Coal Workers Unionize

Poor pay, long hours and dangerous conditions lead Iowa coal miners to organize a union. John L. Lewis from Lucas, Iowa, became a national leader in unions.


Poor pay, long hours, dangerous conditions. The answers to some miner’s problems seemed to be union organization and strikes. Though union actions were strongly resisted by mine owners, Iowa’s District 13 of the United Mine Workers came to be a leader in organized labor in the late 19th century. John L. Lewis—the son of a Welsh miner—from Lucas, Iowa, became the most famous Iowa in organized labor. Lewis had been a miner himself since the age of 17. He began he career as a labor leader 1906. His mining background and great abilities as a public speaker made him a leader among mine workers everywhere. And he eventually became the celebrated President of the United Mine Workers of America in 1920. In 1917 when the United States entered the First World War, coal production hit its peak. But after the war, Iowa’s coal mining industry began to dwindle. Mine owners found that coal in West Virginia and Illinois was cheaper to mine and of better quality then Iowa’s and they moved their operations elsewhere.

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