Knights of Labor Papers on Microfilm

Collection Number: 5503 mf a & b

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library


Knights of Labor Papers on Microfilm, 1864-1937
Collection Number:
5503 mf a & b
Knights of Labor
109 microfilm reels
Forms of Material:
Photographic prints, diaries, poems, speeches (documents), scrapbooks, microfilm .
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
The Terence Vincent Powderly Papers, 1864-1937 (reels 1-94) [5503A mf] ; John William Hayes Papers, 1880-1921 (reels 1-15) [5503b mf]
Collection material in English


Terence Vincent Powderly was born in Carbondale, Penn. In 1849. A machinist by trade, Powderly became active in union organizing, eventually becoming the chief executive officer of the Order of the Knights of Labor, a post he held from 1879 to 1893. He was also active in politics and served three terms as mayor of Scranton, Penn. (1878-1884). After resigning as General Master Workman of the Knights, Powderly was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1894 and re-entered political life
while practicing law. He served in several important posts in the Bureau of Immigration (1898-1921) as well as as commissioner of conciliation with the Department of Labor, a post he held from 1921 until his death in 1924.
Terence Vincent Powderly, the son of Terence and Madge Walsh Powderly, both Irish immigrants, was born on January 23, 1849, in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Life among sven brothers and four sisters was spartan, and young Powderly had little opportunity to obtain much more than a rudimentary education. At age thirteen, Powderly took his first job as switchman for the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. He had decided on a career as a machinist, and in August, 1866, he was apprenticed for three years to master machinist, James Dickson. At the end of his apprenticeship in August, 1869, Powderly found employment in the machine shops of the Pennsylvania Coal Company. He was later employed in the machine shops of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
At the time Powderly joined the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad the Long Strike was in progress among the anthracite coal miners in Pennsylvania. Powderly's experiences during the Long Strike and the mine explosions at Avondale, Pennsylvania, in September, 1869, proved to be important influences in his life. Determined to do what he could to relieve the plight of his fellow workers, he joined the International Union of Machinists and Blacksmiths in 1971. He later became president of his local chapter.
In 1873, the United States experienced a severe economic depression. This depression, coupled with Powderly's union activities, led to his dismissal. During the winter of 1873-1874, Powderly traveled through several Midwestern states and Canada in search of work. He finally found a job in Galion, Ohio, only to be fired because his name appeared on a blacklist of union agitators. Powderly frequently experienced blacklisting during the 1870s.
In 1876, while working in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Powderly was admitted to Scranton Local Assembly No. 88 of the Order of the Knights of Labor. Soon he had organized an assembly of the machinists and became its Master Workman. Powderly advanced rapidly in power and influence in the Knights of Labor. In 1877, he was elected corresponding secretary of District Assembly No. 5. He was elected Grand Worthy Foreman in January, 1879, and in September was elected to the top post of Grand (later General) Master Workman, a post to which he was re-elected annually until he resigned in 1893.
While steadily rising in the ranks of the Knights of Labor, Powderly became involved in Scranton politics. In 1876, he became president of the Greenback-Labor Club. From 1878-1884, he served three terms as Scranton's mayor. During his incumbency as mayor Powderly worked to make Scranton a progressive city. He established a board of health for the city and worked for legislation against adulterated foods, to obtain a meat inspector, and for funds to construct a municipal sewage system. In 1880, he signed into law a bill which made Scranton's tax structure more equitable. Powderly's three terms as mayor also saw improvement in such areas as municipal improvements and an open city administration.
When Powderly left the mayor's official in 1884, he was able, for the first time, to devote all his energies to the administration of the Knights of Labor. He realized that the Order was in the midst of a divisive internal struggle. The trade unionist faction within the Order believed that higher wages and better working conditions could best be achieved by the strike and boycott. Powderly and his supporters believed that the strike should be used as a last resort, only after the Order had tried to educate and convince management to accept its position. The abortive Southwest Strike of 1886 caused greater division within the union and resentment against Powderly, who had called off the strike. The rival American Federation of Labor, under Samuel Gompers, took advantage of the Knights' internal disorders and successfully interested dissatisfied Knights to join.
The discontent within the Order continued to grow. A group of Order leaders, including General Secretary-Treasurer John William Hayes, formed the so-called Home Club, which worked for Powderly's removal from office. In 1893, Hayes and others charged Powderly with misuse of the Order's funds. During the November General Assembly meeting Powderly was exonerated and subsequently re-elected General Master Workman. Facing a hostile executive board, however, Powderly resigned in 1893.
As General Master Workman, Powderly's policies were based on the preservation of the American worker's control of his job situation. He believed in the integration of blacks into the social and economic life of the nation, as well as the Order. He felt such participation would be in th ewhite laboring man's best interest. He also felt that women should be paid the same as men for the same work and should have equal opportunity for employment advancement. He fought for the eight-hour workday and the abolition of the wage system. He supported Chinese exclusion and protective tariff legislation.
After resigning as General Master Workman in 1893, Powderly studied law. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1894 and later admitted to practice before the Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania and the United States. While practicing law, Powderly re-entered political life. In 1894 he became a member of the Central Republican Club of Scranton. During the presidential campaign of 1896, Powderly was asked to campaign for William McKinley. After McKinley's inauguration in 1897, Powderly applied for appointment as Commissioner-General of Immigration. Soon after his appointment to this post in March, 1898, Powderly established a commission to investigate conditions at Ellis Island. As a result of this investigation, eleven employees were dismissed. When Theodore Roosevelt became president, Powderly's rivals attacked him and finally succeeded in obtaining his removal from office. After an investigation he was reinstated by President Roosevelt in 1906 as Special Immigration Inspector. Roosevelt sent him to Europe to study the causes of European immigration to the United States. As a result of this trip Powderly prepared a report in which he advocated that the Immigration Service, through its agents in Europe, should select prospective immigrants while they still resided in their home country; that agents of the serviced should be on ships carrying immigrants; and that once here, immigrants should be more evenly distributed throughout the nation.
In 1907, Powderly was appointed chief of the Division of Information of the Bureau of Immigration, a post he held until 1921 when he was appointed a member of the bureau's Board of Review. From 1921 until his death on June 24, 1924, Powderly also served as a Commissioner of Conciliation with the Department of Labor.
John William Hayes was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 26, 1854. Hayes remained in Philadelphia until about the age of seventeen. In 1871 he moved west to Illinois where he worked as a farm hand. Not long after he moved to Ohio where he was employed as a brakeman for the Dayton and Michigan Railroad. When the financial panic of 1871 struck, Hayes lost his job and returned to his family in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hayes secured employments in 1872 as a brakeman with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Trenton, New Jersey, and later at Philadelphia. On May 28, 1878, he was involved in a serious railroad accident and lost his right arm. His next position was with the American Union Telegraph Company, where he remained until 1883. He was fired because of his involvement in union activities.
In August, 1874, while employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Hayes was initiated into District Assembly 49 of the Knights of Labor. Soon after joining the Order, Uriah S. Stephens gave Hayes an organizer's commission. In 1884, the General Assembly elected Hayes a member of the General Executive Board, and in 1886, he was elected secretary of the board. In November, 1888, the General Assembly elected Hayes General Secretary-Treasurer of the Knights of Labor.
Hayes's labor philosophy amplified the Knights' motto that perfect government was that "in which an injury to one is the concern of all." Only by implementing this principle could the disinherited laboring masses be free. As with Powderly, Hayes considered strikes as ineffective. He supported the principles of cooperation and education.
The General Assembly elected Hayes General Master Workman of the Knights of Labor in 1902. While undertaking these duties, Hayes was involved in other activities. He was manager of the Atlantic Gas Construction Company in Philadelphia and had invented a coal gasification device. After the First World War, Hayes urged labor organizations to abjure any connections they might have with the "Red Menace." Hayes also had interests in stocks and lands. He was president of the North Chesapeake Beach Land and Improvement Company until his death in 1942.


The Knights of Labor constituted the most powerful force in American labor in the nineteenth century. It was the first national labor organization to recruit extensively and as a matter of policy both women and blacks, to organize throughout the country, and to attempt to unify industrial and agrarian workers. Between 1869 and 1896 the Order spanned the United States with fifteen thousand Local Assemblies.


The Powderly papers are composed of correspondence, financial records, diaries, printed matter, legal files, photographs, and scrapbooks relating primarily to Terence Powderly's work with the Knights of Labor. Other papers concern his work as commissioner-general of immigration, the Black Diamond Anthracite Coal Company, and personal and family matters.
The bulk of the materials on the Knights of Labor (Series A) consists of correspondence (1864-1924), both incoming and outgoing. The most valuable portion of this correspondence covers the period during which Powderly served as General Master Workman (1879-1893). The letters reflect the growth of the Order and its position on such issues as education, the eight-hour workday, the use of the strike, trade unionism and blacklisting. The difficulties and power struggles which disrupted the Order are also evidenced. Also included in this series are constitutions of Local and District Assemblies as well as the General Assembly (1878-1890); business records consisting of two volumes of minutes of Local Assembly 222 of Scranton, Penn. (1876-1880) and expense accounts of Powderly as General Master Workman (1888-1892); proceedings, including seven proceedings for Local Assemblies (1883-1890), ninety-one proceedings for District Assemblies (1877-1890) and twenty proceedings for State Assemblies (1885-1894), as well as an incomplete set of proceedings for the General Assembly (1878-1902); and printed matter, consisting of the JOURNAL OF UNITED LABOR, vol.1 - vol.4 no.1 (1880-1883), ritual books, clippings scrapbooks, notes for speeches and writings, and printed leaflets, brochures, and form letters issued by the Knights (1886-1895).
Series B (Immigration) contains Powderly's correspondence (1883-1930) in his capacity as commissioner-general of immigration, as chief of the Information Division of the Bureau of Immigration, and as commissioner of conciliation for the Department of Labor. Filed with the correspondence is Powderly's 1906 report on emigration to the United States, the result of an investigation ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt. Also included in this series are miscellaneous and legal files dealing with the deportation of immigrants as contract laborers; warrants for deportation; court cases relating to the Alien Contract Law; Memoranda, statistics and reports of the Immigration Bureau; reports on Chinese and Japanese immigration; and a transcript of the Luigi Graziano Case (1900) dealing with corruption in the Bureau of Immigration. Pamphlets on immigration (1883-1903) include reports of the commissioner-general.
Series C contains correspondence, reports and circulars relating to the Black Diamond Anthracite Coal Company of Schuylkill County, Penn. Powderly served as president of the company from its founding in 1902 until 1905, when he resigned, suspecting a swindle.
Personal papers (Series D) include correspondence (1896-1937) between Powderly and his friends and family, as well as with organizations to which he belonged. Powderly's 1896 campaign activities on behalf of William McKinley are documented here. Also included are diaries (1869-1890), including some materials on Mother Jones, poems and speeches.
Printed matter (Series E) (1882-1898) consists of pamphlets containing Powderly's speeches and reports on Local and District Assemblies; Miscellaneous files (Series F) (1886-1937) include correspondence, clippings, reports, interviews and speeches, including Powderly's reminiscences of his early days in the labor movement and correspondence and clippings regarding the Knights of Labor's relationship with the Catholic Church; Scrapbooks (Series G) (1873-1904) contain clippings relating to Powderly, the Knights of Labor, and the Bureau of Immigration; Photographs (Series H) depict Powderly, his home and family, Knights of Labor staff and officials and other labor leaders, as well as views of the Immigration Bureau's facilities at Ellis Island.

Hayes, John William, 1854-1942
McKinley, William, 1843-1901
Jones, Mother, 1837-1930.
McKinley, William, 1843-1901
Powderly, Terence Vincent, 1849-1924
Turcheneske, John Anthony,1943-
Atlantic Gas Construction Company
Catholic University of America. Library.
Knights of Labor--History--Sources.
Knights of Labor
Black Diamond Anthracite Coal Company
United States. Bureau of Immigration.

Foreign workers -- United States.
Blacklisting, Labor.
Chinese -- United States.
Labor -- Religious aspects --Christianity -- United States.
Contract labor -- United States.
Deportation -- United States.
Eight-hour movement.
Emigration and immigration law -- United States.
Japanese -- United States.
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1896.
Strikes and lockouts-- United States.
Labor leaders.
Gas manufacture and works. United States. Management.
Nationalization. Railroads. United States.
Trade-union dues. United States.
Trade-union expulsion. United States.
Trade-union insurance. United States.
Trade-union leadership. United States.
Trade-unions. United States. Discipline.
Trade-unions. United States. Local unions.
Trade-unions. United States. Membership.
Coal mining industry. Pennsylvania. Management.
Trade-union rituals.

Geographic Subjects:
United States. Emigration and immigration.

Form and Genre Terms:
Photographic prints
Speeches (documents)


Access Restrictions:
Access to the collections in the Kheel Center is restricted. Please contact a reference archivist for access to these materials.
Restrictions on Use:
This collection must be used in keeping with the Kheel Center Information Sheet and Procedures for Document Use.
Cite As:
Knights of Labor Papers on Microfilm #5503 mf a & b. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library.


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