Jacob Sechler Coxey was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania on April 16, 1854. He left school at the age of 15 to work in an iron mill. After moving to Masillon, Ohio, he opened a sandstone quarrying factory in 1881. A successful businessman, he eventually turned to social reform and Populist politics. He ran for the Ohio State Senate in 1885, but lost the election. This was one of many elections which he would lose, including running for the US House of Representatives (1894, 1924, 1926), the US Senate (1916, 1928), governor of Ohio (1897) and US President (1932).
In 1894, Coxey led a march on Washington demonstrating support for the Good Roads Bill and the Non-Interest-Bearing Bond Bill, which would establish public works projects which he felt would provide relief for the poor. When Coxey, accompanied by the approximately 500 demonstrators who had joined him during the march from Ohio, reached the Capitol on March 1, he and two other leaders were arrested for trespassing, and the "army" was dispersed by the police. In 1914, he led another march on Washington, but this time he made it to the capital unsalted, and was allowed to present his proposals. The same year, he wrote Coxeys Own Story. Despite the widespread publicity his many efforts garnered, Congress generally ignored his proposals.