1890s - Economics

Economics

  • 1892: The Homestead Strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Labor dispute between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (the AA) and the Carnegie Steel Company starting in June, 1892. The union negotiated national uniform wage scales on an annual basis; helped regularize working hours, workload levels and work speeds; and helped improve working conditions. It also acted as a hiring hall, helping employers find scarce puddlers and rollers. With the collective bargaining agreement due to expire on June 30, 1892, Henry Clay Frick (chairman of the company) and the leaders of the local AA union entered into negotiations in February. With the steel industry doing well and prices higher, the AA asked for a wage increase. Frick immediately countered with a 22% wage decrease that would affect nearly half the union's membership and remove a number of positions from the bargaining unit. Andrew Carnegie encouraged Frick to use the negotiations to break the union: "...the Firm has decided that the minority must give way to the majority. These works, therefore, will be necessarily non-union after the expiration of the present agreement." Frick locked workers out of the plate mill and one of the open hearth furnaces on the evening of June 28. When no collective bargaining agreement was reached on June 29, Frick locked the union out of the rest of the plant. A high fence topped with barbed wire, begun in January, was completed and the plant sealed to the workers. Sniper towers with searchlights were constructed near each mill building, and high-pressure water cannons (some capable of spraying boiling-hot liquid) were placed at each entrance. Various aspects of the plant were protected, reinforced or shielded.
  • 1892: Buffalo switchmen's strike in Buffalo, New York during August, 1892. In early 1892, the New York state legislature passed a law mandating a 10-hour work-day and increases in the day- and night-time minimum wage. On August 12, switchmen in the Buffalo railyards struck the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the Erie Railroad and the Buffalo Creek Railroad after the companies refused to obey the new law. On August 15, Democratic Governor Roswell P. Flower called out the New York State Guard to restore order and protect the railroads' property. However, State Guard Brigadier General Peter C. Doyle, commanding the Fourth Brigade, held a full-time position as an agent of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and was determined to crush the strike.
  • 1892: New Orleans general strike taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana during November, 1892. 49 labor unions affiliated through the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had established a central labor council known as the Workingmen's Amalgamated Council that represented more than 20,000 workers. Three racially integrated unions—the Teamsters, the Scalesmen, and the Packers—made up what came to be called the "Triple Alliance." Many of the workers belonging to the unions of the Triple Alliance were African American. The Triple Alliance started negotiations with the New Orleans Board of Trade in October. Employers utilized race-based appeals to try to divide the workers and turn the public against the strikers. The board of trade announced it would sign contracts agreeing to the terms—but only with the white-dominated Scalesmen and Packers unions. The Board of Trade refused to sign any contract with the black-dominated Teamsters. The Board of Trade and the city's newspapers also began a campaign designed to create public hysteria. The newspapers ran lurid accounts of "mobs of brutal Negro strikers" rampaging through the streets, of African American unionists "beating up all who attempted to interfere with them," and repeated accounts of crowds of blacks assaulting lone white men and women. The striking workers refused to break ranks along racial lines. Large majorities of the Scalesmen and Packers unions passed resolutions affirming their commitment to stay out until the employers had signed a contract with the Teamsters on the same terms offered to other unions. The Board of Trade's tactics essentially backfired when the Workingmen's Amalgamated Council called for a general strike, involving all of its unions. The city's supply of natural gas failed on November 8, as did the electrical grid, and the city was plunged into darkness. The delivery of food and beverages immediately ceased, generating alarm among city residents. Construction, printing, street cleaning, manufacturing and even fire-fighting services ground to a halt.
  • 1893: The Panic of 1893 set off a widespread economic depression in the United States that lasts until 1896. One of the first signs of trouble was the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, which had greatly over-extended itself, on February 23, 1893, ten days before Grover Cleveland's second inauguration. Some historians consider this bankruptcy to be the beginning of the Panic. As concern of the state of the economy worsened, people rushed to withdraw their money from banks and caused bank runs. The credit crunch rippled through the economy. A financial panic in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and a drop in trade in Europe caused foreign investors to sell American stocks to obtain American funds backed by gold. People attempted to redeem silver notes for gold; ultimately the statutory limit for the minimum amount of gold in federal reserves was reached and US notes could no longer be successfully redeemed for gold. Investments during the time of the Panic were heavily financed through bond issues with high interest payments. The National Cordage Company (the most actively traded stock at the time) went into receivership as a result of its bankers calling their loans in response to rumors regarding the NCC's financial distress. As the demand for silver and silver notes fell, the price and value of silver dropped. Holders worried about a loss of face value of bonds, and many became worthless. A series of bank failures followed, and the Northern Pacific Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad failed. This was followed by the bankruptcy of many other companies; in total over 15,000 companies and 500 banks failed (many in the west). According to high estimates, about 17%–19% of the workforce was unemployed at the Panic's peak. The huge spike in unemployment, combined with the loss of life savings by failed banks, meant that a once-secure middle-class could not meet their mortgage obligations. As a result, many walked away from recently built homes. From this, the sight of the vacant Victorian (haunted) house entered the American mindset.
  • 1896: The United States presidential election, 1896 becomes a realigning election. The monetary policy standard supported by the candidates of the two major parties arguably dominated their electoral campaigns. William Jennings Bryan, candidate of the ruling Democratic Party campaigned on a policy of Free Silver. His opponent William McKinley of the Republican Party, which had lost elections in 1884 and 1892, campaigned on a policy of Sound Money and maintaining the gold standard in effect since the 1870s. The "shorthand slogans" actually reflected "broader philosophies of finance and public policy, and opposing beliefs about justice, order, and 'moral economy.'", The Republicans won the election and would win every election to 1912. Arguably ending the so-called Gilded Age. The McKinley administration would embrace American imperialism, its involvement in the Spanish–American War (1896–1898) leading the United States in playing a more active role in the world scene. The term Progressive Era has been suggested for the period, though often covering the reforms lasting from the 1880s to the 1920s.
  • 1896–1899: The Klondike Gold Rush. In August, 1896, George Carmack, Kate Carmack, Keish, Dawson Charlie and Patsy Henderson, members of a Tagish First Nations family group, discovered rich placer gold deposits in Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek, Yukon, Canada. Soon a massive movement of people, goods and money started moving towards the Klondike, Yukon region and the nearby District of Alaska. Men from all walks of life headed for the Yukon from as far away as New York, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Australia. Surprisingly, a large proportion were professionals, such as teachers and doctors, even a mayor or two, who gave up respectable careers to make the journey. For instance, the residents of Camp Skagway Number One included: William Howard Taft, who went on to become a U.S. President; Frederick Russell Burnham, the celebrated American scout who arrived from Africa only to be called back to take part in the Second Boer War; and W. W. White, author and explorer. Most were perfectly aware of their chance of finding significant amounts of gold were slim to none, and went for the adventure. As many as half of those who reached Dawson City kept right on going without doing any prospecting at all. Thus, by bringing large numbers of entrepreneurial adventurers to the region, the Gold Rush significantly contributed to the economic development of Western Canada, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. New cities were created as a result of the Gold Rush, including among others Dawson City, Fairbanks, Alaska and Anchorage, Alaska. The heyday of the individual prospector and the rush towards the north ended by 1899. Exploitation of the area by "big mining companies with their mechanical dredges" would last well into the 20th century.
  • 1894: Cripple Creek miners' strike, a five-month strike by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in Cripple Creek, Colorado, United States. In January 1894, Cripple Creek mine owners J. J. Hagerman, David Moffat and Eben Smith, who together employed one-third of the area's miners, announced a lengthening of the work-day to ten hours (from eight), with no change to the daily wage of $3.00 per day. When workers protested, the owners agreed to employ the miners for eight hours a day – but at a wage of only $2.50. Not long before this dispute, miners at Cripple Creek had formed the Free Coinage Union. Once the new changes went into effect, they affiliated with the Western Federation of Miners, and became Local 19. The union was based in Altman, and had chapters in Anaconda, Cripple Creek and Victor. On February 1, 1894, the mine owners began implementing the 10-hour day. Union president John Calderwood issued a notice a week later demanding that the mine owners reinstate the eight-hour day at the $3.00 wage. When the owners did not respond, the nascent union struck on February 7. Portland, Pikes Peak, Gold Dollar and a few smaller mines immediately agreed to the eight-hour day and remained open, but larger mines held out.
  • 1894: Coxey's Army a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States, led by the populist Jacob Coxey. The purpose of the march was to protest the unemployment caused by the Panic of 1893 and to lobby for the government to create jobs which would involve building roads and other public works improvements. The march originated with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894, passing through Pittsburgh, Becks Run and Homestead, Pennsylvania in April.
  • 1894: The Bituminous Coal Miners' Strike, an unsuccessful national eight-week strike by miners of hard coal in the United States, which began on April 21, 1894. Initially, the strike was a major success. More than 180,000 miners in Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia struck. In Illinois, 25,207 miners went on strike, while only 610 continued to work through the strike, with the average Illinois miner out of work for 72 days because of the strike. In some areas of the country, violence erupted between strikers and mine operators or between striking and non-striking miners. On May 23 near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 15 guards armed with carbines and machine guns held off an attack by 1500 strikers, killing 5 and wounding 8.
  • 1894: May Day Riots, a series of violent demonstrations that occurred throughout Cleveland, Ohio on May 1, 1894 (May Day). Cleveland's unemployment rate increased dramatically during the Panic of 1893. Finally, riots broke out among the unemployed who condemned city leaders for their ineffective relief measures.
  • 1894: The workers of the Pullman Company went on strike in Illinois. During the economic panic of 1893, the Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages as demands for their train cars plummeted and the company's revenue dropped. A delegation of workers complained of the low wages and twelve-hour workdays, and that the corporation that operated the town of Pullman didn't decrease rents, but company owner George Pullman "loftily declined to talk with them." The boycott was launched on June 26, 1894. Within four days, 125,000 workers on twenty-nine railroads had quit work rather than handle Pullman cars. Adding fuel to the fire the railroad companies began hiring replacement workers (that is, strikebreakers), which only increased hostilities. Many African Americans, fearful that the racism expressed by the American Railway Union would lock them out of another labor market, crossed the picket line to break the strike; thus adding a racially charged tone to the conflict.
  • 1896–1897: Leadville Colorado, Miners' Strike. The union local in the Leadville mining district was the Cloud City Miners' Union (CCMU), Local 33 of the Western Federation of Miners. In 1896, representatives of the CCMU asked for a wage increase of fifty cents per day for all mine workers not already making three dollars per day. The union felt justified, for fifty cents a day had been cut from the miners' wages during the depression of 1893. By 1895, Leadville mines posted their largest combined output since 1889, and Leadville was then Colorado's most productive mine camp, producing almost 9.5 million ounces of silver. The mine owners "were doing a lot better than they wanted anyone to know." Negotiations over an increase in pay for the lower-paid mineworkers broke down, and 1,200 miners voted unanimously to strike all mines that were still paying at the lower rate. The next day 968 miners walked out, and mine owners locked out another 1,332 mine workers. The Leadville strike set the scene not only for the WFM's consideration of militant tactics and its embrace of radicalism, but also for the birth of the Western Labor Union (which became the American Labor Union), the WFM's participation in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, and for events which culminated in the Colorado Labor Wars.
  • 1898: Welsh coal strike, involving the colliers of South Wales and Monmouthshire. The strike began as an attempt by the colliers to remove the sliding scale, which determined their wage based on the price of coal. The strike quickly turned into a disastrous lockout which would last for six months and result in a failure for the colliers as the sliding scale stayed in place. The strike officially ended on September 1, 1898. The lack of organisation and vision apparent form the colliers' leaders was addressed by the foundation of the South Wales Miners' Federation, or 'the Fed'.
  • 1899: Newsboys Strike in New York City, New York. The newsboys were not employees of the newspapers but rather purchased the papers from the publishers and sold them as independent agents. Not allowed to return unsold papers, the newsboys typically earned around 30 cents a day and often worked until very late at night. Cries of "Extra, extra!" were often heard into the morning hours as newsboys attempted to hawk every last paper. In 1898, with the Spanish-American War increasing newspaper sales, several publishers raised the cost of a newsboy bundle of 100 newspapers from 50¢ to 60¢, a price increase that at the time was offset by the increased sales. After the war, many papers reduced the cost back to previous levels, with the notable exceptions of the New York World and the New York Morning Journal. In July 1899, a large number of New York City newsboys refused to distribute the papers of Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, and William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the Journal. The strikers demonstrated across the Brooklyn Bridge for several days, effectively bringing traffic to a standstill, along with the news distribution for most New England cities. Several rallies drew more than 5,000 newsboys, complete with charismatic speeches by strike leader Kid Blink. Blink and his strikers were the subject of violence, as well. Hearst and Pulitzer hired men to break up rallies and protect the newspaper deliveries still underway.

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