Thursday, October 8, 2015

Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and Its Frederick Mine

Some of you may remember reading Electrocuted in the Frederick Mine about the untimely death of my second cousin twice removed, James Richardson, in 1921. Today I'd like to tell you a little bit about the mine itself and the company that owned it.

The Frederick Mine was owned by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) and was the company's most productive mine. The company was a large steel manufacturer and had been owned and controlled by John D. Rockefeller since 1903. The company produced 53 percent of the coal mined in Colorado and owned 23 mines in several counties including Las Animas where the Frederick Mine was located near the town of Trinidad. The mine was surrounded by expansive bituminous coal fields and several other mines. Bituminous coal was used in the production of steel. Coal from the mine was moved by rail to CF&I-owned steel factories in Pueblo, Colorado, just one example of the vertical integration Rockefeller practiced in his business operations.

Access to the Frederick Mine; photograph courtesy of Bessemer Historical

James, his father, step-mother and siblings immigrated from Scotland in 1906. They traveled to Trinidad because a friend of James' father had immigrated there previously. Most of the labor force at the Frederick Mine were immigrants. The history of labor relations between the miners and CF&I was volatile. During the strike of 1913-14 the governor of Colorado called out the National Guard to quell the miners, who were evicted from their homes. They lived in tent cities erected by the union. During one skirmish between the Guard and the striking miners, the camp burned and 15 women and children were killed. This incident has come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre. It turned public opinion against the coal industry and John D. Rockefeller.

Remains of the tent city after the fire; photograph courtesy of the Library
of Congress

Rockefeller was singled out during the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations extensive investigative hearings. Perhaps as a result, he introduced the Colorado Industrial Plan in 1915. The plan included an internal system of worker representation and some guarantees for fairness at work and in the company towns.

Segundo, Colorado, where James Richardson lived from at least 1910 to 1917 served as an example of the promises made under the 1915 plan. It offered ample housing and included a YMCA center for additional educational opportunities for the children of miners.

Demand for coal had already begun to decline and after a major fire in 1929, CF&I left Segundo. Several administration buildings at the CF&I steel factory in Pueblo were purchased by the Steelworks Center of the West to house their Steelworks Museum and Archives, which include the archives of CF&I.

And so went the rise and fall of the Frederick Mine and the company towns that housed its workers -- an end of era.

Electrocuted in the Frederick Mine

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