engine house
and tipple was soon in flames, and the mob passed on to the convention. They
were not arrested, and were applauded when they related at the convention what
they had done. Similar acts of violence had, to a greater or less degree, been
committed throughout the strike, and the whole region was terrorized. The mob
collected supplies for subsistence from the people of the surrounding country, who
<iare not refuse. A veritable state of war prevailed, and the strikers were as an
invading force living off" the country they held. On February 20th the operators
held a meeting at Everson, and after a prolonged consideration of the condition
•decided to advance the price of coke to $1.35 and grant the demands of their em-
ployes. This news the strikers joyfully received, all except the Hungarians, who
were not satisfied, and demanded the release of their countrymen who were under


arrest. After a few days, however, the work was resumed at all the cokeries^
Thus terminated a serious outbreak of a completely foreign element of unnatural-
ized population in the United States. With a language, habits of living and of
thought, foreign in the extreme to those of the section of the country where they
were employed, having but a vague knowledge of the laws and no understanding-
of their spirit and effect, and a still cruder conception of what was meant by
political liberty as exemplified under the Constitution of the United States; clanish'
and working but for the ultimate end of a return to their native land, with what
would there to them be a competency, the Hungarians were splendid material for
labor agitators to work up into a mob, and it was done successfully.

There was a disposition at the time in the public mind to think the coke opera-
tors responsible for their own losses and trouble, inasmuch as it was the generally
received opinion that they had imported the Hungarians with a view to cheaper
labor. It was quite the reverse. This low grade of humanity had imported itself^
drawn hither by the reports written home by their countrymen of what to them
were the fortunes to be in a short time realized from the high rate of wages to be-
had in the United States. Work being plenty and the remuneration large in the^
coke region, they naturally flocked there, and were pliant material in the hands of
badly disposed and unreflecting advocates of labor reforms. Under the agitations-
and demands that are so general through the whole country in all classes of labor y,
most serious considerations are being forced upon the minds of the public as to the'
future regulations of emigration into the United States. It would seem to be
foreign to the principle involved in the formation of the government to deny the^
people of any country the privilege of emigration to this; but it also seems that
there should be some safeguard that will prevent the accumulation in the United
States of masses of people of foreign birth, with no fixed idea of becoming citi-
zens, mere swarms of locusts feeding upon the green things of the land, and to-
take flight to pastures new when ready. There should be some qualification of"
character, some qualification of education, some tangible evidence of intention io
become permanent citizens, some knowledge of the constitution and the spirit of
the government and its laws. Just how far the restriction should reach is a matter
for discussion and study. The strike and riot of 1886 in the coke regions was most
probably the result of the mass of the Hungarians that had congregated there^
with no intention of becoming Americanized, uneducated as to the government of
the country, ignorant of the language, and in fact that great danger to a nation, a.
people within a people.

It has been computated that the loss to operators and the workers by this strike-
was over $550,000, there being 10,000 workmen affected by it, although the Hun-
garians and others especially active were not over 3,500 in number. The riotous-
disposition having been quieted the region resumed its normal activity, and in
April, 1886, the syndicate advanced the price of coke from $1.35 to $1.50 per ton,^.
and an advancement of wages was voluntarily given the workmen. Trade con-
tinued to improve and several small advances were made in wages.


On January 31st, 1887, the price of coke was advanced to $2.00 per ton. There
had been a verbal understanding that wages were to be increased when the price
of coke advanced, and the cokers expected this would be the case with the advance
of coke to $2.00 per ton. It not being oiFered the agitation began again, the cokers
demanding an advance of thirty-three and a third per cent., which they succes-
sively reduced to twenty and then to twelve and a half per cent. This the opera-
tors declining to give on the ground that there had already been four advances in
the rate of wages since May, 1886, the matter was finally referred to a board of
seven arbitrators, of whom John B. Jackson was umpire. Both sides laid their
arguments before the board, and it was finally decided by the umpire that there
should not be any further increase in wages until there was a further advancement
in the price of coke. This decision, not meeting the views of the cokers, there
was a general strike inaugurated on May 1st, 1887. All attempts at a settlement
were, for a time, useless, until, when the strikers seemed about defeated, the H. C.
Frick Company advanced the wages of their employees, because of some excep-
tional causes within the business of that firm, twelve and one-half per cent. The
other operators firmly refused to do this, and the cokers returned to their work at
the rate previous to May 1st, 1887. Thus ended the last strike to that date, which
it has been estimated caused a loss in wages to workmen and in business to the
operators of about $800,000.

For all these difficulties that have been stated of fluctuating prices and strikes,
the manufacture of coke has grown to a great extent and is still increasing. It is
but natural that it should, as it is a substance so essential in all the transformations
of ores into metals; and the coke of the Connellsville region, from its superior
qualities, finds an increasing demand with the growth of the iron making, and, in
fact, of all smelting processes.

There are at the present time about 13,000 coke ovens at the various cokeries
in the coke regions of Western Pennsylvania, with a product, when working, of
about 5,000,000 to 5,500,000 tons of coke, representing the consumption of over
200,000,000 bushels of coal.

The value of this product has been variable from various causes. Mr. Joseph
D. Weeks, in his exhaustive and valuable report on coke in the Census Depart-
ment, gives the average selling price of coke in Pennsylvania in 1880, at $1.81 per
ton, although in July, 1879, it was selling at $1.15 to $1.20 per ton, but, advancing
rapidly, sold in the early part of 1880 to $5.00 per ton. These fluctuations of
values are results of demand and supply, and in 1885 coke was sold as low as $1.05
per ton. Mr. Weeks says the cost of production, including all things, labor, ma-
terials, etc., at the best arranged works in the Connellsville region, is $1.15 per
ton; and says in his report: "The above calculation is, if anything, too low, as
the investments in ovens, etc , is lost when the coal is all gone, and the cost of
manufacturing will increase as the front coal is used up. This calculation is based
on coal that will drain itself."

The actual cost of making coke at the Cambria Iron Company's ovens, at Mor-
rell and Wheeler, is given in Mr. Weeks' report at $1.49, on which he comments :


" It will be noted that this estimate of cost of manufacturing coke is considerably
in excess of the first given. These two estimates from two reliable manufac-
turers are given for the purpose of showing how difficult it is to arrive at exact

In presenting this statement of the manufacture of coke as one of the indus-
tries of Pittsburgh, the foregoing remark of an accomplished statistician can be
applied as touching nearly all the details of this industrial division. The num-
ber of employees who are under wages in the 77 cokeries in the Connellsville
region, in all the various departments of labor therewith connected, is about 8,000,
and, while no exact figures could be had, the wages disbursed may be stated at
over 14,000,000. The ratio of the output of the ovens is, as elsewhere shown, of
a fluctuating character, depending on supply, and chiefly on demand, which is
governed by the condition of trade in all matters of the consumption of such arti-
cles as result from the handling of pig iron. As an approximation, it may be
said that the output of coke of the Conrellsville region runs, under the present
production, from |5,000,000 to $7,000,000 a year, as regulated by the causes before

The summing up of the coal trade presents the facts that there are in all the
divisions thereof, including the cokeries, which are practically collieries, as they
mine the coal used from their own works, 204 collieries, which employ 27,680
hands, whose wages amount to $11,150,000 ; that the value of the improvements,
exclusive of the cost of the coal, is $12,600,000, and its sales value from $22,000,000
to $25,000,000, according to the ruling market rates of the about 430,000,000
bushels, or 17,200,000 tons, mined annually.

Iron and Steel Trade.

To sketch the history of iron and steel manufacturing in Allegheny county is
to present a picture of all the lights and shades of manufacturing industries. It is
to unroll the record of persistent combat with domestic and foreign foes of Ameri-
can labor, and of triumphant success, when handicapped in the race with foreign
manufacturers for home markets by adverse legislation.

It is to exemplify that persistent energy and business courage before pointed
out in the history of the county as characteristic of its people, and paint one of the
victories of peace won by the industry, thrift and business ability of its manufac-
turers. There is no industry of the nation whose continued success has been more
dependant on protection than the manufacture of iron and steel, nor any that has
suffered so severely when free trade legislative action prevailed. Therefrom the
iron manufacturers of Allegheny county have received their share of wounds, and
tlie records of the battles fought with the trade depressions thereby produced is one


of ruined fortunes, bankrupt firms, — and among the working classes, of pecuniary
distress, and at times dependant on soup houses for a daily meal. Theories are
beautiful things, but practical tests of them prove their correctness or falsity.
Nowhere more conclusively than in the history of Allegheny county, and in the
records of the iron trade, has the correctness of protection and the falsity of free
trade been so conclusively proven, and that the prosperity of the manufacturers is
the field from which the masses reap their harvests. While here and there the
records show that the employers have accumulated fortunes, it shows more who
have lost them, but tells of thousands and thousands of workmen who have ac-
quired homes, reared families in comfort, educated children to professions and the
higher branches of the mechanical arts by the ample wages protection has enabled
their employers to give. It tells of the agricultural lands of Allegheny county
having acquired a value for the products for the table they never could have ob-
tained as mere fields for the growing of corn and oats, and demonstrates how the
growing up of a great population of workmen creates a profitable market for the
farmer, at his door, for the yield of his field, that could not have existed were there
not a great army of non-producers of agricultural products to be fed.

Slowly, steadily and persistently the iron and steel manufacturers of Allegheny
county have held their course through adverse days and antagonistic legislation.
Broadly and energetically pushing their industries in favorable periods, they have
gathered around them armies of well paid, skillful workers, until to-day Alle-
gheny county and Pittsburgh are synonymous names with the iron and steel in the
thoughts of men in the United States, Europe and even Asia. How Allegheny county
has grown to this prominence, and the details of its progress to that point, can in
these pages be but briefly told. Enough can be, however, related to show the
position indicated in the preceding paragraph is justly held, that protection has
been the great promoter thereof, and in Allegheny county demonstrated in the
most practical manner how it not only developed the resources of the country, but
provides the comforts of life for the working classes, and cheapens the products
from iron ores to the consumers. While these pages, intended as an exhibit of
Allegheny county's hundred years of existence, can spare no space for the dis-

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 18 of 43)