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Coal and Capitalism: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Strike That Changed Labor History

Evening Program

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 6:45 p.m ET
Code: 1L0324
$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • For multiple registrations, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses.


In the summer of 1901, financier J.P. Morgan was assembling his next mega-deal: Northern Securities, a scheme that would give him mastery of railroads throughout the vast American West—and their vast profits. Then a bullet from an anarchist’s gun put an end to the business-friendly McKinley presidency.

The new president, Theodore Roosevelt, was convinced that as big business got bigger, the government had to check the power and privilege of the rich or the country would inch ever closer to collapse. By March 1902, battle lines were drawn: The government sued Northern Securities for antitrust violations. But as the case ramped up, the coal miners’ union went on strike and the Pennsylvania anthracite pits that fueled Morgan’s trains and heated the homes of Roosevelt’s citizens came to a standstill. With millions of dollars on the line, winter bearing down, and public ferment in the air, it was a crisis that neither man alone could solve.

Drawing on her new book The Hour of Fate, Susan Berfield recounts the story of a banker and a president thrown together in the crucible of national emergency even as they fought in court. The outcome of the strike and the case would change the course American labor history. Hear Berfield discuss why today, as the country again asks whether saving democracy means taming capital, the lessons of Roosevelt and Morgan’s time take on a renewed urgency.

Berfield is an award-winning investigative reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg News, where she has covered some of America’s largest corporations.

Copies of The Hour of Fate (Bloomsbury Publishing) are available for purchase.



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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.