Credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000/

Historical Insights Mining Disasters in West Virginia

The exact death toll of the Monongah explosion remains unknown because the Fairmont Coal Company didn’t keep exact records of its number of employees. December 6, 1907, Monongah, West Virginia. Credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000/

Mining Disasters in West Virginia

At the turn of the 20th century, West Virginia became notorious for its dangerous coal mines.

Around 10 a.m. on December 6, 1907, a deadly explosion rocked the Monongah Coal Mine in West Virginia, hurling people from their carriages and streetcars off their rails as far as eight miles away. By the early 1900s, West Virginia mines, engaging 100,000 miners, had acquired an infamous reputation for their deplorable conditions: more than 1,000 miners perished between 1890 and 1912. Steady work in coal, oil, and natural gas mines brought African Americans from the South and Italian immigrants from Europe to the rural state. Workers and their families lived in towns built entirely by mining companies creating a system of dependence. Inflated prices at the company store left workers perpetually in debt and dangerous conditions in the mines left them in danger. The continuous stream of disasters inspired mass protests across the state and by 1910 the U.S. Congress responded by establishing the Bureau of Mines, an agency to investigate and inspect mines across the nation.