In West Virginia, coal mining has a long and complex history.
The first reported discovery of coal occurred in 1742, more than a century before West Virginia became a state. The fossil fuel resource, present in all but two of West Virginia's 55 counties, began to thrive as a commercial industry in the late 19th century, when the completion of major railroads made the transport and marketing of coal more feasible. The uses for coal ranged from heating homes to fueling salt furnaces and steamboats.
Industry growth created jobs, which were often filled by laborers from Wales, Scotland, England and Southern Europe. Immigrants endured long work hours, low pay, poor housing, negligible medical care, and dangerous conditions.
Obtaining bituminous coal (sometimes called soft coal, the type that is so plentiful in the state) was grueling work and often put miners at great risk to potentially lethal gas exposure known as damps - from Dampf, the German word for vapor. Firedamp refers ...