Ohio History Journal

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The Movement for Coal Mine Safety

in Nineteenth-Century Ohio



In the nineteenth century Ohioans, as other Americans, faced a host

of new situations arising from the industrial revolution. As the level of

industrial production increased, unique forms of occupational

organization emerged which often confronted workers or the public with

unaccustomed hazards, creating demands that government begin

regulating the affairs of private industry. By the 1860s state government

began addressing the special dangers in the railroad and coal mining

businesses, two industries which were essential in the burgeoning

economy. The growth of coal mining brought peculiar dangers new to

miners in America.

During the winter of 1869-1870 miners began agitating for state

enactment and enforcement of mining regulations. Their initiatives

questioned prevailing ideologies concerning the proper relationship

between the government and the governed. The legislature in 1871

designated a Mining Commission to investigate the working condi-

tions of the state's mines, and enacted a statute in 1872 defining

health and safety standards in the growing industry. In 1874 it

provided the first bureaucratic and professional means of enforcing

the mining code by creating the post of State Inspector of Mines. In

1882 it designed a means of insuring that the Inspector and his

assistants were qualified persons, and subsequently in the decade,

along with the Board of Trustees of what was to become The Ohio

State University, funded an active Department of Mines to provide

the educational basis for achieving mine safety. Behind this

century-old legislative outline lay a controversy which revealed the

origins of government "welfare" policies, the beginnings of a struggle

which lasted at least through the 1930s to have the state and federal

government assume responsibility for improving the conditions of

work in the industrial age.

The story of the beginnings of coal mine health and safety


Dr. Kerr, Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University, received

research assistance for this article from Susan Busey, Michael J. Fitsko, Gerald Huss,

Michael R. McCormick, and Daniel Schneider.