In The Beginning – 1911-1919
Coal Age was launched October 14, 1911, as a weekly publication by the Hill Publishing Co. amid an industry slump with coal prices falling along with demand. Mining coal, beginning after the War of 1812, had become America’s first big industry—creating symbiotic relationships with railroads and steel companies and spawning dozens of service companies and vendors. In 1911, coal was the fuel of choice for millions of urban dwellers throughout the crowded eastern seaboard cities—particularly hot burning anthracite with its relative lack of smoke.
Railroads across the nation burned millions more tons in thousands of hungry locomotives, and enterprises like the new U.S. Steel Company and the much more established Colorado Fuel and Iron demanded trainloads of coking coal to forge the steel that built America’s infra-structure. Though coal was king in 1911, too many producers were oversupplying railroad, steel and home-heating markets as the pre-World War I economy was slumping.
The teens were largely hand-loading and shot-firing days, and work in the mines was incredibly dangerous with “accidents” occurring each day and thousands killed every year due to explosions, gas intrusions, floods, cave ins and roof falls. A new industry, each regulation was written largely in blood. As the mines and producers grew in size, so did organized labor. By 1911, the United Mine Workers of America had been struggling for a seat at the table for more than 15 years and organized miners belonging to a variety of unions had been literally fighting coal operators for recognition since the Civil War. As the decade wore on, a series of increasingly bloody strikes led to outright industrial warfare, halted only by the on-set of the unpopular Great War. A brief period of labor peace ensued during the war, but once it was over, demand waned, coal prices fell and operators started trying to cut wages. Labor tried to hold onto its gains and tensions mounted.
The teens were also a period of transition as miners and mining companies both spurred the creation and perfection of a host of new machines and labor saving devices. Both to make the mines safer and to produce more coal with fewer men, steam, diesel and electrically operated loading, cutting and haulage machines were being tested and deployed throughout the industry. By the end of the decade, productivity was soaring and mules were increasingly being sent to pasture.
However, as coal operators battled miners for control of the future of the industry, coal also faced competition from the increasingly powerful oil industry and many progressives hoped and predicted that, in fact, the coal age was coming to an end.
In Coal Age’s first issue, new Chief Editor Floyd W. Parsons, directly addressed the millions of men then working in the industry and promised them the new publication “will furnish you a schooling that will make it easy to climb to better things. Do your part—bear in mind that this journal each week will represent the best efforts of a large corps of experienced engineers; study the matter presented and you will find at the year’s end, the time consumed will be well employed.”
Parsons and Hill Publishing hoped to reach a wide audience throughout the entire coal industry. “This is not a paper for miners only, nor is it intended solely for men higher up; each individual can skip all that doesn’t interest him, and still have plenty to occupy his time and thought…With your cooperation, we will be instrumental in putting the industry on a higher, safer footing…We will be around to see you and talk with you, time and time again; no plant worth visiting will be overlooked, and if you have anything to show, whether far or near, just send us word.” Hill merged with McGraw in 1917.
Despite the fact that coal production in the United States had nearly doubled in the decade since 1900 to more than 500 million tons or 40% of world production, coal’s future was still being doubted. In a January 6, 1912, editorial Parson’s wrote: “We’ve heard for years that our summers are getting hotter and our winters milder, but the mercury makes a new low record for some particular day each year; most every fortnight someone discovers that electricity will furnish all needed heat as well as power, but he forgets to tell us how he’s going to generate electricity without burning coal…still consumption increases, and it’s safe to conclude our children’s children will be using more coal in their homes and factories than we ever dreamed could be mined. The pendulum is still swinging—a new year and likely a new era have dawned.”
By 1909, the United States had already become the world’s largest coal producer. Churning out more than 418 million tons, our mines were 35% greater in output than Great Britain’s 268 million tons and second worldwide. Germany was a distant third at only 217 million tons. Though the U.S. was a production leader, its safety record lagged. The death rate per thousand persons employed was 3.35, over twice that of the U.K. This was certainly due in part to the meteoric rise of the U.S. coal industry since the end of the Civil War in 1865. By 1900, the U.S. was beginning to produce almost half of the world’s total coal consumption. From 1906 to 1911, railroads rapidly opened up new coalfields in Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky as well as Illinois, Utah and Colorado. In Illinois and the Pittsburgh seam coalfields, mechanization and new technologies allowed deep mining to quickly advance. In just that half decade alone, more than 3.5 million U.S. coal miners increased production by over 40,788,000 tons—a nearly 10% jump. But in just those five years, almost 14,000 coal miners lost their lives and fatality rates were rising.
In the January 18, 1913, issue, internationally-acclaimed statistician for the Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Frederick Hoffman, published some of the first statistical information about mining fatalities. In an era when the newly created Federal Bureau of Mines was struggling to establish a methodology to accurately create and publish these vital figures, Hoffman complained that gathering such information was “a difficult and discouraging task.” Having “first commenced the tabulation of coal mine fatalities in 1897 at the request of the late editor of the Engineering and Mining Journal, Richard P. Rothwell,” Hoffman found that “some of the coal mine inspectors are indifferent to the requests made to them for information, and in other states the law prevents the publicity of the required facts previous to the publication of the official report.” His published figures show a terrifyingly swift increase in deaths—with the previous five being the bloodiest. But thankfully 1911 was a much safer year than the year before, only 2,555 deaths vs. 3,051 fatalities in 1910.
Though both production and fatality figures would fall throughout the first part of the teens, with the on-set of the Great War and the rapid industrial expansion and production increases needed to supply the Great Powers, casualties in the mines sometimes exceeded those on the European battlefields. The war years of 1917 and 1918 each brought new records of production. 1918 production grew by more than 6% year-on-year to almost 690 million tons. However, while praising miners for their role in the emergency that existed, Parsons warned that “the year that has just passed proved conclusively that in time of crisis, the ability of American miners to produce fuel is greater than the ability for our industries to consume it.” Though production cuts were necessary, Parsons wrote that exports should be the new goal, particularly since “due to the war, Europe is minus the labor of 20,000,000 men killed or disabled. America today is not only the richest nation on earth but the greatest storehouse for raw materials that exists anywhere.”
Regional Surveys, Railroads and New Underground Technologies
Beginning with the first issue, Coal Age began detailing the “present” of the industry, delivering a “snap-shot” through its editors’ collective lens, so to speak. The article “Anthracite and Bituminous Mining” in the debut issue examined the long history of former and showed how bituminous was fast ascendant. After detailing anthracite’s long history of production in eastern Pennsylvania, the article compared the methods used in both types of coal, suggesting that “in some cases, the northern anthracite field might copy the methods of the bituminous regions,” wrote author Eli T. Conner, a Philadelphia mining engineer. After detailing the history of the anthracite fields and the mainly Englishmen who developed the early works, he advocated for the adoption of the British longwall mining system which, for a variety of reasons, had yet to be widely used in the region. He concluded, “anthracite managers would find it beneficial to investigate more carefully methods of mining and transportation that have been found economical in thin bituminous beds of coal. The enormous increase in the amount of coal produced by mining machines in the bituminous fields in recent years showing the steady improvement in apparatus and methods” suggest that to stay competitive, anthracite managers would have to learn from their new competitors to the west.
In November 1911, future Editor-in-Chief R. Dawson Hall published a survey of the prodigious northern West Virginia Fairmont coal region where “the Pittsburgh coal is so even in quality and continues so unerringly wherever the surface has sufficed to cover it that where it occurs it is rarely possible to make out separate geologic areas unless we are willing to discuss very large bodies of coal.” Located along a diagonal line stretching northeast to southwest with Fairmont in the center, the coalfields to the west of this fault had, over the previous 40 years, become one of the biggest producers for Pittsburgh’s Consolidation Coal Company, the predecessor of today’s CONSOL Energy. “The Consolidation Coal Company so completely dominates this region that a description of the methods and developments of that company is virtually a description of the district,” wrote Hall.
In 1910, West Virginia produced more than 60.5 million tons, most of it still produced in the north of the state. Though a highly productive region, mines in the Fairmont area were plagued with high concentrations of explosive gas that had been and would continue to be the source of much tragedy. But as Hall reported, “every precaution is being made to remove the natural-gas menace and I do not know a place where the methods adopted to protect the mines against leakage from wells have been more carefully considered.”
A well-capitalized and innovative operation, Consolidated mines were already electrified and supplied with their own power plants. To ensure that proper ventilation would continue at all times, Consolidated had also installed large electric fans at its portals and had “a portable fan loaded on a truck ready to be hauled to any of its mines should one of its fans becomes disabled. There is no lack of intelligent foresight being used to prepare for the possibilities of a disaster,” reported Hall.
Consolidated and others had also only recently begun to develop the rich fields of eastern Kentucky. “One of the largest, if not the largest bituminous coal company in the world,” Consolidated had built the town of Jenkins in Letcher County to help support the mines in the area. The drift mines in the area accessed the 7- to 13-ft Elkhorn Seam. Jenkins was built to be a large and permanent town. In addition to homes, churches, schools and other buildings, Consolidated constructed a “large auditorium seating 500 people for entertainments of all kinds. Moving-picture shows are run regularly during the week. Two bowling alleys and four pool tables are in constant use, and there is also a newsstand, soda fountain, barber shop and showerbaths.”
In 1913, Coal Age described the growing Harlan County coalfields. First accessed by rail in 1907 by a predecessor of the Louisville & Nashville (presently CSX), at the time the Harlan seam, the lowest that was commercially workable and most regularly occurring was primarily sought after. But other operators including those of the Wisconsin Steel Co. in Benham were going after the Kellioka, Wallins Creek and Looney seams too. Hall wrote that Wisconsin Steels’ mines were “by far the most important in the county” and would be for many decades to come. Another large company town, Benham, was in the process of getting its own YMCA and large hotel. But near town, “all the coal is converted into coke for which purpose they have built 300 ovens of the beehive type, a breaker equipped with two crushers and flight conveyors driven by motors. All of the coke made in the county at present goes to the steel plants to the Wisconsin Steel Co. at South Chicago.” Equipped with “an excellent reputation,” the district’s coal found ready markets over the L&N to the north and west, and the Southern Railway to the east and south.
Likewise, when the well-engineered Virginian Railway was constructed west from Sewell’s Point—just across from Norfolk—through the Blue Ridge mountains more than 400 miles through a 40 mile gap between two already constructed competing railroads, the Virginian line was able to access some of the richest coalfields of southern West Virginia. Now just a section of today’s Norfolk Southern, the Virginian opened up vast fields of 14,800 to 15,300 Btu/lb coal “which heat value is not excelled by any variety of anthracite or bituminous coal in any country.”
Constructed to ultra-modern standards by owner and railroad builder Henry H. Rogers, the Virginian accessed a virgin field of more than 20 billion tons of New River Coal, “without doubt the best steam coals in the world.” Coal from this region of southern West Virginia quickly became the fuel of choice for the U.S. Navy, one of the reasons why Norfolk and Newport News became a military center. But in 1912, when Parson’s traveled to the region, though the area was bursting with opportunity, he warned that consolidation was necessary. “The hope of the coal industry in southern West Virginia lies in the elimination of a shameless, inexcusable and merciless competition that has existed for many years,” reported Parsons.
Railroads marked the dawn of coal mining in Utah too, wrote A.C. Watts in a 1913 piece treating the prodigious mines of Carbon County which, the year before had produced more than 2.75 million short tons, half a million more than 1911. One of these mines, the Castle Gate operation, on the mainline of the Rio Grand Western was not only a large producer, but was where in 1889 “the dangers of coal dust were fully recognized and the sprinkling by hose, the turning of exhaust steam into the mine, the use of electricity in the coal mines of the state and the practice of shooting from the outside of the mine with electricity, after all the men were out, were introduced,” wrote Watts. Only one of the various grades of bituminous coal produced in the region was good for coking, that from the Sunnyside Mines.
Almost every mine in the region was using electricity for hoisting, haulage and lighting. “Reciprocating engines, direct connected to the generators, have been the usual installations up to the last year when turbo-generators appeared in the field. Direct current, of voltage varying from 250-500 is used in the mines, while alternating current of from 2,200 to 4,000 volts is used for transmission lines outside the mines…Room-and-pillar mining is generally practiced. Rooms vary from 18 to 30 ft wide according to mining conditions. Where mining machines are used in low coal, the rooms are 30 ft wide and have two tracks one each side. Pillars between are from 30 to 50 ft thick.”
Like many of the new coal mining communities, “native born” Americans comprised a distinct minority. “Of a total of 4,063 men employed at the mines Americans comprise 35 percent, Greeks 30, Italians 16, Austrians 11, Japanese 3 and Negroes, French, Scandinavians, Swedes and Germans make up the balance or 5 percent,” reported Watts.
New Mines in Illinois
Though new underground mines were being opened up nationwide, the largest capital investments were being made in the Midwestern fields, particularly to extract the large deposits of bituminous coal then being found in the Illinois coalfields. Estimated at between 136.9 and 240 billions tons, in an April 1913 article, author A Bement pegged the state’s reserves at just over 200 billion, qualifying that “Knowledge concerning Illinois coalfields has been derived, not so much from geological investigation, as from engineering experience.” Having extracted more than 800 million tons since the Civil War, in 1911, Illinois produced over 50 million tons from an estimated 16 seams. As technology evolved, the heart of the state’s operations were shifting to the south, particularly to the new deep mines in Williamson and Franklin counties, “the best known, the best advertised and the most spectacular field in Illinois.”
Producing almost 6 million tons in 1910, Williamson County had been producing coal commercially since the 1870s. So reliable were the area’s coal mines that the new Peabody Coal Company decided to invest in several; building its own, Peabody 3, near Marion. According to a 1912 story by Peabody mining engineer M. F. Peltier, Peabody 3 was shipping a 13,000 Btu low sulfur product to Chicago’s new electrical power plants. “Over 33 percent of the entire tonnage was cut by” the new machines that were rapidly being introduced in Williamson County, reported Peltier. “The mining conditions in general are quite favorable for both picks and machines. In the pick mines, the coal in the rooms is all blasted from the solid with black powder. In the machine mines the undercutting is done in the bottom of the coal, both in rooms and entries. The electric chain breast machine seems to be preferred, although there are a great many punching machines used, which are operated by compressed air.”
Neighboring Franklin County, however, was the site of several mines that over the next decade would become that nation’s largest producers. Mining only began in Franklin County in 1904 when Joseph Leiter acquired 8,000 acres and began constructing the town of Zeigler and the Zeigler Coal Co., that by 1913 was being operated by the Bell & Zoller Mining Co. Though Bunsen Coal Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Steel was the largest property holder at the time, by August 1918, when Coal Age staff writer George W. Harris published two features on the region, the Ziegler No. 1 mine was in fierce competition with new Orient mine of the Chicago, Wilmington and Franklin Coal Co.
“If all the 324 commercial shipping mines of Illinois would produce as much coal in a year as the Orient mine did last year, this country would be provided with one-half of the whole amount of bituminous fuel needed to supply 1918 requirements.” Standing on the hill in the center of the company town of Orient, Harris wrote, there “are 14 mines within a radius of about 7 miles which are producing 50,000 tons of coal daily…On November 12, 1917, the Orient mine made its record run (which is also the record for this field) of 5,508 tons of coal dumped in eight hours—this on a single-cage hoist. On the day this writer was at the plant, 4,900 tons were hoisted in eight hours; this coal was loaded by 441 miners, or an average of about 11 tons per loader,” world-class numbers at the time.
Harris wrote that the most notable change in mining practices in Illinois was “the adoption of the panel system by the more progressive operators.” At Orient, “the rooms are turned on 40-ft centers—18 ft pillar and 22-ft room; they are worked to a depth of 250 ft each panel has 16 rooms on each side of the double stub entry. A pillar of coal 20 ft wide is left between the ends of the finished rooms and the main entries are protected by pillars 150 ft in width. The 16-room panels are separated by 50 ft of solid coal.” Orient’s coal was cut “by 35 Sullivan shortwall mining machines. The Sullivan Machinery Co. of Chicago, Ill., states that the use of mining machines in the United States has advanced from 545 machines in 1891, when 6,211,732 tons (or 6.66 percent of the entire output) was won by machines to 16,198 machines in use in 1911 (the latest year reported), in which 283,691,493 short tons (or 56 percent of the total production) were mechanically mined.” Note that by 1918, at the time Harris was writing, that number was much higher as mechanization would become dominant by 1920.
Surface Mining: Electric Shovels vs. Draglines
While the new Ziegler No. 2 mine yard was being built using a Marion steam shovel and a Bucyrus dragline, surface mines in Kansas and around the nation were experimenting with steam and electric machines made by both producers to uncover, hoist and load coal from shallow deposits.
In the January 4, 1913, issue, Coal Age reported on stripping operations in the coalfields of southeast Kansas being performed by the world’s largest steam shovels yet in operation. “There are now working in the district about 20 shovels, having an average dipper capacity of about 3½ cu yd. The most spectacular work is being done on the land of the Central Coal & Coke Co., where there are two firms near together under contact. One of these is now erecting the third of three Bucryus shovels and the other has just completed the second of two Marion shovels. Shipped out in nine cars, it took three weeks time to erect the Marion shovels, but it was worth it. Wielding a 5 cu yd dipper capacity and a 90 ft boom, these two machines were larger than their Bucyrus competitors that only had 3½ cu yd buckets and 75 ft booms.”
Neither of the booms on the Marion shovels turned independently, “but the upper frame carrying the machinery rests on 45 12-in. rollers. The Bucyrus shovels are mounted in a similar manner and this fact makes it unnecessary to turn the shovel at the end of the cut. Author C.M. Young reported that one Marion machine “has excavated a pit 92 ft wide and 24 ft deep, piling the excavated earth on the top of the bank at one side. This gives an idea of the magnitude of the machine.” Though smaller, the Bucyrus “3½ yd shovel, removing 20 ft of overburden, will uncover about 6,000 tons per month of coal 3 ft thick.” That was state-of-the-art in 1912.
Six years later in the February 16, 1918, issue, L. W. Nickel, serving in the U.S. Navy at the time, filed a report on the electric control of a dragline excavator. After reviewing a recently installed machine at the Locust Mountain Coal Co. in the anthracite fields near Shenandoah, Pa., Nickel concluded that the dragline possesses “certain obvious advantages over the steam shovel…electrical driving permits operation with fewer men and insures against delays arising from cold weather.” The excavator in question was stripping a coal bed of 14 to 30 ft in depth. “With the dragline in position, it is possible to take a cut 150 ft in width. Spoil banks are always dropped on the surface which does not contain coal; that is the excavator is always placed directly over the vein and is followed by a steam or electric shovel. The dragline method of stripping has been found to be much cleaner than any other, as no rock or dirt is spilled on the coal when once it is cleaned.”
Also, an electric machine required smaller crews in comparison to a steam shovel: “no fireman, coal passer or pipe man is needed…The only labor required for the operation of this machine is the dragline operator, an oiler and a few men in the pit.” The dragline Nickel witnessed in operation had “a turntable 24 ft in diameter, a 150-hp hoist motor and a 75-hp swing motor. The turntable consists of 40 open hearth steel rollers revolving between two 90-lb rail circles, 24 ft in diameter, one attached to the bottom of the revolving frame and one to the top of the base.” The machine was able to strip 256,710 cu yds at an average cost of 4.23c per cu yd, Nickel wrote.
Toward the end of the decade in May 1919, S.B. Creamer of Cambridge, Ohio, reported on the steam and electric shovels then in operation at an unnamed Ohio mine. “These shovels are massive machines of the revolving type, weighing approximately 350 tons with 80 to 90-ft booms; they dig a cut 100 to 125 ft wide and place dirt 145 to 165 ft from the digging face…Each type has its advantages, but much depends upon local conditions in determining the power to be used. The steam machine has had a preference. However, the electric type is gaining in favor.”
Though the electric machine required fewer men to operate than the steam shovel, the new and somewhat fragile electric machine could only be operated at one speed and had a more limited power range. “It is impossible to speed it up as in operating the steam machine. When there is an overload, as there often is in pulling heavy stones, an increase in power above the capacity of the machine cannot be provided for at the electric control as is often done at the steam throttle. The manufacturers arrange for a fuse to burn out instead…The great advantage with the steam coal-loading machine, as with the “stripper” is its great flexibility.”
The Electric Lamp, Safety, Mine Rescue and the Canary-Mouse Debate
In the December 9, 1911, issue Coal Age weighed in on the long running debate about whether a mouse or a canary would serve better for measuring the safe resistance of a man to carbon monoxide poisoning in mine rescue and recovery work after an explosion or a fire. According to the article, “the mouse still has its advocates but its marked tendency to sulk in the corner of the cage in which it is carried makes it difficult to tell whether its inaction is due to atmospheric causes or fear. The canary, on the other hand, is a restless bird…it is never still, unless sick.”
With a resistance to carbon monoxide at only 1/20 part of a normal man, a mouse couldn’t possibly be of any real help. Thus, concluded the author, “the canary is the best of indicators…Though the canary be regarded as an inadequate standard of resistance, no brief is held for any other bird or mammal.” However, Coal Age warned that “to continue to advance beyond the point marked by the collapse of the bird is to submit oneself to unknown hazards. But because the indication furnished by the canary is so inadequate, it will always be customary for bold men to disregard warnings and go ahead braving conditions, of the nature of which they know nothing.”
As early as July 1912, Coal Age reported on the introduction and progress of the electric lamp in the mines. “The question of a safe, suitable light for the miner to aid him in his underground work has always been a grave, though much neglected problem,” the unnamed correspondent wrote. Breakthroughs in battery storage technology leading to the Hirsch Storage battery had led to the widespread use of the new electric lamp. At the time there were “in use in the anthracite field alone nearly 4,000 portable lamps of the Hirsch type.” Direct current from the ordinary mine-haulage electric circuit could be used for recharging. “The electric lamp is highly appreciated in dry portions of the mine, where there is danger of fire, such as stables and other underground buildings…From an economic standpoint alone the electric lamp is bound to demand an increased usage. A naked light will cost a miner from 30 to 40 cents per week for oil. This same weekly amount will cover not only the cost of the maintenance of the electric lamp, but also the interest on the investment,” concluded the author.
However, only in 1913 did the U.S. Bureau of Mines grant approval for the use of self-contained portable electric mine lamps. “Since that time, however, the application of these lamps has increased materially, and today they have become a very important factor in providing light for gaseous mines,” wrote author H.O. Swoboda, a consulting engineer from Pittsburgh in the July 21, 1917, issue.
As early as November 4, 1911, Coal Age published feature stories on mining safety and innovation. In that issue, the magazine published a piece about mine safety demonstration and tests then under way at the “inadequately housed” Bureau of Mines. Located at the time at the Pittsburgh Arsenal, reporters and dignitaries watched various mine rescue and first aid demonstrations followed by speeches and presentations. “Somewhat belated, occurred the address of welcome of the director, Joseph A. Holmes, which was delivered at the rear of the Arsenal.” The new Bureau was working to determine how to mitigate explosions, the effects of coal dust, and myriad other problems plaguing the industry.
New technologies were being explored and advanced for mine rescue, in particular for the self-contained breathing apparatus. Only by 1912 had the point been reached where “the apparatus could be considered as of any practical value to the mining industry.” Early experiments were mixed with the best developments being conducted in Germany in 1903 by Heinrich Draeger. Working from a device created by the chief of the Berlin Fire Department in 1899, the elder Draeger was able to develop the “first really efficient heavy working rescue apparatus.” In 1904, Bernard Draeger, Heinrich’s son, conducted underground trials that led to the adoption of the design throughout the industry and “it was used in almost every mine accident and a great many mine fires during the period between 1904 and 1909.”
In 1910, the Draeger apparatus was further improved. “A more flexible helmet was provided, insuring a comfortable fit on any shape of head” along with other improvements. “The apparatus was designed with the idea that it might be put into service much quicker than the older model,” though some tweaks were added throughout 1911. Through August 1914 and the outbreak of the World War I, more than 8,000 different self-contained breathing apparatus units of differing designs had been installed in the U.S. for mining work. However, little of this technology with being developed in America, and, as Europe slid into war, the Federal Bureau of Mines and others were forced to develop technologies at home. None of these were as affective as the Draeger units that were immediately in high demand following the end of hostilities in late 1918.
Labor: The Road to Industrial Warfare
Nineteen weeks into publication, Coal Age attempted to strike a neutral position on the subject of organized labor. In the February 17, 1912, editorial titled “Where Do We Stand?” the editors boldly stated: “Treading on what is supposed to be dangerous ground, we wish to assert right now that we are not opposed to Unionism when labor is organized on a sane basis and conducted for the good of the majority… However, we abhor those leaders who are traitors to the cause of the men, and who grow fat on the sufferings of a misguided and trusting body of fellow-workmen.”
That stance was to be tested throughout the decade and particularly into the 1920s as labor actions grew into more violent bouts of industrial warfare. Beginning with the Cabin and Paint Creek strikes in West Virginia in 1912-1913 and in particular the Ludlow Massacre in April 1914, Coal Age took readers to the front lines, and presented readers with an accounting of the battles being fought for worker rights and safety. But beginning with the declaration of war in 1918, criticism of both the war and agitating against increased production was deemed illegal. Many union organizers were jailed and Coal Age’s editorials took on a propagandist bent.
The terrible details of the Ludlow strike and the violence that ensued clearly galvanized the editors and readers throughout the spring of 1914. The magazine ran a “Colorado Strike” section for several issues along with first hand accounts, legal documents and dozens of images—many taken at the front. “The disturbance in Colorado has been permitted to grow until, no longer a strike, it has assumed the proportions of a war. Probably 87 persons have been killed and at least nine plants have been burned. The state militia is without pay and consequently campaigning is hampered. Both northern and southern Colorado is affected.” Even after U.S. troops entered the field, mass violence continued throughout the state as enraged miners fought operators near Boulder, Denver and Trinidad to the south.
With the entire nation’s eyes on Ludlow and mine owner John D. Rockefeller coming under fierce criticism, the coal operators lined up against organized labor, socialism, the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W., aka the Wobblies), and mob rule. Both sides eventually looked to the federal government to act as mediator. With Congress holding hearings and new, violent labor actions spreading, on May 9, Coal Age weighed in on the U.S. government’s position. Commenting that the Wilson government seemingly was siding with the strikers’ demands to keep all mines closed until the inquiry was complete, “All of which means that the United States government is asked to close down the mine still the men have every demand satisfied. The nation is not to permit any man to work unless the men who have engaged in lawless rebellion are willing. We can easily see why the militia, though directed by a pliant governor, failed to satisfy the strikers.”
In a long two-page editorial titled “The Colorado Strike and the Press” (May 23, 1914), Coal Age excoriated the popular press for switching sides with every new detail of the incidents at Ludlow and battles that ensued. “The venality of the public press has rarely been more clearly exhibited than in its treatment of the Colorado strike. We do not refer to its editorial utterances because it is had for a paper which is not published for the capitalist to side openly with him, for while he and his sympathizer purchase single copies of the newspapers, his enemies and contemners, being many, purchase perhaps 20. The press is content to follow its readers and refuses to lead.” Eventually the editors find a middle path, taking to task the state militia leaders for provocative and unprofessional behavior, as well as illegally killing one of the striking miners while also questioning how much of the behavior of the strikers, many of whom were immigrants, was simply part of an inferior culture. “So prone are we today to expect of soldiers a high standard of humanity, whereas we demand little or nothing from the immigrants who come to us from southern Europe, that even we, in preparing this editorial, have given undue prominence to the weaknesses of the former parties and passed over, as to be anticipated, the violence and savagery of the latter.”
After dozens of pages, Coal Age’s coverage of the strike faded with the violence. However, while the next chapters played out in the courtroom, the United Mine Workers scored significant victories and the Wilson administration, to prevent further outbreaks of labor warfare throughout the entire industrial economy, hewed to their own middle ground by increasing federal regulatory authority over coal mining. But an emboldened UMWA eventually secured an eight-hour day and, during the Great War, better pay and more government regulations. The fragile peace barely held through the rest of the decade.
Beginning in the teens and ending in the late-1920s, Coal Age ran an irregular “Who’s Who” section featuring prominent figures in the industry. Though many of these figures have faded into history, few made their mark on the industry more than Francis Stuyvesant Peabody. Though a relative newcomer, by the end of the decade, not only was he president of one of the most important domestic coal companies but he was appointed chairman of the influential government “Fuel Board” during the Great War. Tasked with ensuring that enough fuel was available to stoke wartime industries, the board was later drawn into a dispute over the origins of a crushing nationwide coal shortage after the war—though much of the public—still familiar with Ludlow and countless mine disasters—blamed the evil coal operators, Coal Age came down against the railroads that were deliberately shorting the mines of enough coal cars to adequately supply the nation. The end result: more government regulation. When the magazine profiled Peabody in 1913, it wrote, “The coal industry knows the man as a consistent altruist and a conservative enthusiast,” an early proponent of the safety first campaign, “the humanitarian aspects of the mine workers commands his first interest.”
Less than a month following Peabody’s biography, Coal Age gave equal ink to one of his greatest rivals, John Mitchell, longtime head of the United Mine Workers of America. Chronicling his working-class upbringing, the magazine credited several of his accomplishments as head of the Union including increasing roles from 43,000 members to more than 300,000 mine workers when he retired. It also credited him with helping end several early strikes, win pay increases for the men, and secured the eight-hour work day in most coal producing states in the east and Midwest.