“The Impending Strike” – Lykens on the eve of the 1902 Coal Strike

As temperatures rose and spring bloomed over the dreary mining communities of Lykens and Wiconisco, tension was in the air. News from elsewhere in the Coal Region blew into these northern Dauphin County towns like so much coal dust, darkening the moods and minds of miners and non-miners alike. It was May 1902 and the miners of the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania were on the verge of the greatest and most important labor strike in American history.

The United Mine Workers of American (UMWA) planned a massive walkout if coal operators refused efforts to come to the negotiating table over working conditions, pay-scales, and other disputes that had long plagued the anthracite mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania. As residents of these communities cleaned the graves of local Civil War veterans at the local cemeteries, all thoughts were on the impending crisis that loomed over the area that had depended on the coal industry since the region’s white settlement in the 1820s.

In its Friday, May 16, 1902 edition, the Lykens Standard summed up the situation on the banks of the Wiconisco Creek. Two communities, Wiconisco on the north side of the coal-stained creek and Lykens on the south bank, awaited news from John Mitchell’s UMWA eagerly. The massive Short Mountain Colliery, operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad-owned Lykens Valley Coal Company, stood towering over the twin settlements, looming in the dust-strewn distance as it had since coal had first been extracted from Bear Gap in the 1830s. The print had been set for that Friday’s edition two days earlier. By the time, the May 16 edition hit the subscribers’ door steps, the strike was officially on.

Lykens and Wiconisco miners had already stopped work the preceding Saturday, May 12, in solidarity with 145,000 anthracite mine workers awaiting word from a UMWA convention at Hazleton, Luzerne County.

Postcard showing miners at the Short Mountain Colliery above Lykens and Wiconisco.

From the Standard: 


 The loyalty of the mine employees of this section to the cause of organized labor was demonstrated again in unmistakable terms on Monday, when in response to the request of President John Mitchell every man remained away from his usual toil until the decision of the Hazleton convention is officially reported to them. Engineers, firemen, pump runners, and several other employees necessary to prevent damage to the mines were not included in this order, and these are therefore still at work, but otherwise everything is tied up.

A meeting of Lykens Local, No. 1062 was held in the opera house on Monday morning when the situation was carefully gone over and as a result James Fennel and Richard Howell were chosen as delegates to the convention at Hazleton with instructions to vote for a strike unless the operators make some concessions.

Up to the time of going to press, no decision had been arrived at by the convention, which met on Wednesday, and all are eagerly awaiting the result. Notices are posted calling for a meeting of the Mine Workers of this section on Saturday, when a parade will take place after which addresses will be delivered at Gratz grove by Geo, W. Coles, Esq., and Profs. Ira A. Wolcott and Geo. E. Mark.

John Mitchell Papers
Leader of the United Mine Workers of America – John Mitchell. (LOC)

The article ran in the premier spot on the Standard’s news sheet – upper left – adjacent to baseball box scores and obituaries. Everyone had awaited the hammer blow that was surely to come. Residents of the “Upper End” of Dauphin County thrust themselves into a strike that forever altered the region and organized labor in the United States.

Featured Image: Lykens and Wiconisco in the early 20th century.

You’ll be able to find all the coming stories by clicking the “1902 Coal Strike” tag HERE or below this article.

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