Mining Disasters

Mining Disasters
Lou Hoover: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required:


Lou Hoover, the first female geology major at Stanford University, had a love of rocks, minerals and mining.  This love of mining led her to discover in the British Museum in London, Agricola de re Metallica, a sixteenth century manual of mining and metallurgy.  After obtaining the text from an antiquarian book dealer, Lou and Herbert began to translate the book into English.  After five years of work, the project was completed and published in 1921.  The text continues to be referenced in articles on mining.  


In this lesson students will learn about the risks and sacrifices miners have made in order for all of us to have the use of precious metals.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet and/or access to a public library.


Begin the lesson by having students explore the Miners Museum website.  Especially important is the article on uses of coal.  To access this article, first click on the Mining Museum link above, then click on the chalkboard with “A B C’s” written on it.  Scroll down and, in the right hand column is a link to information on uses of coal.  If computers are not available for students, copy the article for students to read.
Once students have reviewed the website Miners Museum and/or read the article on uses of coal, brainstorm with the class a list of what would be missing from our lives if we did not have coal mined.  For example, we might not have sneakers because we need coal to create rubber which makes up the soles of sneakers. 
Have students explore the U.S Department of Labor Mining Disaster website.
Use the following questions to assist students in their exploration of the website:
Why did the Department of Interior create the Bureau of Mines? 
 In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry.
What precipitated President Nixon’s signing of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 on December 30, 1969?
Again, in 1968, and less than five miles from Monongah, an explosion and  resulting fire killed 78 men at the Consol No. 9 mines at Farmington, West Virginia. Out of the uproar caused by the Farmington explosion came the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, a far reaching document that promised a new day for the men in an industry that had claimed more than 100,000 lives since 1900. Even before the Farmington mine blew up in 1968, the push was on for a better mine safety law. The Johnson Administration introduced a measure in the fall of 1968 that would dramatically strengthen the government's enforcement tools. However, it went to Congress too late to achieve action. Then came the explosion at Farmington and there were new converts to the cause of mine safety.
What does the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act require?
The Act required four annual inspections for each underground coal mine and two for each surface mine. The Act, for the first time, established mandatory fines for all violations and criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The act eliminated so-called "non-gassy" mines from special legal exemptions. All mines were considered gassy and additional inspections were required. The powers of the inspectors were broadened. The inspectors were given the power to close a mine for imminent danger. Miners were given the right to request a Federal inspection. Safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened under the 1969 Act, and health standards were adopted. The Act also provided benefits to miners disabled by black lung disease.
What is the legacy of Sunshine Mine?
It greatly enhanced miner training programs and fire protection measures in metal and nonmetal mines across the country. In 1973 the Mine Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) was created out of the Bureau of Mines as the first Federal agency with the sole purpose of assuring miners of a safe, healthful working environment. Standards requiring mine emergency and self-rescuer training, regular evacuation drills, and two mine rescue teams at underground metal and nonmetal operations were promulgated by April of 1973.
Who wrote “The bad air is closing in on us fast.  Dear Ellen, I leave you in bad condition, but set your trust in the Lord to help you raise my little children.”
Jacob Vowell, a victim of the Coal Creek mine disaster. He wrote the note while waiting for rescue.  Rescuers found the note next to his dead body. 
Why did rescuers of mine disasters carry caged canaries? 
If the canary died, poisonous gasses were in the air.
How many miners have died since 1870 in Pennsylvania mines?
What were the Marianna collieries?
They were supposed to be the model mines of this country and the world. And in fact they were. No mine was ever planned with greater care and equipped with better facilities and improvements to avoid accidents. Yet those one-in-a-thousand calamities which history has shown, taught the practical experienced miner that they are still liable to happen at any time. Underneath the surface amid the workings and entries of this mine, every convenience had been arranged for the miners, every precaution taken and the experts of the world had visited it and come away declaring that the mining problem had been solved for the safety of the men. 
Yet, on November 29 1908 an explosion entombed 125 men who died before rescuers could save them.

Have students hand-in their answers to the above questions as the assignment for this lesson.         

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, have students write a creative short story from the perspective of a miner trapped in a mine or a child waiting for his or her parent to be saved from a mining disaster.

Sources & Resources:


Mining History Bibliographies
U.S. Department of Labor: Mining History, Museums, and Disasters
U.S. Department of Labor: Mining Disaster Exhibition
Canadian Broadcast Center: Springhill Mining Disasters
West Virginia Coal Mine Disasters
Center for Disease Control: Mining Disasters
United States Mine Rescue Association
Miners Museum
   Brown, R. D. Blood on the Coal: The Story of Springhill Mining Disasters.  Hantsport: Lancelot Press, 1976. 
   Dinqsdaa, D. P.The Bulli Mining Disaster 1887: Lessons from the Past.  St. Louis: St. Louis Press, 1993. 
   Greene, M. F. Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster.  Orlando: Harcourt Books, 2003. 
   Lynch, M. Mining in World History.  Chicago: Reaktion Books, 2004. 
   Nadin, J. Lancashire Mining Disasters 1835-1910. Barnsley: Wharncliffe Books, 2006. 
   Olsen, G. The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America’s Richest Silver Mine.  New York: Crown, 2005. 
   Owen D.  South Wales Mining Disasters.  Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2005. 
   Punke, M. Fire and Brimstone: the North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917.  New York: Hyperion, 2006. 
   Roberts, E. W. The Breaker Whistle Blows: Mining Disasters and Labor Leaders in the Anthracite Region. Scranton: Anthracite Museum Press, 1987. 
   Stout, S. Black Damp: The Story of the Cherry Mining Disaster.  Utica: Utica House Publishing, 1979.
Credits: This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University