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Pennsylvania in the 1930s


George Earle
George Earle

The domination of Pennsylvania politics by the Democrats from 1800 to 1860 was followed by a long era of Republican Party control. Between 1860 and 1935, only one Democrat, Robert E. Pattison, served as governor (1883-1887, 1891-1895). By 1872 Simon Cameron had won command of the state Republican organization. After that date four successive U.S. senators from Pennsylvania managed the state party: Cameron, his son James Donald Cameron, Matthew Stanley Quay, and Boies Penrose. These men directed a political machine that dictated nominations and won elections with remarkable consistency.

In the early 1900s Pennsylvania, like much of the country, was influenced by the Progressive movement, which sought to curb abuses by governments and industry and to improve life for workers, the poor, and other groups. Reformers passed laws to clean up corrupt election practices, limit child labor in mines and factories, compensate workers injured on the job, and establish a civil service system.

From 1900 to 1910 Pennsylvania saw its largest population increase ever as immigrants continued to pour in from Europe. Large numbers of Southern blacks also migrated to Pennsylvania during and after World War I (1914-1918). Pennsylvania supplied more than 300,000 men for the armed forces during World War I, and its shipyards, mills, and factories provided a large amount of the nation’s war materials. An important transition occurred in the early 1920s, when the rule by political machine ended and a moderate reform tradition took over. Boies Penrose, the last of the state Republican Party bosses, died in 1921. The following year the Republican reform candidate Gifford Pinchot, a conservationist and former head of the federal forestry department, was elected governor.

Pinchot reorganized state government and intervened in strikes in the anthracite coal industry, helping miners achieve an eight-hour workday and higher wages.

A period of prosperity ended in the 1930s when the nation entered the economic hard times known as the Great Depression. Pennsylvania industries such as oil, steel, and coal suffered dramatic declines, and the steel and coal industries never again surpassed the production levels of the 1920s. By 1932 an estimated one-third of Pennsylvania families were on some form of relief. The state Democratic Party supported the relief efforts and economic programs of President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945), helping the party to win the governor’s office in 1934. When George Earle was elected governor that year, he became the first Democrat to hold that office since 1895 and only the second since the Civil War. Western Pennsylvania became a major center of union activity in the steel industry in the late 1930s. Democrats in state and federal office were more sympathetic to organized labor than their predecessors, and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 guaranteed workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively. In 1937 the giant U.S. Steel Corporation recognized the union organization, and in 1942 the United Steelworkers of America union was formed. "Pennsylvania" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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