The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) was a coal and steel company based in Denver and Pueblo. Most of its coal mines were located in southern Colorado. Its only steel mill was located in Pueblo. The firm came into existence as a result of a merger between the Colorado Coal and Iron Company and the Colorado Fuel Company in 1892. By 1910 it employed approximately 15,000 people, or about one-tenth of the entire Colorado workforce. During the 1920s it was the largest industrial corporation in the state.
CF&I also pioneered welfare capitalism—a strategy in which a company provides support in all aspects of employees’ lives in order to improve morale and loyalty. In 1901 it created a “Sociological Department,” an umbrella administrative organization for many management-sponsored programs such as schools and beautification efforts for mining towns, clubhouses for workers, a company hospital, and new housing. A glossy magazine, Camp & Plant, was sent all around the country to highlight these activities. This publication contributed to the spread of welfare capitalism to other industries and regions. Management ramped down the Sociological Department’s programs during the 1908 recession, thinking them unnecessary. This led to the most important labor dispute in the company’s history.
CF&I was the main opponent of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) during the union’s efforts to organize the Colorado coalfields in the early twentieth century. As the largest mining firm in the state, CF&I led the entire western coal industry during two major strikes in 1903–4 and 1913–14. Its staunch opposition in both disputes originated from the company’s primary stockholders and owners, the Rockefeller family of Standard Oil fame. During the bloody 1913–14 strike, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who ran the family’s interests for his retired father, publicly agreed with the notion that keeping unions out of CF&I was worth it even “if it costs all your property and kills all your employees.” This attitude directly resulted in the infamous Ludlow Massacre in which at least nineteen people, including women and children, were killed.
In response to bad publicity from the Ludlow Massacre, Rockefeller began to backpedal from his staunch opposition to worker organization, creating what came to be known as the Rockefeller Plan. The Rockefeller Plan was an employee representation plan designed to give CF&I miners and steelworkers enough say over the terms and conditions of their employment so that they would not join a union or strike to gain union recognition. The results of the plan were mixed. Many workers, especially skilled ones, appreciated the plan both for the opportunity it gave them to voice their complaints and as a vehicle for the delivery of the company’s renewed efforts at welfare capitalism. However, less-skilled workers, particularly the Mexican and Mexican American workers who joined the company’s ranks after World War I did not have enough stake in the company to participate in the plan. As a result, CF&I still faced major strikes in 1919, 1927, and 1933, when the UMWA finally organized the firm’s miners. The plan continued on in the steel mill until 1942, when it was invalidated by the National War Labor Board under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 as an illegal “company union.”
CF&I continued operations at its Pueblo plant until it filed for bankruptcy in 1990.