Powderly, Terence

Powderly, Terence (Vincent)

(1849–1924) labor leader, public official; born in Carbondale, Pa. He went to work on the railroads at age 13, then became a machinist (1869–77) and joined the Machinists' and Blacksmiths' National Union, becoming its president in 1872. He also joined the then secretive Noble Order of the Knights of Labor (1874), and, rising quickly, became its leader (1879–93). His ideal was a union open to all, and he disliked confrontational measures, preferring labor-management cooperation. Under his leadership the Knights of Labor achieved its peak of strength and influence, with 1,000,000 members in 1886, the year Samuel Gompers took his cigar-makers' union to join the American Federation of Labor; thereafter the Knights declined. Entering politics, Powderly joined the Greenback-Labor Party and was mayor of Scranton, Pa. (1878–84). He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar (1894) and served as federal immigration commissioner (1897–1902) and head of the information division of the Bureau of Immigration (1907–21).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.