Irish Personalities Lead the Battle Cry for Better Working Conditions

  • Miners at Speculator Mine in Butte, Montana where the Irish made up a higher percentage of the population than they did in any other American city in 1900. (Credit: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives)
Event Date: 
March 17, 2016

The history of Irish immigration to the United States is a tale rife with both promise and prejudice. Many Irish immigrants around the turn of the 20th century found work in the mining industry, where they faced cave-ins, explosions, flooding, and fire as they battled to make their living underground. The Irish found themselves held captive to an economy that worked them to the point of death and offered little gain in return.

Deplorable conditions led to extraordinarily high accident rates and the death of hundreds of miners, many under the age of 16. This gave rise to visionary Irish-American leaders such as John Siney and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones who organized mine workers and their families against mine owners and played important roles in pushing forward some of the earliest mine safety legislation in the United States.

Visit MSHA’s slideshow – The Irish in Mining: A Pictorial Walk Through the 20th Century – to learn more.