THE PROGRESSIVE ERA, 1902-1942
Early 20th century Pittsburgh was noisy with labor strife and political corruption, and Pittsburgh’s lawyers could be found on all sides of these battles.
While Billy Brennen continued to fight for unions that had no legislative rights, a new generation of labor lawyers – more radical in spirit – emerged. Jacob Margolis, for one, declared himself to be an anarchist during the 1919 Steel Strike, and suffered disbarment for it. Meanwhile, corporation lawyers such as George W. Guthrie and A. Leo Weil turned their attention to civic reform, attempting to beat back the power of the urban political machines. Guthrie served as mayor from 1906-09 and managed to enact modest reforms, while Leo Weil emerged as a citizen prosecutor, taking down corrupt city councilmen. However, another lawyer-mayor, Charles Kline, was convicted of corruption and removed from office 20 years later.
A wave of federal reform legislation during the period, beginning with antitrust enforcement actions launched by the Theodore Roosevelt administration and continuing later with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the National Labor Relations Act, made Pittsburgh ground zero in the fight against progressive reform. Earl Reed, tapped by the anti-New Deal Liberty League (which was backed, in turn, by DuPont, GM and other corporate giants), was the principal defender of the steel companies in the region, his team finding itself getting into fistfights outside the chambers of NLRB proceedings. In antitrust, both U.S. Steel and Alcoa found themselves in prolonged enforcement proceedings - Alcoa's lasting 20 years.