Mining Resources

Pennsylvania Mining Resources

Coal miners (one man and seven boys) holding metal boxes with handles
Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer. Inside workers shaft #6, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. South Pittston Pennsylvania United States, 1911. January. Photograph.


Mining in Pennsylvania was a well regulated industry after the Avondale mine disaster in 1869. Details of mining accidents, fatal and nonfatal, can be found in the volumes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Mine Inspector Reports.Publications began in 1870 and continues today; however, the reports are only genealogically useful until the 1920’s. Between 1870 and 1887, reports were issued under the title: Reports of the Inspectors of Coal Mines of the Anthracite Coal Regions of Pennsylvania for the Year.

In 1888, the Western Pennsylvania bituminous coal regions inspection reports were published for the first time in a combined volume titled Reports of the Inspectors of Coal Mines of the Anthracite and Bituminous Coal Regions of Pennsylvania for the Year. The annual inspection reports for both the anthracite and bituminous coal regions remained in a combined volume until 1902. After 1903, the inspection reports for the anthracite and bituminous coal regions were separated into individual volumes. Also between 1893 and 1903, the title of the report changed twice times (Report of the Bureau of Mines of the Department of Internal Affairs of Pennsylvania (1897-1902), and then Report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania (1903-1930).

The format of the individual inspector reports remains rather constant between 1870 and 1930. In the combined anthracite and bituminous volumes (between 1888 and 1892), the anthracite reports precede the bituminous reports. Within each district report, researchers will find the two most genealogically significant tables – Fatal accidents inside and outside the mines and Non-fatal accidents inside and outside the mines. Although the table numbers change over time (tables 1 and 2 in earlier volumes and tables 4 and 5 in later volumes), the labels remain the same.

A table summarizing fatal accidents inside and outside the mines provides the researcher with some basic genealogical information about the deceased and his cause of death. Most notable are the date of death, his marital status, and if he left any orphans.

The categories across the various volumes are date of death, name, marital status, number of children left orphaned, place and cause of death. The non-fatal accidents inside and outside the mines provides the researcher with some basic vital information about those men injured in the mines for a particular year. Of note is the information provided about their age and the circumstances about the accident. The categories that remain constant across the various volumes are the date of the accident, name of the miner, and cause. Information about an injured miner’s age, occupation, and nationality were added by 1900.

(Above article written by Michael Krasulski, Assistant Professor of Information Sciences, University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, and former GSP Board Member.


(GSP wishes to thank Gerald Sherard for contributing this information.)

Mining has many unique terms.  A glossary of these terms is found below. Some of the more common terms and abbreviations found in the mine accident registers are:

Afterdamp: The mixture of gases that remain in a mine after a mine fire or an explosion of combustible gases. It consists principally of carbonic acid gas and nitrogen, and is therefore irrespirable because there is little oxygen.

Anthracite: The hardest type of coal with a very high heat value, used for home and industrial heating.

Barring down: Prying off loose rock after blasting to prevent danger of fall.

Battery: A bulkhead or structure of timber for keeping coal in place.

Bituminous coal: Medium-hard coal with a high heat value, used to generate electricity and to make coke which is used in the steel industry.

Bone:  In the anthracite-coal trade, a carbonaceous shale containing approx. 40% to 60% of noncombustible materials.

Boss: Any member of the managerial ranks who is directly in charge of miners.

Brattice: An airtight partition in a mine shaft to separate intake from return air, often made of cloth.

Brattice worker: A worker who constructs ventilating partitions of fabric, board or plank lining in mine passages to confined the air and force it into working places.

Breaker: Mechanical equipment into which coal is dumped from cars or conveyers and the coal is  broken up and screened. The crushing machine has bins with rollers and screens to separate and break up and separate coal pieces into various gradations and sizes.

Breast: In a coal mine, a chamber driven in the seam from the gangway, for the extraction of coal; the face of a working.

Butt: A conspicuous hill or small mountain with relatively steep slopes or precipitous cliffs, often capped with a resistant layer of rock, and representing an erosion remnant carved from flat-lying rocks.

Cannel Coal: A variety of bituminous coal with no stratification , a greasy luster, and a high percentage of volatile matter which makes it ignite easily.

Chute: A channel or shaft underground, or an inclined trough aboveground, through which ore falls or is shot by gravity from a higher to a lower level.

Chute Miner or Ct. Miner: A miner who moves the coal directly into a chute.

Clod: A hard earthy clay on the roof of a working place in a coal seam; often a fireclay.

Coal: A black rock consisting primarily of carbon formed from remains of trees, ferns and other plants that died and were compressed under heat and pressure from ice during the Ice Age and from the buildup of earth deposits.

Coke: Bituminous coal in which the volatile constituents have been driven off by heat as high as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Used as a fuel and as a reducing agent in blast furnaces.

Colliery: British name for coal mine.

Company Man: A company man is a man who works for the company by the hour or by the day, such as track layers, timber men, drivers and cagers, as distinguished from miners who work under contract, as by the ton, yard, etc.  He also brushes down the wall and roof when apparently dangerous; loads the loose rock & debris into cars and pushes them out to the haulage road. Also: One who supervises, coordinates and schedules the work activities of  workers, trains workers in job duties and enforces safety.

Crinner: Austrian/Granish nationality

Culm: Anthracite fines that will pass through a screen with 1/8-in holes.

Culm-driver: Worker who removes the anthracite fines that will pass through a screen with 1/8/-inch holes.

Cutter: Person operating any coal-cutting or rock-cutting machine.

Door Tender or Door Boy or Trapper: One whose duty it is to open and close a mine door before and after the passage of a train of mine cars.  The doors are located intermittently throughout a mine to isolate dangerous gases and explosions.

Drift:  An entry driven horizontally into a coal seam on the slope of a hill.

Driver: One who controls a mule or team of mules.

Footman or headman: Controlled the number of men ascending and descending in the    cage in the mine shaft.  Also ensured that the cage signal device was in good working order.

Footman: A laborer who adjusts the height of the gate in the chute leading from the crusher by means of a lever, to regulate flow of crushed coal into vibrating screens that separate coal into various sizes prior to shipment or refining.

Frog: The point of intersection of the inner rails, where a train or tram crosses from one set of rails to another. The frog is in the form of a V.

Gangway: A main haulage road underground.

Gob: A pile of loose not markable waste in a mine, or backfill waste packed in slopes.

Granish: Nationalities from a small region in Slovenia near the Austrian border.

Headman : The hoist operator in a mine shaft.

Horwat: Croatian (Yugoslavian)

Inundation: A flood of water.

Jack Pipe: A hollow iron pipe large enough to slip over the end of the front jack of a cutting machine to make it hold more firmly against the coal.

Jig boy: A person who connects and disconnects the link or coupling connecting tubs (cars).

Laborer: One who loads the coal into cars, breakers, rail road cars, etc.

Larrie:  A car with hopper bottom and adjustable chutes for feeding coke ovens.

Magyar: Hungarian

0Majar: Egyptian Jew

NG: Not Given

Miner: In anthracite and bituminous coal mining, one who performs the complete set of duties involved in driving underground openings to extract coal, slate, and rock, with a hand or machine drill, into which explosives are charged and set off to break up the mass.

Naked light: An open flame in a miners lantern or helmet light; open light; no safety light.

Patcher: A locomotive brakeman  who works on trains or trips of cars hauled by locomotive or motor, as distinguished from rope haulage.

Rib: The side of a pillar or the wall of an entry or gallery.  The solid coal on the side of any underground passage.

Runner:  A person who accompanied moving tubs (cars) for transporting coal on its way to the shaft. They would push the cars and carry a lamp.

Ruptured:  If a personal injury, usually means a hernia.

Serbian or Servian: Yugoslavian

Scraper:  A machine used for loading coal or rock by pulling an open-bottomed scoop back and forth between the face and the loading point by means of ropes, sheaves, and a multiple drum hoist. The filled scoop is pulled on the bottom to an apron or ramp where the load is discharged onto a car or conveyor.

Sinker: A person who sinks mine shafts and puts in supporting timber.

Skip:  An elongated iron or steel self-dumping bucket or car equipped with small wheels   usually running on guide rails used to haul ore through the mine.  Skips can be used to haul ore at ground level or can be hoisted up a shaft.

Slate:  A dark shale lying next to the coal beds. It contains impressions of the plant life of distant ages, proving the vegetable origin of coal.

Slate-picker: Worker who removes a compact, fine-grained metamorphic rock that possesses slaty cleavage and hence can be split into slabs and thin plates. Most slate was formed from shale.

Sprag:  A short wooden or metal prop set in a slanting position for supporting the coal during the operation of holding or for stopping rail cars.

Spragger:   In anthracite and bituminous coal mining, a laborer who rides trains of cars and controls their free movement down gently sloping inclines by throwing switches and by poking sprags (short, stout, metal or wooden rods) between the wheel spokes to stop them.

Squib: A thin tube filled with black powder, forming a slow-burning fuse to explode a stemmed charge of black powder.

Sub-bituminous coal: Coal that contains less moisture than lignite and is mostly used to produce steam for electricity generation.

Timberman: One who places timber supports in mine workings or shafts for protection against falls from roof, face, or rib.

Tipple: Originally the place where the mine cars were tipped and emptied of their ore, and still used in that same sense, although now more generally applied to the surface structures of a mine, including the preparation plant and loading tracks.

Tommy Box: A metal container in the shape of a slice of bread used to store sandwiches.

Trapper: see Door Tender or Door Boy.

Trip:  A small train of mine cars.

Truck: Bottom-dump mine car used to transport mined waste and ore materials.

Tyrolian: Variant spelling of Tirol, a state of Austria.

Wheeler: A laborer who pushes loaded mine cars on tracks from underground working places to haulage roads where they are hooked up to a locomotive and hauled to the surface, shaft, or slope bottom for hoisting.  A pusher may, at bituminous mines, shift empty and loaded cars in and about the tipple, where coal is prepared for market.


(GSP wishes to thank Gerald Sherard for contributing this information.)

The major mine accidents in Pennsylvania which resulted in a large number of fatalities at one time were usually caused by fire or gas and dust explosions in underground coal mines.  Pennsylvania’s major mine accidents prior to 1999, their causes, and number of men killed are as follows:

September 6, 1869, Avondale Mine, Plymouth, Luzerne Co., PA, uncontrollable fire, 110 killed.  At 10 am, Sept. 6, 1869, one of the worst disasters in the history of US anthracite mining occurred at the Avondale Mine. A fire, originating from a furnace at the bottom of a 237 foot shaft roared up the shaft killing 110 miners,80% of whom were Welsh. On Sept 9, 1869, the last body was removed from the mine. The disaster also killed 2 boys, ages 10 and 14, who began working just that day.  61 victims were laid to rest at the Washburn Cemetery on the west side of Scranton, PA, September 9, 1869.

  • June 16, 1890, Hill Farm Mine, Dunbar, PA, gas fire, 31 killed.
  • June 28, 1896, Twin Shaft Mine, Pittston, PA, roof fall, 58 killed.
  • July 10, 1902, Rolling Mill Mine, Johnstown, Cambria County, PA, gas explosion, 112 killed.
  • January 25, 1904, Harwick Mine, Cheswick, Allegheny County, PA, blown out shot explosion, 179 killed.
  • December, 1, 1907, Fayette City Mine, Naomi, Fayette County, PA, gas and dust explosion, 34 killed.
  • December 19, 1907, Darr Mine, Jacobs Creek, Westmoreland County, PA, explosion, 239 killed.
  • November 28, 1908, Rachel & Agnes Mine, Marianna, Washington County, PA, explosion, 154 killed.
  • April 7, 1911, Price-Pancoast Colliery, Troop, Lackawanna County, PA, fire, 73 killed.
  • April 23, 1913, Cincinnati Mine, Finleyville, Washington County, PA, explosion, 98 killed.
  • June 5, 1919, Baltimore Tunnel, Wilkes-Barre, PA, black blasting powder ignited by open lamp, 92 killed.
  • November 6, 1922, Reilly No.1 Mine, Spangler, PA, gas ignited by open light, 79 killed.
  • January 26, 1924, Lancashire Mine, Shanktown, PA, mining machine ignited gas, 36 killed.
  • August 26, 1926, Clymer No.1 Mine, Clymer, PA, gas ignition by electric arc from trolley wire or electric equipment, 44 killed.
  • May 19, 1926, Mather No.1 Mine, Mather, PA, gas ignited by arc from locomotive, 195 killed.
  • March 21, 1929, Kinloch Mine, dust cloud ignited by electric arc form electric equipment, 46 killed.
  • July 15, 1940, Sonman “E” Mine, Portage, PA, gas ignited by arc from locomotive, 63 killed.
  • December 6, 1962, Robena No.3 Mine, Carmichaels, Pa, gas explosion, 37 killed.

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