Coal-Mining Safety in the Progressive Period

Coal-Mining Safety in the Progressive Period: The Political Economy of Reform

William Graebner
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Coal-Mining Safety in the Progressive Period
    Book Description:

    Through the first decade of the twentieth century, Americans looked upon industrial accidents with callous disregard; they were accepted as an unfortunate but necessary adjunct to industrial society. A series of mine disasters in December 1907 (including one in Monongah, West Virginia, which took a toll of 361 lives) shook the public, at least temporarily, out of its lethargy.

    In this award-winning study, author William Graebner traces the development of mine safety reform in the years immediately following these tragic events. Reform activities during the Progressive period centered on the Bureau of Mines and an effort to obtain uniform state legislation; the effect of each was minimal. Mr. Graebner concludes that these idealistic solutions of the time were at once the great hope and the great failure of the Progressive coal-mining safety movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6319-2
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In november 1968 an explosion in the “safe” Number 9 mine of the Consolidation Coal Company at Farmington, West Virginia, killed seventy-eight miners and produced a brief but potent public outcry for new federal safety legislation. The prototype for that scenario of disaster and reform belongs to the Progressive period. It began in December 1907, ten miles from Farmington at Monongah, West Virginia, where 361 miners died in an explosion in the “safe” Monongah 6 and 8 mines of the Fairmont Coal Company.¹ Monongah, and a number of other major disasters occurring in the same month, put the coal-mining safety...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Business, Bureaucracy, and National Reform
    (pp. 11-42)

    Concern for the hazards of coal mining far antedates the Progressive period, but reform interest in coal-mining safety before 1900 was limited almost entirely to the states, finding an outlet in state (and occasionally county) mine-safety legislation. The states continued to legislate on the subject after 1900, but the new context of the legislation and some procedural innovation did not mask the fundamentally traditional quality of state politics and political alignments. What was new from 1900 to 1920 was the involvement of the federal government in coal-mining safety through the United States Geological Survey and the United States Bureau of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Technology and Politics in the Federal Bureaucracy
    (pp. 43-71)

    The safety work of the federal government was born in the explosion at Monongah and the fire at Cherry, and the Technologic Branch and the Bureau of Mines were in significant ways reflections of these crisis origins. Due to public apathy and insufficient funds, a number of important coal-mining safety questions received inadequate attention from the branch and the bureau. Falls of roof and coal, recognized by government officials as the number one killer in the industry, were virtually ignored; by fiscal 1915 roof support was being investigated only through a limited cooperative agreement with the state of Illinois. Not...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Legislation and Enforcement in the States
    (pp. 72-111)

    Coal-mining safety seemed to fit neatly into the American constitutional system. State courts and the United States Supreme Court had recognized early that health and safety were proper functions of the state police power, and most of the coal-producing states enacted some kind of coal-mining safety legislation in the 1870s. Major revisions took place in the 1880s in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Legislative activity slowed considerably in the 1890s, perhaps because of the depression; of the major coal-mining states, only Pennsylvania undertook a major revision of its laws in that decade. As of 1900, Pennsylvania and Illinois had...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Miner and the Union
    (pp. 112-139)

    The miner worked in a highly competitive, labor-intensive industry, in which operators routinely met their competition by reducing the wages of the working man. Whether they did so directly, by paying him less for the same work, or indirectly, by increasing prices at the company store or establishing a new system for measuring miner production, made little difference. In either case, the miner was under pressure to maintain his standard of living, even if that meant employing unsafe mining techniques, and his ability to respond to this pressure by moving into another line of work was considerably circumscribed by the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Operator as Victim
    (pp. 140-154)

    The greedy, insensitive, vindictive operator was one of the day’s most common characterizations, usually an indulgence of miners but a conception which also had wider appeal. Following the Cherry disaster, UMWA officials charged that mine officials had closed the shafts prematurely, “without regard to the lives of the miners,” solely for the purpose of salvaging and protecting mine property.¹ Three hundred lives, added socialist Adolph Germer, “have been snuffed out through capitalist greed.”² A similar picture of the coal operator emerges from “The Draped Charter,” a poem authored by an Indiana miner:

    Our charter is draped; there is great lamentation...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Coal-Mining Safety and the Progressive Period
    (pp. 155-175)

    Richard Hofstadter’sAge of Reformis perhaps best known for its attempt to link Progressive reform to a status revolution—the Progressives were “victims of an upheaval in status,” seeking change less to remedy social conditions than to satisfy personal needs.¹ Beneath this interpretation lies a descriptive analysis of the Progressive years which is of even greater importance:

    Curiously, the Progressive revolt—even when we have made allowance for the brief panic of 1907 and the downward turn in business in 1913—took place almost entirely during a period of sustained and general prosperity. The middle class, most of which...

  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 176-176)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-214)
  13. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 215-220)
  14. Bibliography of Primary Sources
    (pp. 221-229)
  15. Index
    (pp. 230-244)