When Italian immigrants fueled the coal mining industry – by Rita Cipalla (L’Italio-Americano – March 17, 2016)


A century ago in Black Diamond, Wash., the freight trains arrived empty twice a day and twice a day they left, loaded with coal. Railroad assistant Amos Ungherini would go down the line each day in a hand-pumped “speeder” to weigh the cars. Back then, the railroad was more than just a way to get coal to market. It was the lifeblood of the town.

Ungherini and others of Italian descent worked hard in and around the coal mines of Washington. And unfortunately, some paid the ultimate price.

On April 26, 1907, a methane gas explosion in a coal mine outside Black Diamond took the lives of seven men. Among the dead, as reported by the Seattle Daily Times, were three Italian miners: 23-year-old Joe Belmonti and 25-year-old Albert Domini, both unmarried, and Philip Domenico, married with one child.

Although Washington was never a huge coal-producing state, coal was critical to the westward expansion, feeding the locomotives that transported everything from livestock to machinery to people. During the early 1900s, there were about 5,000 men working in the state’s coal mines.

Coal was king in Black Diamond, a small town about 25 miles southeast of Seattle along the Cascade Mountain range. A company town, it was built for, and named after, the Black Diamond Coal Company of Nortonville, Calif.

When the company opened the Black Diamond mine, some miners moved up the coast from California while others came from farther afield, including Italian immigrants from Sicily, Calabria and Basilicata who were eager to escape the bone-wrenching poverty of their native land.

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