T.V. Powderly Biography


Terence Vincent Powderly was born January 22, 1849 in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He and his seven brothers and four sisters were born to Irish Catholic immigrants Terence and Madge (Walsh) Powderly. He was employed at a young age as a railroad switchman, and later apprenticed as a machinist. He joined the International Union of Machinists and Blacksmiths in 1871, later becoming local president. His union activities and the Depression of 1873 left him out of work and blacklisted as a union agrigator. Powderly joined the Scranton, Pennsylvania, Local Assembly No. 88 of the Knights of Labor in 1876 and rose steadily until assuming the national leadership as Grand (later General) Master Workman, 1879-1893. The Knights came into national prominence during his tenure but was riven with a divisive power struggle that lead to Powderly's removal and succession by John William Hayes.

In addition to his labor connections, Powderly served as a progressive mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1878-1884, practiced law, and became a political operative of the Republican Party. From 1897-1901, he served as Commissioner General of Immigration. However, President Theodore Roosevelt did not reappoint Powderly to the post in 1902. He became the Special Immigration Inspector in 1906. Powderly followed these duties with a position as Chief of the Immigration Division of Information, 1907-1921, and finally became Labor Department Commissioner of Conciliation, 1921-1924.


Beyond these professional positions, Powderly was a world traveler, amateur photographer, and author of Thirty Years of Labor (1889) and his memoirs, The Path I Trod (1921). He was active in politics, campaigning mostly for Republican candidates, and wrote several articles in labor journals.

Powderly died in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 1924, and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. In 1999, Powderly was honored by being the newest inductee into the U.S. Department of Labor's Hall of Fame, joining figures such as Samuel Gompers, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and Philip Murray.

Previous Page:

← Powderly Biography
Next Page:

Correspondence →