Samuel Gompers was born in London, England on January 27, 1850, and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1863. The next year, he joined the Cigarmakers Union, and was president of the organization by 1877. In these years, he came to believe in the importance of unionism for crafts and business, as well as the superiority of economic over political action. Gompers also held that unions had to be financially stable in order to withstand the pressures of economic depressions and lost strikes. In 1881, Gompers played a major role in establishing the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. In 1886, the organization became the American Federation of Labor, and Gompers served as its president.
Gompers objected to radical political ideas, choosing instead to promote a conservative brand of unionism which worked within the existing economic structure to improve the circumstances of working people. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to the Council on National Defense and the Commission on International Labor Legislation at the Versailles Peace Conference. In 1925, Gompers published his autobiography, Seventy Years of Life and Labor. He died on December 13, 1924 in San Antonio, Texas, while traveling home from political ceremonies in Mexico City at which he had represented American labor.