American Battles for Coal: The Great Coalfield War

By | May 21, 2017

American Battles For Coal Essay Sample

Not every war is connected with a military opposition of two or more countries and their competition for territories or influence; sometimes, wars take place inside the country and uncover some of its inherent, boiling problems. This occurred in 1913-1914 in the form of the Great Coalfield War, a culmination of the Colorado Coal Field Strike, a remarkable tragic episode of the US labor history. Those events also acquired the name of the Ludlow Massacre, an unfortunate outcome of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union’s struggle for recognition and adoption of more humane working conditions for coal miners (Andrews, 2010).

The war started because of UMWA’s demands for a 10% increase in wages, enforcement of the eight-hour working day, implementation of more rigorous health and safety rules at the mines, and advocacy of the miners’ right to select accommodation, canteens, and doctors when seeking medical service (Global Security, 2017). In the effort to enforce the adoption of those reforms, miners of Coalfield organized the Colorado Coal Field Strike, but the state’s authorities sent out the Colorado National Guard to the locale, and the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company opposed the UMWA’s claims as well (Duke, 2014). The guard and company’s militia attacked and ruined the strikers’ camps, while those in return attacked and devastated local mines. The opposition culminated in the Ludlow massacre of April 20, 1914, broke out to take away numerous lives of women and children from Coalfield miners’ families (Andrews, 2010).

The events of Ludlow Massacre also showed the problematic approach of John D. Rockefeller Jr. to managing labor relations with his miners. A giant with indisputable power and might in the American industrial world, Rockefeller did not take UMWA’s claims seriously and even refused to acknowledge the Massacre as such, officially stating that no women and children were killed by militia at Coalfield. Such neglect towards the tragic event of 1914 won him public hostility and urged the mine owner to seek reconciliation with his workforce for the sake of restoring the normal functioning of the mine (Rees, 2010).

This war, though being of local scale mostly, pointed out grave internal problems in the labor relations between industrial giants and miners. Moreover, it showed the disadvantaged social and political position of the American working class and urged the US authorities to take a closer look at the inhumane working conditions of miners. The unity of strikers and their spirit of fight for justice inspired many proactive reforms and stimulated the adoption of fairer working regulations, though the victims of Ludlow Massacre are still regarded as an occasional, tragic cost of miners’ victory in the Great Coalfield War.


Andrews, T. G. (2010). Killing for coal: America’s deadliest labor war. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Duke, P. (2014). A terrible unrest. Croydon, the UK: John Hunt Publishing.

Global Security. (2017). 1913-14 – Colorado Coalfield War. Retrieved from

Rees, J. H. (2010). Representation and rebellion: the Rockefeller plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914-1942. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

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