West Virginia is fortunate to have been blessed with enormous reserves of energy rich bituminous coal. These coal deposits occur in all but two of the mountain states’ fifty-five counties. Underlying the topography of the state are sixty-two individual seams of coal considered economically minable.
Records indicate the early settlers in the western sections of Virginia were quite aware of the rich black resources. Coal is reported to have been mined as early as 1810 when a mine was operated near Wheeling, in the northern panhandle. The growth of the salt industry led to the opening of mines to supply furnace fuel during the 1820’s and 1830’s. The other coal fields in the state began to develop in the following two decades. Most of the coal produced was for local business and domestic consumption. Only along navigable rivers was the coal exported to distant markets.
The commercial coal industry began to grow with the arrival of the railroads in the coal fields. The year 1883 is an important year in West Virginia’s coal history. The major rail lines were completed that year and production totaled nearly 3 million tons.
With the growth of the industry the first mine safety laws were passed by the West Virginia Legislature on February 22, 1883. This first act called for the appointment a mine inspector to make certain the mines in the state were properly drained and ventilated. Not until 1887 would any major revision of the mining laws occur despite pleas for changes from the state Mine Inspector.
The legislature passed in 1897 an act expanding the number of inspection districts to four and created the position of Chief Mine Inspector. Also, that year the mining laws were printed in book form for the first time. Between the years 1897 and 1904 coal production increased by nearly 125% and the need for a Department of Mines was warranted. In July of 1905 the West Virginia Department of Mines was created. The law also increased the number of inspectors to seven.
The Department of Mines existed until 1985 when it was merged with other state regulatory agencies to create the West Virginia Department of Energy, later know as the West Virginia Division of Energy. In 1991 a further reorganization placed the state mine health and safety functions in a new agency called the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. Currently this agency has 109 employees (80 Inspectors) working out of five regional offices with headquarters in Charleston.
Important Dates in West Virginia’s Mining History
1742 First discovery of coal by John Peter Salley in the area now comprising West Virginia.
1770 George Washington noted “a cole hill on fire” near West Columbia in current Mason County.
1800 Pittsburgh Coal Seam was discovered in northern Kanawha County.
1810 First commercial coal mine opened near Wheeling by Conrad Cotts for blacksmithing and domestic use.
1817 A coal mine opened in the upper Kanawha Valley to supply coal to the salt industry.
1830 Development of Clay industry in Hancock County.
1834 First commercial coal mining company in Kanawha Valley incorporated.
1843 Baltimore and Ohio railroad reached Piedmont and coal was shipped to Baltimore.
1847 Coal shipped by river from Mason County.
1853 The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was opened to Wheeling.
1855 Mines opened on Big Coal River near Peytona and coal shipped by way of Kanawha River.
1863 West Virginia becomes a state (June 20).
1873 Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad completed lines to Huntington.
1875 A bill was introduced in the WV Legislature to provide for better ventilation in coal mines.
1880 The Hawk’s Nest Coal Co. strike.
1881 The Western Maryland Railway reached the upper Potomac.
1883 First state mine inspector, Oscar A. Veazey hired.
1883 First Annual Report Prepared.
1884 The state mine inspector proposed the first comprehensive mine safety laws.
1885 H. J. Tucker appointed as State Mine Inspector
1886 First recorded mine disaster in West Virginia Mt. Brook Mine (Newburg) 39 victims.
1887 Legislature passed first significant mine safety laws.
1887 Henry Cunningham appointed as State Mine Inspector.
1888 Annual Report data is based on fiscal year.
1890 David M. Barr and M. F. Spruce appointed as State Mine Inspectors.
1893 H. A. Robson appointed as State Mine Inspector.
1894 UMWA miners strike in WV.
1896 P.L. Brannon appointed a State Mine Inspector.
1897 Office of Chief Mine Inspector created, James W. Paul named Chief. Mining laws first published.
1900 Red Ash Mine disaster claims 46 victims.
1905 West Virginia Department of Mines created.
1905 Six Disasters occurred this year, the greatest number in any one year.
1906 Explosion at the Parral Mine in Fayette County killed 23 miners.
1907 Mine explosion at Monongah claims 361 miners, worst US mine disaster.
1907 Mine explosion at the Stuart mine in Fayette County killed 85 miners.
1907 Mining Commission appointed to propose new legislation.
1907 Mining laws were printed in the languages of the miners.
1908 The position of “Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines” created.
1908 Explosion at the Bachman (Hawk’s Nest) mine in Fayette County killed 9 miners.
1908 An explosion at the Lick Branch Colliery in McDowell County killed 50 miners (Dec. 29).
1909 An explosion at the Lick Branch Colliery in McDowell County killed 67 miners (Jan. 12).
1909 Creation of the Mine Inspectors Examining Board.
1909 First use of photos in Department of Mines’ Annual Reports.
1909 John Laing appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1910 First mine foreman certification examinations.
1910 Peak year for Coke production 4,217,381 tons.
1912 Union strikes in Paint Creek, Martial law imposed.
1913 Clash between miners and mine guards on Paint Creek.
1913 Governor issues Martial Law proclamation (Feb.).
1914 Eccles mine explosion kills 183.
1914 Earl A. Henry appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1915 Explosion at Layland Fayette County killed 112 miners. (View a Map of the Layland mine)
1915 Enoch Carver – WV Mine Inspector was killed while on the job. He was crushed between a mine rib and a trip of cars at the Sunday Creek No. 14 mine.
1917 Mine Rescue Training began. (go to the mine rescue page featuring historical photographs)
1917 First Inspections of Quarry Operations by state inspectors.
1918 W. J. Heatherman appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1919 First investigations of individual mine fatalities by WV Department of Mines.
1920 “Battle of the Tug” between union miners and mine guards.
1920 Matewan Massacre occurred.
1920 John L. Lewis becomes president of the UMWA.
1920 R. M. Lambie appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1922 Nationwide strike was called by the UMWA.
1924 WV Department of Mines’ Annual Report is published for an 18 month period.
1924 Explosion at Benwood mines killed 119 employees.
1925 WV Department of Mines’ Annual Report Collected data is published on calendar year basis.
1925 Highest number of mine fatalities for any year 686.
1925 Last year names of fatal accident victims were published in the WV Department of Mines’ Annual Report.
1931 West Virginia overtakes Pennsylvania as the leading producer of bituminous coal.
1932 The Norris-La Guardia Act was signed, limiting federal involvement in labor disputes.
1933 N. P. Rhinehart appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1934 West Virginia Coal Reserves first calculated.
1935 Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act.
1937 Highest number of lost time accidents reported 14,862.
1939 Miner certifications first issued.
1940 peak employment in West Virginia mines 130,457.
1942 Jesse Redyardappointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1942 Explosion at Christopher No. 3 mine killed 56 miners.
1942 Surface Mining Operations first recorded in Annual Reports.
1944 Explosion at the Katherine Coal Co. No. 4 mine killed 16 miners.
1945 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement was signed.
1945 G. R. Spindler appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1946 Arch J. Alexamder appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1951 Explosion at Bunker Mine killed 10 miners.
1952 Joseph Bierer appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1953 Federal Mine Safety Code for Bituminous and Lignite Coal Mines was published.
1954 Frank B. King appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1955 Julius C. Olzer appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1957 Pocahontas Fuel Co. No. 31 explosion, 37 victims.
1957 Crawford L. Wilson appointed as Chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1958 Title “Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines” created.
1960 Coal seam fire killed 18 miners by asphyxiation at the Holden No. 22 mine.
1961 Leonard J. Timms appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1961 Classification of Mine Disaster changed. (Accidents fatally injuring three or more victims are now termed “disaster” previously five or more deaths were considered a disaster).
1963 Wilbur F. Eigenbrod appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1966 Elmer C. Workman appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1968 Mine Disaster at Hominy Falls four miners died but eight miners rescued after being trapped underground for 11 days (mine inundation by water from an adjacent abandoned mine).
1968 Farmington No. 9 mine disaster claims 78 victims
1968 John Ashcraft appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1969 Black Lung March was held by miners in Charleston.
1969 Following the Farmington disaster, major revisions to both State and Federal Mining laws.
1969 As a result of the Hominy Falls entrapment, Mine Map Archives is established. (go to mine map archives page)
1972 Buffalo Creek Flood disaster (mine dam burst) 118 deaths.
1975 First computerization of Department of Mines records (mine permit files)
1976 Walter N. Miller appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1980 Gas explosion at Ferrell No. 17 mine kills 5 miners.
1982 Comprehensive Mine Safety Programs required for all mining operations in WV.
1981 Implementation of Automated Temporary Roof Control Regulations (ATRS).
1984 Barton B. Lay appointed as Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines.
1985 WV Department of Energy is created by merging Department of Mines with other state regulatory agencies.
1986 Coal Storage Entrapment at the Loveridge No. 22 mine resulting in 5 fatals.
1991 West Virginia Division of Energy is reorganized, West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training created.
1991 Stephen F. Webber appointed as Director of the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.
1992 Mine explosion in shaft, claims 4 employees at the Blacksville No. 1 mine.
1996 Ronald L Harris appointed as Director of the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.
1997 First Agency website.
1997 Greatest total coal production in WV, 181,914,000 tons.
1999 Federal Court Action regarding Mountain Top Removal Surface Mines.
2000 Doug Conaway appointed as Director of the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.
2002 Coal Truck weight controversy.
2003 Explosion in Shaft – 3 victims, McElroy Mine, Central Cambria Drilling Co. (contractor)
2003 Independent Contractor reporting required.
2004 Regulations allow use of Diesel Equipment in WV underground mines.
2006 Mine explosion at Sago mine claims 12 lives.
2006 James M. Dean appointed as Acting Director.
2006 Ronald L. Wooten appointed as Director.
2006 Miner’s Day created by virtue of a Joint Resolution of the WV Legislature (Commemorated on Dec. 6, 2006)
2010 Mine explosion at Performance UBBMC Montcoal Eagle Mine claims 29 lives. (April 5, 2010 – Upper Big Branch)
2010 Director Ronald Wooten resigned effective November 3, 2010.
2010 C.A. Phillips appointed as Acting Director of the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training by Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (November)
2011 C.A. Phillips appointed as Director of the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on August 29, 2011
2012 Director C. A. Phillips retired from the State of West Virginia with nearly 12 years service effective December 31, 2012
2013 Eugene White appointed as Director of the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on January 1, 2013
2015 Fewest fatal mine accidents – 2
2017 Greg Norman appointed as Director of the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training by Governor Jim Justice on January 25, 2017.
2018 Eugene White appointed as Director of the WV Office of Miners’ Health, Safety & Training by Governor Jim Justice on November 2, 2018
2020 Fewest fatal mine accidents – 2