John C. Osgood

FUEL KING OF THE WEST

1851-1878— John Cleveland Osgood was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 6, 1851. Orphaned as a youth, he lived with relatives in Connecticut and Rhode Island. As a boy he worked as an office clerk for a textile firm in Providence, Rhode Island, and later as a bookkeeper for the William Ladd Produce Commission in New York City. He attended night classes at the Peter Cooper Institute, graduating at age 19 with a degree in accounting. In 1870 he became bookkeeper and cashier for the Union Coal and Mining Company in Ottumwa, Iowa, and in 1874 he became cashier of the First National Bank in Burlington, Iowa.

1878— Osgood purchased the Whitebreast Coal and Mining Company in Burlington, Iowa, and became the company’s president. Whitebreast was a chief supplier of coal for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad.

1882— At the request of the Railroad, Osgood went to Colorado to investigate the coal deposits there.

1883— Osgood and three associates from Iowa (The “Iowa Group”)—Julian Abbot Kebler, Alfred Curtis Cass, and David C. Beaman—organized the Colorado Fuel Company (CFC) to develop new coal resources in the state. With remarkable business and financial success, CFC became a chief competitor in the coal and coke trade to William Jackson Palmer’s Colorado Coal and Iron Company (CC&I).

1892— Osgood arranged the merger of CC & I and CFC to form Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). With the merger, the new company assumed ownership of the Bessemer steelworks in Pueblo, Colorado. The formation of CF&I made Osgood the dominant coal entrepreneur in Colorado and the West. From its creation, the corporation and its subsidiaries comprised the largest enterprise in the western mountain region.

1899-1903— With economic recovery following the depression of the 1890s, CF&I under Osgood’s leadership began a massive program of modernization and expansion of the Bessemer steelworks in Pueblo. The program included opening new coalmines and building coke ovens to supply the Pueblo plant with the additional resources needed for increased production of iron and steel. It also included the building of eight new coal and coking camps and the creation of a new town system.

1899-1903— Redstone and Coalbasin were two of the eight new camps. Osgood’s CFC had begun to develop the mines in Coal Basin about eight miles west of the future village of Redstone in 1885, but production from the mines could not begin until the Crystal River Railroad, a CF&I subsidiary, reached the confluence of Coal Creek and the Crystal River in 1899. Near this spot, Osgood began the construction of 250 coke ovens and planned the development of his model industrial village of Redstone. In 1899 Osgood also began the building of Cleveholm Manor (Redstone Castle), his country estate, in a wide meadow along the Crystal River about a mile south of the planned village.

1901-1903— With an amazing flurry of activity, the building of the coke ovens, village of Redstone, and Cleveholm Manor were completed by 1902. Osgood retained the Denver architectural firm of Boal and Harnois to design the mansion and the estate buildings as well as the village’s public buildings, workers’ cottages, and houses for the managers and supervisors. Redstone, dubbed “The Ruby of the Rockies,” was the “grand” model village built to showcase Osgood’s sociological experiment with industrial paternalism. Industrial paternalism was a labor-management strategy advocated by leading professional social scientists and reformers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a way to address the problems of modern industrialism. Osgood adopted the policy not only as a way to improve living and working conditions for the company’s coke workers and miners but also as a way to combat unionism.

1902-1903— CF&I’s modernization and expansion program exhausted the company’s capital resources and brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Osgood endeavored to raise capital from railroad, financial, and industrial interests without losing control of the corporation. His success in defeating John W. Gates’ takeover bid in 1902 left him and CF&I more dependent than ever on John D. Rockefeller’s financial support. Rockefeller became interested in Colorado’s natural resources and CF&I’s potential, and with Osgood’s encouragement and cooperation decided to purchase the financially strapped Pueblo enterprise. Osgood disposed of enough stock holdings in the company to secure $5 million from George Gould and Rockefeller, thus putting control of CF&I in their hands.
1903-1909—Although he lost control of the Redstone industrial enterprise—coke ovens and the coalmines in Coal Basin, Osgood still retained ownership of his Redstone estate, including the village of Redstone. Periodically, he would visit the village and occasionally reside at Cleveholm. CF&I continued to operate the Coal Basin mines and the Redstone coke ovens until 1909.

1903-1926— With the closing of the mines and coke ovens, Redstone gradually shut down, with only a small caretaker and railroad staff remaining until 1924. Even the village’s founder and patron left Redstone and his beloved Cleveholm in 1911, not to return permanently until the fall of 1924. He resided there with his third wife Lucille until his death in early January 1926.

1909-1915— In 1909 Osgood formed the Victor-American Fuel Company, which would become a major competitor to CF&I in the fuel trade. He did not continue his sociological program of industrial paternalism in the older Victor-American camps and towns. Instead, he practiced the ruthless antiunion policies of the day in the Colorado coalfields. He was the elder statesmen, so to speak, among the coal operators and owners, and was the leader among them in devising strike-breaking and union-busting measures during the great coal strike of 1913-1915, during which the Ludlow Massacre occurred. He was one of the people most responsible for what is remembered as the pivotal event in America’s deadliest labor war.

F. Darrell Munsell, From Redstone to Ludlow: John Cleveland Osgood’s Struggle against the United Mine Workers of America. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2009, paper 2011.