Baer, George F.


J. P. Morgan’s Pennsylvania representative, railroad executive, bitterly fought miners in 1902 Pennsylvania coal strike



Autograph ID: 3955
Condition: Very good, lightly trimmed at sides, lower right corner chip
Description: “(1842-1914) Pennsylvania business executive and ally of J. P. Morgan, headed the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Co., which carried coal from Morgan-owned Pennsylvania coal mines to East Coast cities. Baer is best remembered for his opposition to labor unions. After a year of Civil War service with the 133rd Penna. Volunteers, he was admitted to the bar in April of 1864 and established a private practice in Reading by 1868. He argued a damage suit against the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Co. so successfully that his opponent hired him as corporate counsel in 1870. Baer invested in various regional manufacturing enterprises and came to know financier J. P. Morgan, who made him the House of Morgan’s Pennsylvania representative. Baer helped Morgan secure a terminal in Pittsburgh for one of his railroads. When Morgan acquired and reorganized the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1901, he named Baer as president of 3 Reading companies: Philadelphia and Reading Railway Co., the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co., and the Central Railroad Co. of New Jersey. There were few federal regulations regarding how they operated their businesses, and wages and working conditions were often abysmal. Baer and Morgan bitterly opposed the growing trade union movement. In May 1902, the United Mine Workers led 147,000 employees of Pennsylvania’s anthracite mining region on strike. Workers petitioned mine owners and operators for an 8-hour day, instead of a 10-hour one, and complained they had not had a wage increase in 20 years. Union leaders steered clear of the violence that had marked other recent labor actions that won them sympathy from newspapers and politicians. Morgan refused to become involved in the public battle in the nation’s newspapers and Baer became the point man for the mine owners and executives vehemently opposed to the strike. His prominence brought letters from ordinary citizens to his desk. When a Wilkes-Barre minister urged Baer to end the strike, Baer responded: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for, not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in his infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends.” His letter, reprinted in newspapers across the US, caused a stir. Editors, politicians, the clergy, and ordinary citizens were outraged; the controversy brought more public sympathy for passage of laws allowing workers the right to organize and to strike. The anthracite strike dragged on and there was talk of nationalizing the mines. As the autumn of 1902 approached, East Coast coal supplies dwindled. The executives’ obstinacy finally exasperated President Theodore Roosevelt, who intervened and demanded both sides appear at the conference table. Baer wanted Roosevelt to call in federal troops to end the strike, but Roosevelt was considering using them to take over the mines. Faced with a potentially ruinous loss, Baer complied and a provisional agreement was struck that got miners back at work Oct. 23. In 1903, Baer was called before the Interstate Commerce Commission. William Randolph Hearst claimed the Reading and other railroads were actively trying to restrict coal output and set the market price. This placed the companies in violation of an 1874 Pennsylvania law which stated that no railroad company could engage in mining, nor any coal company own a railroad that exceeded 50 miles in length. Baer claimed that the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Co., the Reading Co., and the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. were each distinct companies and had not violated the letter of the law. When he died in April 1914, his personal fortune was estimated at $15M.

SP, 14 x 9 ¾ sepia photograph in suit and tie, seated in elaborate chair, signed “Geo. F. Baer” at lower right. Pencil signed “Phillips” by photographer at lower right under image.”
Type: Photograph

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