Coal Mining in Kentucky
Coal Mining in Kentucky & Webster County

....Coal mining in Kentucky divides into five eras: 1790-1870, coal shipped by river; 1870-1900, extensive uses of coal, coming of railroads and unions; 1900-1932, increasing mechanization and challenges to safety through expanding production, decline of unionization, more outside control; 1933-1969, dominance and then decline of unionization, loss of major markets, ascendancy of truck mines, growing mechanization, severe drops in employment; 1970- , growth of surface mining and its regulation, comprehensive federal safety laws, boom followed by leveling out and fewer mines, advent of computer.

Henry C. Mayer
The Kentucky Encyclopedia
University of Kentucky Press
c 1992 University of Kentucky

Coal Mining in Western Kentucky

...Samuel Casey and associates began mining in Union County. An 1856 law incorporating the Hopkins County mining and Manufacturing Company authorized the sale of $5 million in stock, but the Civil War frustrated the project. The leading Kentucky coal-producing county in the 1860 U.S. Census was Union, where 390 miners were paid a total of $168,000 in 1859. Some miners were slaves, others immigrants, the latter including some involved in what appear to have been union activities. The Civil War seems to have restricted but not entirely stopped mining. After the war came construction of a railroad from Lexington to Ashland and from Crab Orchard to Livingston in Rockcastle County. Plans were beginning to be realized to bring the railroad into the western Kentucky coal field.
In the 1870's, railroads began to burn coal and to carry tonnage, and the St. Bernard Coal Co. opened its first mines in Hopkins County.
...After 1913, eastern Kentucky became the state's leader in coal production. Some students of this era allege that this field overproduced, making recovery harder and adding to its human costs once the bubble burst. In 1929, two years after the boom ended, the stock market crashed and coal production dropped by a third, even more than it had done at the end of the war. Job time and job security were precarious in the 1920's and early 1930's in both coal fields.
Coal production accelerated only after war broke out in Europe in September 1939. After mines with six or fewer employees became subject to the inspection law, the fatality figures declined sharply, even though employment by the late 1940's, for example, was 17 percent higher than at the peak of the 1920's boom. After Kettle Island in 1930, there were no major disasters until the Duvin catastrophe in western Kentucky in 1939 - the worse in that coal field since the record August 4, 1917, explosion, also in Webster County, took sixty- two lives.
Western Kentucky did not have the eastern area's difficulties of underdevelopment and non competitive freight rates, and it gradually became a key source for the market that continues to buy Kentucky coal: the electric utilities.
...The 1970's witnessed a flurry of wildcat strikes. In western Kentucky, the workforce was 50-50 in terms of union membership.

Henry C. Mayer
The Kentucky Encyclopedia
University of Kentucky Press
c 1992 University of Kentucky

Coal Mining in Webster County

....Alfred Townes, who became a surveyor for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation), and others mined coal in the area on a small scale even before the Civil War, but commercial production in the county began only in 1888, with the organization of the Providence Coal Mining Company. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad (CSX Transportation) and the Illinois Central Railroad (now the Tradewater Railway) established lines in the county to transport coal. Surface mining is an important local industry.

James Duane Bolin
The Kentucky Encyclopedia
University of Kentucky Press
c 1992 University of Kentucky

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Coal Mining Disasters in Webster County
Oxygen Breathing Apparatus Training photo
Webster County Coal Companies
Kentucky Coal Mining History