Historical Markers
Morewood Massacre [Bituminous Coal] Historical Marker
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Morewood Massacre [Bituminous Coal]

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
Rte 119 overpass on Rte. 981

Dedication Date:
September 9, 2000

Behind the Marker

Image of workers and coke ovens.
Coke workers at the Morewood Coke Works, Westmoreland County, PA, circa 1890.
Bituminous coal miners and operators often fought one another during the nineteenth century. Miners developed a reputation for militancy, increasingly going on strike and joining unions to fight for better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. markerTerence Powderly, president of the Knights of Labor, explained why he believed miners were militant and often endured lengthy strikes.

"In strikes, coal miners have always shown the most sublime fortitude and greatest endurance.... The miner can endure hunger and privation until the front of stomach and his spinal column are about ready to lean on each other for support. The reason for this is that it requires the most heroic type of manhood to seek a living in the mine, and he who has the courage to make that step in the dark each day, which every miner does, must be made of the good stuff, must be endowed with great patience and capable of enduring privation and want."

Photograph of the house with the family of Morris Ramsay posing for picture in the yard. Two people sit in a wagon that has a horse harnessed to it. One child holds the handle of a wagon, while another sits inside. The father and another daughter stand behind the wagon. The mother stands behind a baby carriage which holds a child. Another daughter rests her hand on the carriage. Two children sit on the edge of the porch with their legs dangling over the side.
Superintendent's house at Morewood Mine and Coke Works, East Huntingdon Township,...
Mine owners fought strikes and unions by mobilizing armed Pinkerton detectives and sheriffs' deputies. At the end of a hard-fought strike by coke workers in 1891, markerHenry Clay Frick wired markerAndrew Carnegie, his partner in H.C. Frick Coke Company, "Coke victory complete." Anticipating further labor trouble, Frick asked one of his coke-works managers a month later, "What have you done with all of the Winchester rifles, pistols etc. purchased and sent you during the strike?"

Miners joined in strikes and unions beginning in the 1840s. Miners in the Monongahela River valley struck in 1848 to oppose a wage reduction, and again in 1859 to demand installation of weigh scales at tipples. In 1861, miners from several states formed the first national union, the American Miners' Association, and demanded uniform pay rates for all miners and state legislation regulating the weighing of coal. It recruited miners who worked in the Pittsburgh (see markerFirst Mining of Pittsburgh Coal) and markerBlossburg coal seams. The American Miners' Association dissolved in 1867 due to internal dissension, although miners in western Pennsylvania also fought a series of unsuccessful strikes against pay cuts in the 1870s.

Several of the mine buildings, power house, tipple, coke yard and the Mt. Pleasant Supply Company store are shown in this early post card of Morewood.
Morewood Mine and Coke Works, Morewood, PA, circa 1905
Pennsylvania miners became more militant during the 1880s, leading to more violent clashes with operators, especially in the coke-making region of southwestern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania miners staged 800 strikes from 1881 to 1886, typically to maintain or increase pay rates.

One of the largest occurred in the coke region in 1887. Coke production and prices were rising, and coke workers demanded a 20 percent wage increase to share in owners' prosperity. Two unions, the Knights of Labor and the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers, represented discontented miners. After operators offered a five percent increase, the unions led as many as 12,000 workers on strike for a 12.5 percent increase. About one-third of the strikers were eastern and southern European immigrants, who had been streaming into the region to find work.

Operators responded by bringing in strikebreakers to maintain production, importing Pinkerton detectives to guard mines and strikebreakers, and at some mining towns evicting workers and their families from company housing. Frick stood resolute against the strikers, in part because he feared that capitulating would lead to more unreasonable demands from workers in the future. Carnegie, who wanted coke supplied to his steel mills, ordered Frick and the H.C. Frick Coke Company to grant the 12.5 percent pay increase, much to Frick's chagrin. The strikers returned to work victorious.

One can see the long lines of Bee-hive coke ovens located in the valley at Morewood, with the wooden railroad coke cars being loaded with coke.
The Morewood Coke Works, East Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland County, PA, circa...
Conflict in the coke region subsided until 1891, when operators determined to cut wages. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which had formed in 1890, demanded a pay increase and the eight-hour day and led 10,000 workers out on strike. Frick fought to win the struggle and break the union, this time with Carnegie's support. He again imported strikebreakers and Pinkerton detectives and evicted workers' families from company housing.

On March 30 about 1,200 workers marched on Morewood, where the H.C. Frick Coke Company operated coke ovens, and marker damaged the coke works. In response, Governor Robert E. Pattison ordered the local National Guard unit into Morewood. On April 2 a second group of approximately 1,000 strikers marched into Morewood. The guardsmen opened fire and killed seven workers. The defeated strikers went back to work by the end of May, prompting Frick to notify Carnegie of their "complete" victory.

Frick correctly anticipated further labor-management conflict after the 1891 strike and Morewood Massacre. In 1897 the UMWA led a nationwide strike of 150,000 miners and won the right to bargain collectively for bituminous miners in much of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois (see marker William B. Wilson). The same year, sheriff's deputies at Lattimer in the anthracite fields fired on striking miners, killing nineteen in the markerLattimer Massacre. The UMWA brought 150,000 workers out of the mines in the marker1902 Anthracite Coal Strike, winning a pay raise, shorter work day, and partial recognition enabling it to appoint representatives to a Board of Conciliation that adjudicated labor-management disputes.
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