Terence V. Powderly

Terence Vincent Powderly (1849–1924) was an Irish-American politician and labor union leader, best known as head of the Knights of Labor in the late 1880s. A lawyer, he was elected mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania for six years. A Republican, he served as the United States Commissioner General of immigration in 1897. The Knights of Labor was the largest American labor organization of the 19th century, but Powderly was a poor administrator and could barely keep it under control. His small central office could not supervise or coordinate the many strikes and other activities sponsored by union locals. Powderly saw the Knights as an educational tool to uplift the workingman, and he downplayed strikes.

His influence reportedly led to laws abolishing alien contract labor law in 1895, and establishing labor bureaus and arbitration boards in many states. The Knights failed to maintain its large membership after getting the blame for the violence of the Haymarket Riot of 1886. It was increasingly upstaged by the American Federation of Labor under Samuel Gompers, which coordinated numerous specialized unions that appealed to skilled workers instead of the mix of unskilled semiskilled and skilled workers in the Knights.

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