From the Files: Perry Brooks and Family, 1920 Census

At the time of the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Perry Brooks and Emma Angeline Copas Brooks are living with five of their children in Pomeroy, Ohio. Pomeroy had been booming in the late 19th century, attracting many salt and coal miners, but it entered into a steep and lasting decline by 1890. Still, Perry earned his wages mining coal.

Perry Brooks and family, 1920 US Federal Census

Both Perry and Emma are 40 years old, report being able to read and write, and are living in a rented house. Their oldest daughter, Katie, died 19 years prior to this census, and Susan Mae is married and living in West Virginia. Their remaining children are Sarah, 17; John Leonard, 14 and attending school; Joseph, 11 and attending school; William Ray, less than 2 months shy of 5; and Phyllis, 3 months. They were all born in Ohio. There is also a boarder and coal miner named Cowell living in their home. With the exception of a farmer and a rubber factory worker, their nearest neighbors are coal miners and their families.

A Tough Week for Coal

A recent blog post at The New York Times provides an excellent rundown of citizen and government action against Big Coal. Green Inc.: A Tough Week for Coal

The Battles of Blair Mountain

As the story goes, my great grandfather William “Crack” Thompson and his brother Jess carried their Winchester rifles to Blair Mountain in the late summer of 1921. They were on their way to America’s largest armed uprising since the Civil War. Nearly 90 years later, Blair Mountain, in the heart of West Virginia’s Appalachians, is again a battlefield. In 1921, the coal miners of southern West Virginia organized into a force nearly 10,000 strong, determined to bring justice to the coalfields. Coal companies had long treated miners and their families as if they were disposable. In each mining community, the company owned the town, the store, and even the church. Workers were paid per ton of coal—a variable measure at the discretion of the company—and in scrip, a company-minted currency that could only be used in the company-owned store. A miner who got uppity, perhaps by joining the union, was often simply fired, his family evicted and belongings confiscated to pay whatever debts the company decided he owed. Not only were miners dogged by poverty, but injury and death in the mines were daily realities. According to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, it has been suggested that a soldier ...more...

Beginnings of Kanawha Valley Industry

Long before West Virginia made its Civil War split from Virginia, the Kanawha Valley was known for its mineral wealth. Pioneers knew of the valley's salt springs at least as early as the late 1750's when Mary Draper Ingles, an escaped captive of Shawnee warriors, recounted having seen the natives distill salt. In 1774, Andrew Lewis, a brigadier general in the Virginia militia, reported encountering the springs on his march to the Battle of Point Pleasant. It was his soldiers' defeat of the natives at Point Pleasant that would first open the Kanawha Valley to settlement and industry. Elisha Brooks* was the first to erect a salt furnace in the valley. At the mouth of Campbell's Creek, Brooks heated brine in large iron kettles and produced Kanawha Red Salt--red because of its iron impurities--beginning in 1797. The valley boasted 52 salt furnaces by 1815, and Kanawha's salt industry soon formed the Kanawha Salt Company, America's first trust, in order to regulate prices and discourage competition. A flood on September 29, 1861 drenched the valley, raising the Kanawha river an estimated 3-4 feet per hour. By the time the river peaked at nearly 47 feet, the bulk of the area's salt industry was in ...more...

United Mine Workers of America Founded, 1/25/1890

From's "This Day in History":

January 25, 1890

On this day, a fleet of workers whose jobs were spread throughout the massive coal industry banded together to form the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The UMWA rapidly became one of America's most potent, and at times most troubled, labor organizations. In its earliest incarnation, the coal union was a close affiliate of Samuel Gompers's America Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.). The partnership not only helped legitimize the UMWA, but also shaped its politics, as Gompers's A.F. of L. placed its conservative stamp on the new coal union. However, by 1935, UMWA chief John L. Lewis had grown disenchanted with the A.F. of L. and in the same year, Lewis and the UMWA joined forces with seven other unions to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The partnership didn't last long, at least for the coal workers: in 1942, the UMWA pulled up its stakes and withdrew from the CIO. On its own, the UMWA often fell prey to the anti-union tendencies of the federal government: in 1946 and 1948, Lewis and his union were found guilty of criminal contempt for failing to avert coal strikes. The ...more...