John McBride was born in Ohio in 1854. His father was a mineworker. McBride followed in his father's footsteps, but he is best remembered for fighting for the rights of the workingman.
During the late 1800s, mineworkers faced numerous difficulties. Industries were in great need of coal, iron ore, and other raw materials. Many mine owners saw an opportunity to garner great wealth by paying their miners low wages, while supplying other industries with raw materials. Mineworkers commonly earned less than one dollar per day for a twelve to fourteen hour workday. Workers also routinely received no health insurance, workers' compensation, or vacation time.
To protest the poor conditions, workers formed unions. McBride played an important role in the formation of unions in Ohio and across the United States during the late 1800s. From 1882 to 1889, he served as president of the Ohio Miners' Amalgamated Association. In 1885, McBride organized the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers, serving as this group's first president. McBride also helped form the United Mine Workers in 1890, and he became this union's president in 1892.
In 1886, McBride assisted other working-class Americans by helping to organize the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in Columbus, Ohio. The original members of the AFL asked McBride to become this organization's first president. McBride refused, and the presidency fell to Samuel Gompers. Other than for a single year, Gompers remained as president of the AFL from 1886 until 1924, the year of his death. In 1894, McBride defeated Gompers in the election for the AFL's presidency. During his year as president, McBride affiliated the AFL with the Populist Party, hoping to make the union a political force. Gompers had always rejected political involvement for the union, believing that workers would be better served fighting for improved wages and working conditions. McBride failed to win reelection in 1895, losing to Gompers. Following this defeat, McBride retired from union activities.
McBride also played an active role in politics. He served as a member of the Ohio legislature from 1884 to 1888. He also headed Ohio's Bureau of Labor Statistics during the early 1890s. During the late 1890s, McBride retired from public life and pursued several additional occupations, including newspaper editor and saloon owner. McBride died in 1917.