Mine workers at the southwestern corner of Schuylkill County were surprised to learn of the walk out order that came from the headquarters of the United Mine Workers of America in May 1902. Despite their surprise, these workers and their families made quick preparations for what they believed would be a lengthy strike with no knowing how long it would last.
In Tower City and its surrounding communities – Sheridan, Reinerton, Muir, and Orwin – more than 1,000 men and boys found employment at the East and West Brookside collieries on Big Lick Mountain. These mines were operated by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. In following the order from UMWA leadership, all non-essential mine workers stayed away from work on Monday, May 12 as the union met in Hazleton to decide what to do next.
The West Schuylkill Herald of Tower City reported on the reactions of mine workers in the area to the onset of the Great Coal Strike of 1902.
Very few persons here expected that the order for a suspension of work would come so soon. Many mine workers did not hear of the order until they came from the mines after their day’s work on Saturday and the order was quite a surprise to them. Nevertheless everyone was willing to obey the order.
How long the strike will last none can say. Some venture an opinion that it will be short lived while the more conservative set no limit on the time. Certain it is, however, that the men in this locality are ready and willing to abide by the decision of the convention held at Hazleton yesterday.
Both the Reinerton and Tower City locals held meetings on Monday, the former in the forenoon and the latter in the evening to discuss the situation and elect delegates to the convention. Both meetings were well attended.
The delegates elected are: George W. Long, Charles Fegley, and William Wagner, by the Tower City local and John F. Schneider was elected by Reinerton local. The delegates left on Tuesday morning and were instructed to vote for a strike unless concessions were granted by the operators.
By the time that issue of the Herald went to press, no news from Hazleton had been received. But within days, the largest coal strike in American history began with the local representatives from Tower City voting to walk out until workers’ demands were met by management.
Featured Image: East Brookside Colliery above Tower City and Reinerton in the early 20th century.
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