Ten Major American Mining Disasters- by Ron Delfs

This interesting list of major American mining disasters came from environmental scientist Ron Delfs’ blog on Environmental Science Degrees http://www.environmentalsciencedegrees.net/blog/

The recent attempts to rescue 33 trapped miners from the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, Chile have once again brought mining safety concerns to the forefront of our consciousness. Earlier this year, the United States experienced its worst mining disaster in 40 years when 29 miners were killed in Montcoal, West Virginia during the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion. Regardless of whether the site is located in a first world or developing country, mining has always been an extremely dangerous job in which the risk of death is ever-present. Since the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of Americans have been killed in mining accidents. Here are 10 major mining disasters that occurred in the states. The high death tolls are indicative of an era of carelessness and primitive technology.

1. Scofield – 1900
Utah’s first great mining disaster, the Scofield Mine disaster, became America’s worst at the time. At least 200 miners were killed as an accumulation of coal dust caused a massive explosion that was said to have thrown a miner standing near the opening of the mine 820 feet. The state cleared the mine operators of blame and the Pleasant Valley Coal Company continued operating for 23 more years.

2. Monongah – 1907
The Monongah explosion of West Virginia is the worst mining disaster in American history, resulting in the deaths of 362 miners. The sole survivor was Peter Urban, who suffered the death of his twin brother and died in a cave-in 19 years later. The disaster is said to have been caused by the ignition of methane, which led to the ignition of coal dust. It’s unknown how the methane was ignited, but it has been theorized that a dynamite blast or open lamp may have been to blame.

3. Darr – 1907
Fewer than two weeks after the Monongah disaster, the Darr Mine in Pennsylvania exploded, killing 239 miners. Like with the West Virginia explosion, almost every local family was affected, as more than 100 women became widows and hundreds of children became fatherless. An inquiry determined the Pittsburgh Coal Company was not to blame and the exposition occurred when miners carrying flaming lamps entered a closed-off area. But a consensus regarding the cause was never reached between different investigators.

4. Cherry – 1909
During the early 20th century child labor laws had yet to be enacted, so it was common for children to work in the mines. The youngest to perish in the Illinois Cherry Coal Mine fire – in which 259 miners were killed – were just 11-years-old. The inferno started during an electrical outage, when a cart filled with hay came to a stop on its tracks beneath an open torch, catching fire and spreading as workers attempted to move it out of danger.

5. Stag Canon No. 2 – 1913
The deaths of 263 men and boys were the result of the New Mexico Stag Canon No. 2 disaster, which was caused by an overcharged explosion and dry conditions. Only a handful of miners survived – 14 from an unaffected section and nine who were heroically rescued by an apparatus crew, though two helmet men later died as they were overcome by afterdamp.

6. Eccles – 1914
The Eccles Mine disaster is the second worst in West Virginia history. At least 180 miners perished amid an explosion that occurred due to a buildup of flammable gases. Entering and exiting the mine after the explosion was made difficult by the blockage of the lift shaft by carts that were supposed to be sent to the surface.

7. Granite Mountain – 1917
Montana’s Granite Mountain Mine disaster ended with at least 167 fatalities after a rapidly spreading fire. Initially, a cable was ignited by an assistant foreman’s lamp, and the fire spread easily because the mine was well-ventilated. The few survivors were able to barricade themselves and clean breathable air away from the fire and smoke. The men who died from asphyxia had time to spare, and a one named JD Moore left heart-wrenching notes to his wife on his time book.

8. Castle Gates – 1924
The current ghost town of Castle Gates, Utah is remembered for an ominous reason – a series of explosions in a mine that killed 172 men. The first explosion was set off after a fire boss attempted to relight his lamp, igniting gas and dry coal dust. The second occurred when the survivors attempted the relight their lamps, and the third caused a cave-in.

9. Benwood – 1924
Gas accumulation was the cause of West Virginia’s Benwood explosion that killed 119 miners the same year as the Castle Gates disaster. Wheeling Steel Corporation’s mill employed workers from varying European countries, and many of their wives and children were seen gathering around the mine after the disaster, despairing over the possibility of losing their loved-ones.

10. Mather -1928
Four years after the Benwood explosion, 195 more West Virginians perished in the Mather Coal Mine explosion. The mine was supposed to be ahead of its time, but faulty wiring was determined to be the cause of the disaster. Thankfully, Benwood was the last major mining disaster in the US in 12 years and no subsequent disaster has resulted in more lives lost.