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Chapter 6 - Who is Who in the Coal-Mining Industry?

How Did the "Operators" Get the Coal Lands?

IF WE were to get permission to look over the titles to the coal fields and coal-mines, the present owners and operators would, no doubt, be able in every single instance to show legal papers attesting to their lawful ownership. But these legal papers would in most cases give little idea of who the persons are who are the real owners, and still less would these legal documents tell us of how these great coal-fields and coal-mines, originally government property all of them, happened to slip out of the hands of the American people.

Most of the original owners are dead now, and the properties are in the hands of stock companies in which the heirs are the principal stockholders or which have gotten into entirely different hands.

As a matter of fact there are few coal-mines or coal-fields in the United States to-day which have been acquired in such a manner that it would stand the light of the day. Nearly all of these natural resources have been stolen from the people and have later, in most cases, been passed over to dummy companies who can show "clear title," much as a rogue in the Wild West would show a receipt certifying that he had really bought and paid for the horse recognized as stolen.

The alienation of the coal lands from the government through swindle and fraud and bribery and collusion cannot be properly studied or understood except in connection with a study of the stealing of practically the whole public domain by abuse of the laws relating to it, such as the preemption law, the commuted homestead law, the deposit act, the stone and timber act, the desert land law, the forest reservation bill, the exchange land law, the cash sales act, the coal land law, and by wholesale fraud in the matter of land grants for canals and railroad purposes.

The staggering story of how the wealth of "our best families" came into existence by a series of crimes of this kind is told in great detail, with innumerable references to public documents, in a work entitled History of the Great American Fortunes by Gustavus Myers, covering about 1100 pages in 3 volumes. This great work, containing the basic knowledge of American economic history without which the present cannot be properly understood, is sold by the I. W. W. Anyone who wishes to know how "the boss" got his original accumulation and how this accumulation grew into hundreds of millions and into billions of dollars, had better write for these volumes.

In the short space at our disposal here we will merely give a few brief extracts, in order that the reader may be less apt to be duped by the talk of the operator about "honestly invested carpital," "royalties," "retirements," "depletion," "depreciation," etc.

The land grants for railroad building, which from 1850 to 1872 amounted to 155,504,995 acres, did not include the mineral resources, but in most cases the land grant swindlers stole the mineral lands also, quite frequently forgetting to build the rail-road, after they had looted the company of the public funds sub-scribed.

Fraud was so continuous and widespread that we may say it was the rule rather than an exception. "The present system of laws," reported a special Congressional committee, appointed in 1883 to investigate what had become of the once vast public domain, "seems to invite fraud. You cannot turn to a single state paper or public document where the subject is mentioned before the year 1883, from the message of the President to the report of the Commissioner of the Land office, but what statements of `fraud' in connection with the disposition of public lands are found."

What pretense of innocence! Those laws were made by legislators corrupted by lobbying land grant and railroad sharks.

Just a few instances will be mentioned here from the above mentioned work.

Hardly was the cash sales law of 1876 passed, than the besieging capitalists pounced upon the Southern lands and scooped in 8 millions of acres of coal, iron and timber lands, intrinsically worth hundreds of millions of dollars. For $1.25 an acre they could buy as many millions of acres as they wanted. The law was made for their benefit.

Congress and state legislatures were a hotbed of corruption in those days, as public documents without number prove. And judges and officials were largely for sale.

The Coal Land Act was purposely drawn to permit the railroads to appropriate great stretches of coal deposits. "Already," wrote President Roosevelt in a message to Congress urging the repeal of the Stone and Timber Act, the Desert Land Law, the Coal Land Act and similar enactments, "probably one-half of the total area of high-grade coals in the West has passed under private control. Including both lignite and these coal areas, these private holdings aggregate not less than 30,000,000 acres of coal-fields." These urgings fell flat on a Congress which included numerous beneficiaries of these frauds as well as their political retinue.

Commissioner Sparks of the General Land Office rendered an amazing report in 1885 of fraud and corruption. "Extensive coal deposits," he says, "in our Western territory are acquired in mass through expedited surveys, followed by fraudulent preemption and commuted homestead entries."

Commissioner Sparks went on to tell that nearly the whole of the territory of Wyoming and large portions of Montana, had been surveyed under the deposit system, and the lands on the streams fraudulently taken up under the desert land act, to the exclusion of actual settlers. Nearly all of Colorado, the very best cattle-raising portions of New Mexico, the rich timberlands of California, the splendid forest lands of Washington and the principal parts of the extensive pine lands of Minnesota had been fraudulently seized in the same way. In all of the Western States and territories these fraudulent surveys had accomplished the seizure of the best and most valuable lands.

But nothing was done to recover these stolen lands. Perhaps the very mine in which you are working was obtained in this way. Trace the history of your mine far enough back, and perhaps you will find out something interesting to tell the operator, when he says he cannot make enough to pay interest on the original investment.

Going way back in the distant past we also learn some startling facts about the manner of acquiring coal lands which have of late years been conquered by the Vanderbilts and the Morgans. We quote :

One of the particularly indisputable examples of the glaring fraud by which immense areas of coal fields were originally obtained was that of the disposition of the estate of John Nicholson.

Dying in December, 1800, Nicholson left an estate embracing land, the extent of which was variously estimated at from 3 to 5 million acres. Nicholson was a leading figure in the Pennsylvania Land Company, which had obtained most of its vast possessions by fraud. The bulk of the land was in Pennsylvania and included extensive regions containing the very richest coal deposits ... Different individuals and corporations contrived to get hold of practically the whole estate in dispute. How they did this is told in many legislative documents; the fraud and the theft connected with it were a great scandal in Pennsylvania for forty-five years.

If you want to learn how Vanderbilt and Morgan and other railroad kings later got hold of the coal-mines by methods which take a man's breath away, read the books mentioned. It is too long to tell here. Be it enough to say that it was good luck for them that they controlled both governments and judges. Otherwise they would have spent the rest of their lives in jail.

Speaking of railroad kings, the following quotation may interest the coal miners of Wyoming:

Gould (the notorious financier) was aware that Government geologists had reported that extensive coal deposits lay in Wyoming and other parts of the West. These deposits would become of incalculable value; and while they were not included in the railroad land grants, some had already been stolen, and it would be easy to get hold of many more by fraud. And that he was not in error in this calculation was shown by the fact that the Union Pacific Railroad and other allied railroads under his control, and under that of his successor, later seized hold of many of these coal deposits by violence and fraud.

To indicate the intimate connection between coal and rail-roads we again quote:

The volumes of the Pacific Railway Commission's Report set forth that the frauds of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, under the direction of Gould, Sage and Dillon, were truly gigantic. Millions of acres of public land were stolen outright. Not less than 7 million acres were sold without any patent from the Government. Coal lands of inestimable value were fraudulently seized.

A public report by H. H. Schwartz of the Dept. of the Interior showed that in the years 1906-1908 alone, approximately $110,000,000 worth of public lands in states, principally West of the Mississippi River, had been fraudulently acquired by capitalist corporations and individuals.

A controversy, in 1909, between Secretary of the Interior Ballinger and Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, brought a great scandal to a head. It was revealed that several powerful syndicates of capitalists had filed fraudulent claims to Alaskan coal lands, the value of which is estimated from $75,000,000 to $1,000,000,000.

And then there are some miners and some politicians who propose that we adopt the Plumb plan and buy the mines back from the present owners, paying the full price of their valuations. That is, after the coal and railroad capitalists have taken billions of dollars out of the stolen land, we should gather glowing coals on their heads by offering to pay them the full value of what is left in the ground!! What a generosity of beggars ! !

Glaring as these searchlight flashes from the past may be, they give only a faint idea of the prodigious swindle, corruption and other crimes upon which the private ownership of the coal-fields and the coal-mines has been built up.

Just as the above is to go to press we learn of the Curry and New bills now before Congress. These would transfer Alaska's forests and waterpower from the Dept. of Agriculture to the Dept. of the Interior, in charge of Senator Fall. It is claimed that in the supporting of these bills the Guggenheim interests and their allies are bidding for one hundred million cords of pulp-wood and the waterpower necessary to convert into paper, with consequent hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

The proposed transfer of the forest service to the Interior Dept. is by many looked upon as a forerunner to a repetition of the land office scandals and the giving away to big corporations of the rest of the public domain.

Secretary Fall, as a sheep-grazing magnate of the West, has been fighting the restrictions of the Forest Service. Turning over the Forest service to the Interior Dept. is, therefore, looked upon as making the goat the overseer of the garden.

Professor Chapman says in the Yale Forest School News: "In the Interior Dept. with a Secretary of 'the old school' who has already advocated leasing to stockmen in perpetuity some 200,000,000 million acres of grazing lands at an annual rental not to exceed one cent an acre, the forests would soon go the way of other private timber lands."

The Present "Operators"

Such methods of acquisition, culminating in the forming of the coal trust in a complete cloudburst of knavery in regular Morgan style, could not but grate on the finer sensibilities of "our best families." Every time they looked in the eye of that public, of which old Vanderbilt said "the public be damned," a crimson blush spread up over their ears. It became necessary to attempt to expunge from history the facts in the case, such as we have briefly indicated them above. They were only waiting for a favorable moment.

That favorable moment came during the great and memorable anthracite strike of 1902 when Roosevelt was compelled to shake in Morgan's face the "big stick" that he carried behind his back. The "damned public" was terribly incensed against Morgan and Vanderbilt and the rest of the coal barons and openly sympathized with the strikers. There was "revolution" in the air. It was at this time, when the tension was at its height, that the psychological moment came. Never before or since had the land grabbers and stock swindlers stood so face to face with the people, speaking without intermediary. The arrogance of the coal barons felt no bounds. They were in a mood to defy the whole people.

In a burst of supreme impudence, effrontery and blasphemy George F. Baer, President of Philadelphia and Reading Railway, speaking for the coal barons, rebuked the public for their sympathy with the strikers by speaking of "the Christian men and women to whom God in His infinite wisdom had entrusted the property interests of the country." Having stolen everything in sight, the robbers now invoked divine sanction of and heavenly blessing upon their plunder. "By the Grace of God" they from now on controlled the coal-mines and the railroads and all other property, much as King George was the king of the British "by the Grace of God," and much as Emperor Billy the Sudden used to rule over the German people.

The ancient Greeks had a god, Mercury, who was worshipped as the god of merchants and thieves. Mr. Baer may have meant divinity.

That the robbers did not make their impudent claim to heavenly sanction stick, this handbook helps to prove.

That Mythical "Small" Operator

When the workers are coming with wage demands it is customary to trot out as the typical operator the individual owner of a small mine or a stock company operating with borrowed capital upon which it has to pay 6, 7 or 8% interest before any income accrues to the operating individual or company.

By trotting out such an antiquated and almost extinct type of coal mine operator they succeed in building up a fairly plausible case against a wage increase, plausible to the uninitiated public according to the usual petty-bourgeois reasoning common on cracker barrels in back-woods groceries.

As a matter of fact such individual and financially isolated and independent operators have actually ceased to exist. Not only are the coal-mine operators organized into district and national associations for mutual aid and protection, but they are actually one happy financial family in everything but in name. The exceptions are insignificant. The coal-mining industry is organically absorbed into the great industrial organism of the country and retains a separate and independent existence on paper only by tradition, and in order to deceive the public as to the real size and power of the financial octopus controlling everything. Many of the large coal companies owned by notorious financiers hide their identity under innocent-sounding names. There are several hundred dummy mining companies listed in the Commercial Register, but they are nearly all controlled by a handful of large financiers.

On the two "Who-is-who" charts herewith you will find listed the principal coal and railroad properties of the East as well as some of the biggest banks of the country. You see lines drawn from the banks to the railroads and coal-mine properties. Those lines represent interlocking directorates.

To see the chart bigger, click on it.

As you will notice, the great railroad and coal properties of the country are so interlocked that they can justly be considered merely as different departments of the same concern. As you will also see, these railroads and coal properties are so inter-locked with the big financial institutions of the country, the banks, that they cannot be separated from them from a financial viewpoint. If you try to pick up one property, it is like picking up a net with the tip of your fingers. You get the whole net. In fighting one of the coal operators you are fighting the whole network, you are fighting the big railroads and the big banks. You are fighting against the Morgan group of financiers and the Rockefeller group of financiers. These are the ones who prove with figures that the coal industry cannot pay its workers a living. They also tell the railroad workers that the railroads are in such a poor shape financially that they have to reduce the wages still further. They do the same in every industry. They are hogs, brutal beasts without a semblance of compassion toward the poor miner or railroad worker, their wives and children or toward the workers in general.

To see the chart bigger, click on it.

Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderlip, Vanderbilt, Stillman, the Frick estate, and the big banks who are holding in trust the fortunes of our multimillionaires, all of them demand first of all the extravagant running expenses of capitalism paid, by means of which they take care of their hangers-on, the government, etc. This includes taxes with which to pay the government for its war expenses, in order that the government may pay it back to them. Then they demand their usual rent, interest and profit. In the last place come wages. They prove to you with "incontrovertible" figures that your work does not pay, that after all other items are covered there is little or nothing left for wages. But they can do that only while the workers are ignorant of the real state of affairs.

Here is a table which shows the real state of affairs. It is called a table of the "national" wealth of the United States, but it actually is a table of the wealth of the capitalist class of the country. The workers own little or nothing of it. Their share is so small that it is negligible.

Here you see the pile of wealth built up largely by stealing natural resources and robbing the workers out of the product of their toil, as producers and consumers.

"National" Wealth of the United States

(Statistics from World Almanac)

1850 $7.135,780.000 1900

$ 88,517,306,775

1860 16,159,616,000 1904


1870 30,068,518,000



1880 43,642,000,000 1917 220,000,000,000


1890 65,037,091,000 1920 350-400,000,000,000


1895 77,000,000,000      

The part of this tremendous sum owned by the workers is so small that it may be ignored. It belongs practically all to the class that is pleading poverty in order to dupe the workers into surrendering the piece of bread they need for themselves, their wives and children.

As you will see from the above table you have been doubling, trebling or quadrupling the "national" wealth every twenty years, and it is the purpose of the capitalist class, the mine owners included, that you shall again treble the national wealth within the next 20 years. That is, they want you to increase it from 400 billions to about 1,200 billions by 1940. Do you think you can do it? Do you want to try it? One of the steps taken by the capitalists for that purpose is to reduce the wages of the coal miners, the railroad workers and other workers. By reducing wages there will be more wealth directly available for rent, interest and profit to be added to the pile, which you are killing yourselves to build up.

To such social absurdities we have come by allowing private ownership and control to continue. Unless we rapidly remove all parasitism and take charge of the coal industry and all other industries by means of our unions we shall be crushed under the pile of wealth we have created.

The poverty plea of the dummy operators is nothing but cant and hypocrisy. Hold them jointly responsible with the big financiers on whose lap they sit !

The few small individual operators cannot justly ask 800,000 coal miners to sacrifice themselves, in order to enable them to run coal mines in competition with Morgan and Rockefeller.

Returning to the "Who-Is-Who" maps or diagrams we note that they cover only the Eastern country where all the anthracite mines and a large part of the bituminous mines are located. If we had the time and the resources to work out similar maps for other parts of the country we would be sure to come to similar results. As far as the far West is concerned we need only mention the name of Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. and the Utah Fuel Co. Everybody knows that these properties, stolen from the public domain and so deeply stained with proletarian blood, also are controlled by the interests named on the two interlocking diagrams.

The well known labor crusher, the Anaconda Mining Co. of Montana, is also engaged in coal-mining on a large scale in the West, by which route we again come to the great financial institutions.

The coal-miners of Wyoming are largely controlled by the Union Pacific Railway, again leading us to Wall street. Some Finnish coal-miners in Wyoming some years ago secured the Sampo mine, near Hanna, Wyo., and started a co-operative coal mine. But they soon had to shut down, and the mine is still idle. The Union Pacific Railway refused to furnish cars for hauling the coal. This is a good example of what has happened to the "poor" operator. He does hardly exist any longer. He is a myth, a sawdust-filled dummy with which to catch the sympathy of "the public."

The miners fighting for their very life are up against the whole combined pack of robber barons, hiding behind dummies whose names parade in the financial directories. Just like a disreputable person registers under a false name in hotels. But it is these cowardly, ruthless, bloodthirsty, skulking parasites of high finance just the same who dictate the terms to their dummies who in their turn transmit the general orders to the respective managers or "operators" who have the direct dealings with the workers and their leaders.

The workers are all the time fighting an unseen and in-tangible enemy which pulls the wires behind the curtain. We are up against organized "haute-finance" or high finance, which is merely a respectable name for "highway robbery." And our opponents may right now, in the middle of the winter, be cruising round in their yachts in warmer climes, from which they direct the battle against us by wireless telegraphy, or, in the summer, they may be conducting the starvation battle against us from their palatial "cottages" on seashore or their "lodges" on the inland lakes. That's who is who in the coal industry.

It should be plain that only by organizing the working class in overwhelming numbers and practising the most rigid solidarity can we overcome such a subtle, powerful and invisible enemy.

On to Chapter 7

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