The Panics and Swedish Labor Strife

A panic is the state of the economy that is a result of numerous simultaneous bank runs.  A bank run happens when patrons begin withdrawing their deposits because they believe that the bank is on the verge of becoming insolvent.  The United States experienced several panics during the 19th century: 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893. Panics can lead to significant periods of economic recession or depression. The effects of the Panic of 1873 were felt in Moriah when Witherbee, Sherman & Company announced a reduction in wages in 1874 for all employees, a necessary adjustment to the economic downturn or else they might have had to close the mines altogether.

Despite the national panic of 1873, Moriah and Crown Point were in still their “heydays” in the 1870s. In Moriah, its population was near its peak and there were numerous construction projects in the works: The Lake Champlain and Moriah railroad, the Cedar Point furnace, the new Bessemer furnaces of Crown Point Iron Company. The D&H railroad was completed in 1875. The last ore shipped from the Crown Point Iron Company does correspond, however, with the time of the national panic in 1893.

In 1883 there was a depression in the steel industry. The unpredictability of a market economy was emphasized by periodic financial panics, competitive pricing and the factors of supply and demand.  The one place that management could try to compensate for these ups and downs was in its attempt to control costs associated with labor. This strategy, of course, was always fraught with the possibility of friction between management and workers. There were few companies that didn’t experience some labor agitation during the 19th century and Crown Point Iron Company was no exception. A correspondent for the Essex County Republican from April 9, 1874 reported:

“There seems to be serious trouble at the mines. As far as I can learn, the C. P. I. Co. some time ago notified a large number of Swedes that their services would not be required after April 1st.  Yesterday, it seems, the Swedes gathered and attempted to hinder the loading of cars with ore.  The cars were loaded, but the discontented Swedes seemed inclined to violence, threatening Professor Herring, the superintendent, and others, and acting in so outlandish a manner that the General [John Hammond] sent for assistance, and several arrests were made.  Officers and a posse of men went out to the mines on a special train to make further arrests.”

It turns out it was an ethnically charged conflict between laborers instead of worker grievances against management. Concerned for the security of their own wages, laborers of other nationalities had presented a false termination notice to the Swedes.

The newspaper report continued:

“It now seems the notice for the Swedes to leave April 1st was only a menace posted by jealous and discontented laborers of other nationalities [mostly Irish and French-Canadian], who view Swedes in about the same light as Californians view the Ah Sin’s from China, and no such notice was given by the Company.”

In retaliation… “The Swedes drove the miners out of one pit this morning, and were met and repulsed by Gen. Hammond and posse, on their way to another pit. More arrests are made and the men still held in custody. The Company are paying off and discharging others.”

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