What’s a Coal Miner to Do?

What’s a Coal Miner to Do?: The Mechanization of Coal Mining

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    What’s a Coal Miner to Do?
    Book Description:

    For more than one hundred years, until the 1920s, coal production involved blasting a seam of coal and loading it by had into a mine car. In the late 1920s, operators introduced machines into the mines, including the coal loader. In this book, Keith Dix explores the impact of technology on miners and operators during a crucial period in industrial history. Dix reconstructs the social, political, technical and economic environment of the "hand-loading" era and then views the evolution of mechanical coal technology, including the inventions of Joseph Joy. He also examines the rise of the United Mine Workers under John L. Lewis, and the expanded role of the state under New Deal legislation and regulations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7654-7
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Hand Loading of Coal
    (pp. 1-27)

    For more than a hundred years, from before the Civil War to well into the 1930s, the production of coal depended on the simple act of taking shovel in hand, scooping up a pile of the material, and throwing it into an empty mine car. During the period that bituminous coal provided energy for the nation’s industrial revolution, each year human muscle lifted nearly half a billion tons of coal an average of three feet from ground to mine car. It is ironic that the advance in technology and management, which gave modern industry its momentum, bypassed the one industry...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Evolution of Underground Machinery
    (pp. 28-60)

    Mine mechanization involved more than just the use of machinery for undercutting the coal face and loading the load. Haulage underground was converted to mechanical power as the mine mules were retired; drilling of shot holes was soon done by air or electrically driven drills; ventilation of the mine was more scientifically undertaken; and screening and cleaning of coal in the preparation plants was mechanized. But it was the machinery developed for cutting the coal and the mobile loading machine more than any other development that altered the work of the traditional pick miner and set the stage for the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Joy Loading Machine
    (pp. 61-76)

    Joseph Joy went to work in the coal mines when he was twelve years old. Some say that it was the hard work involved in loading coal by hand that prompted him to search for some mechanical device that would do the job better. While this truly may have been an important motivation for him, it is more likely that Joy was caught up in the turn-of-the-century rush to develop labor-saving machinery for the rapidly expanding coal mining industry.¹ With coal output doubling every decade and labor shortages anticipated, it was not unreasonable to expect that fortunes would be made...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Transformation of the Miner’s Job
    (pp. 77-106)

    The set of work relations that characterized the hand-loading period became increasingly inefficient from the standpoint of management’s interest in increasing productivity—an interest that became acute during the depressed times of the 1920s. Workdays of variable length, a tradition of single shifts, individual proprietorship of working places, the lack of meaningful supervision, quality control that depended on the miner’s skill, worker ownership of tools, and a generally undisciplined work force all stood in the way of rational (i.e., efficient) production. Two things were needed: mechanization of traditional hand methods to increase the physical output of mine workers and a...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Miners’ Response to Technological Change
    (pp. 107-125)

    Without doubt, miners understood that the loading machine would eliminate many underground jobs and that it would destroy the traditional freedoms they had enjoyed as hand loaders. They may not have anticipated the adverse impact the new technology would have on their health and safety, but they soon learned how dangerous underground machinery could be and how injurious to their lungs machine-created dust could be. While some miners accepted the changes wrought by the new technology and made the most of it, others resisted the change. Their opposition took many forms. There was individual resistance: some quit the mines and...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Union and Mechanization
    (pp. 126-148)

    The growth of coal output in the last half of the last century and for the first twenty years of this century was quite phenomenal. Spurred by the steel industry’s demand for coking coal and the increasing use of this mineral in the nation’s coal-fired steam boilers, production of bituminous coal increased from 43 million tons in 1880, to 212 million at the turn of the century, then to 569 million tons in 1920. Employment in underground coal mining paralleled this output expansion, as the number of coal mine workers increased from 100,207 in 1880, to 304,375 in 1900, and...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Evolution of the UMWA’s Mechanization Policy
    (pp. 149-167)

    The introduction of collective bargaining to the coal industry not only offered protection against much of the economic exploitation of miners, but it also codified many customary work practices and local work rules, which in turn protected both the income and craft autonomy of miners. The square turn, which assured all miners an equal number of empty cars during each shift of work, was formalized in most union agreements throughout the coalfields. This prevented management from favoring the more productive workers. Work rules relating to timbering, shooting, loading, pushing cars, and all other aspects of the traditional miner’s job were...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Union and Industry During The Great Depression
    (pp. 168-184)

    The years from 1925 to 1933 are an important transitional period for the coal industry. John L. Lewis increased his control over the UMWA internal affairs, although the union lost substantial membership and influence during the period. Coal operators, facing their worst economic crisis to date, began reorganizing themselves along more efficient lines and searching for ways to lower costs of production to remain competitive. The “American plan” of union busting, so popular in other industries, was applied with a vengeance in the coal industry in an effort to break the Jacksonville wage scale. At the same time, the technology...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Government Intervention in the Industry
    (pp. 185-198)

    Economic conditions in the nation’s coal industry shifted from bad to worse as the national economy slumped in the early 1930s. As business in general declined, coal output fell from a peak of 573,366,985 tons in 1926 to 309,709,872 tons in 1932. This cutback in output was accompanied by a decrease in the number of men employed from 593,647 to 406,380 during the same period. The average number of days worked per year fell from 215 to 146 and, at the same time, average hourly earnings of coal miners fell from $0.76 an hour to $0.50 (see appendix table C)....

  14. CHAPTER 10 Miners’ “Freedom” Under Increased Mechanization
    (pp. 199-210)

    In addition to NRA code prices and a higher and uniform wage level, there were other economic forces converging in the mid-1930s to open the way for a mechanization movement in the nation’s coal mines. Interest rates and capital costs were at historically low levels, a slight upturn in coal demand took place in 1933 and 1934, concentration of production in the larger mines had continued, and the market offered a larger selection of well-tested new machinery,¹ Yet with all of this, there was still the long-standing obstacle of local workers’ control. This control had expressed itself in a refusal...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Opportunities Lost
    (pp. 211-214)

    Writing in 1924 before mine mechanization had advanced, but when its potential for altering work relations was fully understood, Carter Goodrich believed that mechanical loading provided the miners’ union with an opportunity to protect and even extend workers’ control over their jobs.¹ The union, he proposed, could focus its efforts on improving the quality of working life by strengthening the control exercised by mine committees and local unions. And local union strength could be “greatly increased as the new methods break down the individualism of the scattered miners and throws them together into closer groups” working around the loading machine....

    (pp. 217-220)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 221-246)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 247-258)