Sample History Essay Paper on Coal Mining in the United States

Effect on Immigration

The American coal industry is one of the sectors that laid a strong foundation for the country’s industrialization process. Coal provided a cheap source of energy and was used for different power machines such as steam engines and furnaces across the nation. Due to the increased trading from both domestic and international quotas, the United States experienced strong and stable economic growth throughout the 19th and the 20th centuries (University at Albany n.p). Coal also resulted in the rise in technological innovation, especially in the mining, transport, and consumer sectors. Notably, the constant growth in the country slowly increased the demand for a rare resources and additional workforce in the mines.

The American coal industry in late 19th and early 20th centuries depended on immigrant workers. These individuals provided cheap labor for the mining companies thus increasing their revenue and providing room for growth. Most of them entered the United States through different means including being lured by labor agents and following their relatives or friends into the mining camps (University of Kentucky n.p). Considerably, most of them originated from coal mining regions across Europe including Ireland, Great Britain, and Wales. Considering the effective working conditions and availability of land in the U.S., most of these laborers opted to stay rather than to return to their native land (Immigration to the United States n.p). As the demand for the mineral increased in the country, the call for more miners grew and companies provided incentives such as better pay and desirable working conditions as incentives. They settled in mining centers such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Boston.

Coal Industry and the Growth of Labor Unions

The demand for coal in the United States resulted to the development of different infrastructure including railroads and bridges. Large coal mining institutions merged to increase their control in the market and in turn forcing the small ones out of business. During this period, the companies concentrated on their financial returns and applied any strategy that could help in reducing labor expenses and overall cost of production (Gershon n.p). That meant setting workers’ wages as low as possible, paying with scrip and short weighing. These strategies led to the workers organizing strikes on different occasions to demand for higher pay and limit efforts of pay cuts. These protests were also the changing working conditions and the need to have their rights looked into by the management.

Later in 1830, miners’ labor unions were formed with only 30% registering as members, and the number grew to 60% of their total population by 1865 (Fishback 1012). The national federation of miners’ constitution was later written in 1885 and documented the rights of all its members across the country. The increased activities of the unions prompted workers to push for better working conditions, higher pay and enactment of legislation that protected their rights. Later in 1890, the united mine workers, which was one of the major unions, merged with smaller ones such as the coal miners’ union. As such, the coal industry played a significant role in bringing workers together and fighting for their position in the corporate world (Fishback 1012). Considering their large number, these groupings had a significant impact on the industry and used their power to advocate for changes that may favor their members.

Company Stores and the Roles of John Lewis

Company stores were the devices used by coal producing companies to exploit their labor force. Since most employers owned houses in mining towns plus the stores, they exercised a monopoly of power in the production of both goods and services. For instance, if a miner worked for the entire month, the company would not pay him/her in the U.S. but by coal scrip in paper or metal form that was usually printed by the same firm. Since specific companies printed these materials, they were the only ones that could honor them and allow miners to purchase commodities such as tools, clothing, and food from their respective company store.

John L. Lewis was one of the few Americans that devoted their lives in fighting for the rights of workers in the late 19th century. He was at one time the president of UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) and helped in fighting for better wages, health care and working conditions for miners. He was dedicated to improving the lives of coal miners and even took extreme actions to prove his point (Alinsky n.p). For instance, in 1943 he led a strike that lasted for almost one month that paralyzed other industries such as steel production and education as schools had to close down. Under his leadership, the government of the United States built several hospitals and clinics in coal mining regions to aid in providing healthcare services to miners. His call of strikes among member of the union did not translate to political power as he only controlled a section of society and was not varying for any political office. The only performed his duties as the chairman to ensure that union members well appropriately treated by their employers.

Effects of Coal Mining on Residents

The exploitation and extraction of coal in the United States laid the foundation for industrial revolution in the country with towns such as San Francisco being among the first ones to benefit from its mining. However, the mining regions have over the years experienced both positive and negative impacts brought about by the activity. In the short run, coal mining opened up these regions for investment and trading. Centers such as New York and Detroit were among the first to have railroads that not only enabled the transportation of coal but also enabled easy movement of human beings (Salamanca et al. 524) Residents also benefited from the availability of proper healthcare, quality education for their children and the availability of job opportunities.

In the long run, coal mining regions face a lot of challenges particularly in environmental conservation and the agricultural sector. Although areas such as Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Boston were the first ones to experience industrialization, the mining led to the destruction of most of their productive land thus paralyzing crop production. It thus limited other economic activities as the residents depended entirely on coal mining. For instance, citizens of Appalachia in Kentucky are struggling to find alternative methods of income after the government closed coal mines in the area (Woods n.p).

Technology Change and Coal Mining Industry Practices

Technological change over the years helped in bringing change in the society and increasing the rate of production in different sectors. Although it has increased effectiveness in the coal mining process, it has led to the development of alternative energy production methods such as wind, water and solar. These methods are widely used in supporting industrial productions and reducing environmental pollution. Moreover, it has led to the introduction of better machines that are more efficient and lower labor costs. As such, they fasten the production process and increase mining companies’ revenues.  

Works Cited

Alinsky, Saul. John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography. Pickle Partners Publishing, 2017.

Fishback, Price V. “Did coal miners “owe their souls to the company store”? Theory and evidence from the early 1900s.” The journal of economic history 46.4 (1986): 1011-1029.

Gershon, Livia. “The Rise and Fall of Coal Miners’ Unions.” JSTOR, 2015,

Immigration to the United States. “Coal Industry.” Immigration to the United States, 2018,

Salamanca, J. M., et al. “Modernisation of the underground coal mining sector in Colombia–a proposal from the academy.” (2017): 523-534

University at Albany. “A Short History of American Labor.” Stable Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (SIRMS) Laboratory – University at Albany-SUNY, 2015,

University of Kentucky. “Immigrants in the Coalfields.” University of Kentucky Libraries, 18 Mar. 2014,

Woods, Bob. “One Kentucky Town Has Become an Emblem of the War on Coal, and Appalachia’s Decline.” CNBC, CNBC, 4 Apr. 2018,