A few months ago, we highlighted Mother Jones at Mount Olive collection. That look at coal mining was just a crack into the history of coal in Illinois.
Coal mines and mining, since the 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster, have been progressively more regulated. Regulation, often brought forth from union organizing, has decreased the number of deaths while increasing the standard of living for miners and their families. The history of mining and miners’ unionization and regulation are intimately tied to the labor and workers’ rights movements. But what are the other lenses with which to look at mining, miners, and mining safety with? Or how can we open the borders of Illinois history and discover its connections across the region, to create a deeper history of mining communities and miners lives? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection at the Madison Historical from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville may be a good place to start.
In 1911, the first Mine Rescue and First Aid Contest was held in Pittsburgh. Four Mine Rescue Teams from around the nation competed. Eight years later, again in Pittsburgh, 24 mine rescue teams and 83 first aid teams competed against one another in a series of tests and emergency situations, judged, and scored as first responders. Coal mining rescue was already developing its own scientific discourse, with manuals and books such as “Mine Fires: A Preliminary Study” and “Outline of Mine Rescue Maneuvers”, published by the United States Bureau of Mines as early as 1912. In 1910, the Illinois Mine Rescue Station Commission was at work establishing three permanent mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, and LaSalle, meanwhile testing U.S.-made “oxygen helmets” which were new in the Americas but were already being used and manufactured in Europe. Standards for mine rescue were published by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1920 that describes different procedures for entering mines, for evaluating conditions, and for testing rescue tools including their portable oxygen breathing apparatuses.
In 1930, a mine rescue team from Glen Carbon, Illinois traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to compete in the Nation Mine Rescue Competition, and did quite well, collecting accolades in mine rescue and first aid –including winning the Highest Honor in the Combination-Mine Rescue and First Aid category.
Glen Carbon was developed by the Madison Coal Company with the intention of turning it into a company town similar to Pullman or Granite City. Madison Coal operated four mines that remained resilient at the outbreak of the Great Depression, but struggled and gradually closed their mines as the Depression progressed. In 1932, as the demand for coal shrank to what it was at its peak– a mere 320 tons, as compared to 680 in 1918 –Mine #2, Glen Carbon’s most productive mine was closed. Perhaps because of the depression, 1930 was the last year of Coal Miners Rescue and First Aid Competition until it resumed a decade later.
These images of the Glen Carbon Mine Rescue and First Aid teams, especially in their rescue uniforms, depict a change in mining that was fueled by advances made in rescue technology– particularly the “breathing apparatus”. The safety and safety training publications by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, created guidelines for miners and mining rescue that established a baseline notion of safety and rescue procedures relying heavily on the use of portable oxygen even before the breathing masks were widely used in the United States.
Here the champions are in their day clothes:
The IDHH has an abundance of images of mining and mining communities in Illinois, spanning the late 19th century to the 1980’s. The number of materials on mining in Illinois also shows a broad range of issues that surrounded mining including the fight for the power of the union, and other advances in mining. For more on mining from Glen Carbon and Madison Historical visit the IDHH, and to see the entire Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection visit Madison Historical’s website.