Men and Dust

In a previous post, we covered Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ visit to Joplin in 1940. The reason for Perkins’ visit was to participate in the Tri-State Silicosis Conference, a gathering of industry and labor leaders to investigate and highlight the danger of silicosis. At the conclusion of the conference, a brief documentary film simply titled Men and Dust was shown in the Connor Hotel. The film was produced by the noted Great Depression era photographer Sheldon Dick. Only sixteen minutes long, the film focused on the the danger posed by silicosis generated by the dust created by lead and zinc mining. Dick’s film is surprisingly experimental with a unsettling score and a dramatic narration that has a jarring effect on the viewer.  It is an important piece of Joplin’s history because of its haunting advocacy for the welfare of the region’s miners and their families and its stark images of  the men who worked the Tri-State Mining District during the Depression era.

We encourage everyone to view it who has a chance.

The Missouri Mule

By 1911, the Missouri Mule was uniquely identified with mining as much as a miner, as seen in this illustration from a Joplin paper.

 

One of the most valuable sources of labor in the early days of the Tri-State Mining District was provided by mules. University of Missouri Professor Dr. Melvin Bradley partnered with the Missouri Mule Skinners Society to produce the Missouri Mule History Project. The project itself was a multi-volume collection of transcribed oral histories regarding the history of Missouri mules. Bradley sought individuals who had experience raising, selling, trading, and working with Missouri mules. One of the individuals he found was Lee Dagley, a native of Joplin, Missouri. The interview is illuminating for several reasons. First, it provides a look at how mules were used in the Tri-State Mining District, but it also allows one to understand life in early Joplin as seen through the eyes of one who lived it.

Lee Dagley was born in Joplin on July 23, 1888, in a small house on what is now today 1817 Michigan Avenue. He was one of thirteen children. Dagley’s parents came to Joplin in the early 1870s and soon found that the “best thing they had was a pick and a shovel and a wheel barrow.”  His father bought an acre of land near Sixth and Pearl where the First Presbyterian Church stands. But Dagley’s mother protested and they moved near a large spring on what is today Campbell Boulevard. Growing up, Dagley recalled that Joplin was “all prairie…I herded cattle all over this country.”

According to Dagley, folks in Joplin did not eat much beef when he was growing up. He said, “There’d always be some man in the neighborhood that’d kill a beef and he’d take it around and we’d have beef for a little while. But pork was the main thing.” The family owned one milk cow which provided their milk. Dagley said he pretty much existed on “good milk and bread and butter.” To supplement their income, his family raised and sold chickens and turkeys. Turkeys brought fifteen cents. One turkey that they kept grew to weigh 65 pounds. It was so big and aggressive that Dagley would have to carry a stick to fend it off because of its propensity to attack anyone who came in through their front gate.

At first his father did not know how to mine, but quickly learned, and gained a reputation as “one of the best miners in the country.” But his father was not successful at mining. Still, Dagley recalled that in the early days of mining, miners could only dig 16-18 feet down into the ground before they hit limestone, and water would flood the shaft. Dagley’s father created a sluice trough that washed the lead ore that miners dug out of shallow mines. After washing the ore, someone would pick up the ore and deliver it to the smelter at Granby. Dagley’s father charged miners by the piece and usually made $1 a day. To make additional money, Dagley’s father rented out horses and worked as a “powder monkey.”

Dagley attended school, but quit when he was a sophomore because his father was ill. Dagley took a job at Junge’s Bakery for $3 a week and later $6 a week. He later worked a brickyard, but when the Thomas Mine Royalty Company came to town and offered $1.50 per day to drive a wagon, Dagley left the bakery and began driving a team.

Mining methods in the Tri-State region slowly advanced. Mules would pull cars full of lead ore on the surface, but they also worked below ground. Mules were lowered into the mines, sometimes in a sitting position. According to Dagley, the mines did not use big mules: “They were not big mules. They used small mules. The biggest one would probably weigh 900 lbs.” One particular mule barn that he remembered was “about 60 feet wide and 200 feet long.” The mine operators put “hundreds of tons of hay” in the barn. Dagley boasted, “Oh, this whole country out here was prairie hay, and the best prairie hay that ever was.”

At work, a muleskinner sat “on the front of the car and drive the mule. They’d pull ‘em in and they had a track down there…up towards the mill.”

After the turn of the century, however, mines became less reliant on mules. Mines began using steam engines and motors. Mules were relegated to surface work, mainly pulling cars full of ore. The heyday of the mule in the mines of the Tri-State Mining District was over. Mechanization and advancements in mining methods had made them obsolete, but to the men who worked with them in the mines, there would always be fond memories.

* It is worth noting that although this fact was not mentioned in the oral history, Lee Dagley, according to contemporary press reports, was one of the few white men in 1903 who attempted to save Thomas Gilyard’s life from a lynch mob in Joplin.

“Young Men Are Dying” – Frances Perkins’ visit to Joplin

Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor

On April 23, 1940, a crowd of two hundred people stood on the train platform at Joplin’s Frisco Depot, awaiting the arrival of an important visitor to the city.  Many of them would have identified themselves as union representatives, but their visitor was not famed labor leader John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers. Instead, when passengers began to disembark from the train, the individual who captured the crowd’s attention was a woman, often described by her contemporaries as “plain,” perhaps even ordinary looking. Plain and ordinary she was not. Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor, was the first woman appointed to a position in the U.S. Cabinet. In response to the epidemic of “miner’s lung” in the Tri-State Mining District, Perkins convened a conference known as the Tri -State Silicosis Conference to allow concerned citizens, representatives from mining companies, government officials, and union representatives to discuss the issue.

Among those waiting at the platform to greet Perkins were Evan Just, secretary of the Tri-State Zinc and Lead Ore Producers Association; Frank Evans, president of the association; and the Reverend Cliff Titus, representing the Joplin Chamber of Commerce. Perkins then headed to the Connor Hotel where she stayed during the duration of the conference. She held a five minute press conference in which she stated that the purpose of her visit “is because you have silicosis there, and the labor department is concerned in preventing and correcting conditions due to silicosis.” After the press conference concluded, Secretary Perkins then headed outside to board a specially chartered bus. Together she and thirty other individuals representing various interests toured the mining district. Traveling out of Joplin on Route 66, she sat at the front of the bus with Tony McTeer, the district CIO president, and Evan Just. While driving past squalid miner’s shanties, Secretary Perkins remarked that something needed to be done to help those living in such dire circumstances.

Secretary Perkins in a Joplin Missouri

The first stop was at the St. Louis Refining and Smelting Company’s Ballard Mine near Baxter Springs, Kansas. Secretary Perkins donned a “miner’s metal hat, raincoat, and overshoes” before she descended 350 feet into the mine where she then watched demonstrations of different mining methods. She was reportedly very interested in the “methods used by miners in drilling and in a dust control demonstration” given by Fred Netzeband, air hygiene engineer of the Tri-State Zinc and Lead Ore Producers Association. Secretary Perkins was later quoted by an observer as saying, “The world should know the true picture of methods being used in controlling and eliminating dust in the mines.”

Secretary Perkins meets a Joplin Miner

After the demonstration, she then met with several of the miners, shook their hands, and listened to their views of the different methods used to control dust. Perkins was accompanied twenty other interested individuals, including Episcopal Bishop William Scarlett of St. Louis; the Reverend Charles Wilson of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis; and Miss Elizabeth Wade White of New York. All three were members of the Tri-State Survey Committee. It was perhaps the one and only time that a bishop of any religious denomination toured one of the Tri-State District’s mines.

Secretary Perkins then visited Treece, Kansas, and Hockerville and Picher, Oklahoma to view housing conditions. In Treece, she visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Hannon. Hannon and two other former miners told Perkins that they suffering from silicosis and were unable to receive treatment. Hannon’s wife and four children also reportedly suffered from silicosis.  She then met with six women, described as the widows of miners, who stated that they and their children were plagued by silicosis. Secretary Perkins’ bus did not stop in Hockerville and Picher, but she was reportedly able to view “slum conditions” in all three towns from her bus seat. She then returned to the Connor Hotel and prepared for the conference which began at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The conference itself was held on the roof of the Connor.

Secretary Perkins prepared to descend into the mine.

The conference revealed a variety of attitudes. After making her opening remarks, Secretary Perkins was followed by the Reverend Cliff Titus. Titus, appearing as a “representative of the public,” declared that workers in the Tri-State Mining District were all white, not foreigners; and that “they are independent and prefer to choose their own methods of living.” He then continued “Many of our people prefer to live near chat piles because they want to spend their money on other things” like cars.  But Titus acknowledged that “people of the district are willing and anxious to bring about better living conditions in the mine sections and will co-operate with state and federal agencies.”

Evan Just, secretary of the Tri-State Zinc and Lead Ore Producers Association, spoke on behalf of a majority of mine operators. He declared that operators had made great strides in reducing silicosis over the last several years. Just cited statistics that allegedly showed that incidences of silicosis in miners had been reduced from 60 percent in 1913 to 22 percent in 1929. Further progress, he claimed, had been in the years since. What Just failed to mention, however, is that this only applied to the large mining companies who could afford modern mining equipment, and not the smaller independent operators who could not. Just, however, denied that individuals could contract silicosis from surface dust.

Miner shacks from the turn of the century - the condition of miners' homes continued to be poor decades later.

He then addressed living conditions in the Tri-State Mining District by stating that slum conditions were the result of social problems. “That many people who can afford better homes prefer to live in small, unpainted two and three-room shacks and spend their surplus funds on automobiles and radios cannot be charged against the mining industry,” Just maintained, although he claimed the mining industry did want to eliminate squalid living conditions. He was followed by representatives from federal and state public health, relief, and labor agencies. Even former Joplin resident Mrs. Emily Newell Blair, the noted political activist, was in attendance. Notably, former miner and the district CIO president, Tony McTeer, spoke in the interests of miners. He said, in part:

“Madam Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, conferences as such are not new to you, and to many people it is the usual approach to a problem, to sit down with all interested parties and discuss what is wrong in order to agree on a remedy. I can frankly tell you that a conference of this sort is new and different to the working people of the Tri-State area…

Some people believe that because the miners have not made a lot of noise about their troubles, because of the ignorance of themselves and others, that the workers have no troubles. That is not correct.
I am proud of our miners here. They know they have troubles aplenty, and what they are, but they also know false hopes when they see them. They have been fooled too often, so that now they don’t let themselves in for another deception.

However, they also know a good beginning when they see it. And this conference was received by the people of the Tri-State with great hope and anticipation of beneficial results…

We appreciate your coming this long distance, knowing that you would be convinced that here lies a serious problem.
Young men are dying. Ailing mothers and sick little children arouse in you the interest you have shown by being here today. Our district has the greatest percentage of widowhood in the United States; a sad commentary. These are the things that must be stopped for the future welfare of all the citizens who live here.

The problem as we see it is threefold. First, dust control; second, proper hospital facilities; third, adequate housing.

To reduce the high death rate among the miners requires better dust control and better working conditions in the mines. Stopping silicosis is one step in the direction of curbing the infection of tuberculosis. Mines today go in for more mechanical equipment, as we are living in a world of progress. I haven’t myself worked in a mine for the last five years, but the mining conditions and the health of the miners are my business. Our people working in the mines today give many exact reports of what does on in the mines.

It is said that wet drilling has solved the problem of dust control.

There have been two general fields of mining in this district. First, what we term the old country, which is the Joplin, Webb City area. Second, the Oklahoma and Kansas mining district. In the Joplin district the drilling was done with the piston machine or dry drills. The water liner drilling machine was introduced into Oklahoma and Kansas fields in 1916 or 1917, and from around that period it has been used exclusively. I wish to speak from my own experiences on this. I have never worked in mines except where water-lined drills were used, and I have silicosis, or dust on my lungs. We can produce the names of hundreds of men who have never worked except under wet drilling conditions, and we have buried a great many of them. I have prepared a list of some of those men who I know have died. I am turning it, with my statement, over to the chairman of this meeting.

Since wet drilling alone does not solve the problem, the problem still is dust control. We must get at the root of the problem…”

At the end of the conference, the Tri-State Survey Committee of New York sponsored a showing of “Men and Dust,” a short documentary film by noted photographer Sheldon Dick. Dick had journeyed to the Tri-State Mining District to illustrate the impact of silicosis on the lives of area miners and their families. It was Dick who famously dubbed Treece, Kansas’s Main Street as the “street of walking death.” An estimated one hundred people stayed to watch the film in the Connor Hotel’s Empire Room. Evan Just decried the sixteen and a half minute film as a “smear campaign” against the mining district and the companies that operated there.

After twelve hours, Secretary Perkins was scheduled to leave Joplin to return east. She announced that she would “appoint in the near future a committee of representatives of the three states to explore the possibilities of perfecting a ‘state compact agreement’ for coordinating the work of concerned authorities and agencies.”

Before leaving, she spoke to a crowd of 700 to 800 people at an open labor meeting sponsored by the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers and the American Federation of Labor. Her speech focused on the need to improve housing and living conditions in the mining district. After concluding her remarks, Secretary Perkins then left to catch her train.

As David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz point out in their book, Deadly Dust, the issue of silicosis faded away because of the lack of a strong labor movement to press for better working and living conditions, and the subsequent collapse of the mining industry in the Tri-State region. After the death of FDR, subsequent administrations had little concern for miner’s lung. But for a brief period of time, Joplin and the rest of mining district captured the attention of the nation

Sources:Joplin Globe Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the On-Going Struggle to Protect Workers’ Health by David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz “What You Really Want Is an Autopsy”: Frances Perkins and the U. S. Government Conference in Joplin, Missouri, 1940 http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/128/

The Curious Fate of Harry Roach

Miners of the Tri-State Mining District

Harry Roach was a young Hoosier who traveled to the Tri-State Mining District to seek his fortune. He found employment with the superintendent of the Troup Mining Company located outside of Carterville. In 1892 Troup, along with two other men, were in the company’s Daisy Mine when the roof collapsed on top of them. The three men were beyond rescue and Harry Roach’s dreams died with him.

 

Three years later, the mine experienced a cave-in, and the remains of Harry Roach were discovered. Miners removed the remains and recovered $3.50 in silver from his clothing. A month later, miners working a drift in the Daisy Mine found several more of Roach’s belongings buried in the rubble. Among the items that were found were a gold pocket watch “in splendid condition” stopped at 2:20; a pocketbook with $45 and some still legible newspaper clippings in good condition; and part of a vest and a shirt. At the time Roach was killed, he was reportedly wearing a “very costly diamond ring” which was not located, as only part of his skeleton had thus been recovered. It was not until another month had passed that miners came across the bones of a foot in a “congress shoe,” a piece of collar bone, a shoulder blade, and two ribs.

Thus was the fate of Harry Roach.

The Hard and Deadly World of Joplin Mining

For 30 days in 1914, Dr. Anthony J. Lanza, an assistant surgeon of the United States Public Health Service, joined Edwin Higgins, a mining engineer from the Bureau of Mines, in a special investigation into the pulmonary problems of miners in the West visited the lead and zinc mines of Joplin and the surrounding area, spoke with miners, mine owners, and the widows of miners. They studied the mines, the process of mining, and the sanitation practices both above and below ground. Their goal was to understand why miners were seemingly dying in the prime of life from what appeared to be tuberculosis or something very similar to it.

Shovelers filling a cart instead of the usual bucket.

The “miner’s consumption” appeared at a frightfully high percentage of the miner population. In figures provided by Lanza, the doctor noted that of the 1,215 deaths in the general population of Jasper County in 1911, 180 of them were from tuberculosis. This meant over 14% of those who died did so from the pulmonary disease. In the next two years, the percentage grew to 15%. From 1911 through 1913, Jasper County lead the state in tuberculosis deaths.

An organization established to track the disease amongst miners, the Jasper County Antituberculosis Society, offered even grimmer statistics. In 1912, 720 miners died of a pulmonary disease who had worked two or more years in the mines. Some of these deaths occurred outside of Jasper County, as miners had moved elsewhere in the vain hope of better health conditions. Mine operators, whom Lanza spoke with, estimated anywhere from 50 to 60% of their men suffered from some kind of lung trouble. One operator offered the frightful story that over a four year period he had employed 750 men in the mine. Of that number, only 50 remained alive and of the 700 who had perished, only a dozen had died from something other than a pulmonary disease.

Freshly blasted ore waits to be shoveled into a nearby waiting bucket.

Lanza opted to physically examine volunteers in Webb City and Carterville with 99 miners stepping forwarded for the free health exam. Of the 99, 64 suffered from obvious symptoms of pulmonary disease. Of that 64, 42 continued to work below in the mines. Lanza believed that the best way to understand why the miners of Jasper County suffered such high rates of pulmonary disease, he would need to understand the basic aspects of lead and zinc mining in the district. As a result, his report includes a detailed summary of how the valuable ore was mined.

In 1913, approximately 5,988 men were employed in the mining industry in Jasper County, and of that number, 4,242 were miners. They mined 226,738 tons of ore of a value of 9.75 million dollars. With regard to the geology of mining, the ore was generally found in two locations. In sheet ground deposits, on average 180 feet beneath the surface and in irregular pockets, mostly in limestone, which were found at usually shallow depths (such as the discovery of ore during the construction of the Joplin Union Depot). In Lanza’s study, the doctor focused on the former.

A typical mine began with the sinking of a shaft to the depth of the ore. Once it was established, the mine eventually resembled one giant chamber composed of multiple support pillars within a fan shaped area. The pillars were essentially ore that wasn’t mined, ten to twenty feet wide, and left at intervals from twenty to a hundred feet. The space between the pillars was dictated by the quality and composition of the surrounding stone and ceiling. Lanza commented that at the time of the study, the average practice was from forty to sixty feet apart. As mining itself took place in drifts, and the drifts ultimately became interconnected, and it was the support pillars which offered a means to identify one drift from another.

On top, an overhead perspective of a mine. On the bottom, a demonstration of the depth of a mine.

The area actually mined was essentially the wall of the drift which was referred to as the face. Miners either worked the face vertically, keeping the face uniform from the ceiling to the floor, or if the size of the ore deposit was large enough, used a “heading and bench” technique. This practice involved mining deeper into the face for several feet down from the ceiling and then letting a “bench” or “shelf” to be created below it where the mining allowed more of the face to extend outward.

Diagram of Heading and Bench approach to mining the face of the mine.

The mining itself was accomplished by drilling into the face, inserting dynamite into the drill holes, blasting the face, and then shoveling the ore freed from the wall into a bucket to be sent up to the surface. Drilling was almost always accomplished through the use of an air powered piston drill operated by two men, a driller and a helper. When drilling into a regular face, the drilled holes were on average eight to ten feet in depth and the drill was set on a pedestal. When drilling into the heading the drill was usually set on a tripod. The drilled holes were six to eight feet in depth, and when drilling into the “bench” part of the face, could be up to eighteen feet in length.

The process of loading the drill holes with dynamite was known as “squibbing.” Anywhere from 1 to 75 sticks of dynamite were used to “squib” the holes and the actual blasting (also referred to as squibbing) usually occurred at lunch time, while the miners went off to enjoy their meals. However, squibbing  could happen at any time, even with miners still in the mine (though at a safe distance from the blast). A minor form of squibbing occurred when drills became slowed or stuck due to debris clogging the drill in the hole and small amounts of dynamite were set off to clear the hole. Sometimes further blasting was also necessary when boulders were produced by the blasting process, too big to be smashed by sledge hammer. Blowing up a boulder was referred to as “boulder popping.”

Three miners pose by a drill.

Once the ore was reduced to blasted rubble, the men moved in with shovels and loaded buckets, commonly called “cans.” Each can held between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of “dirt.” Once loaded, the miners pushed the heavy bucket to a switch known as a “lay by” where it was then placed in a truck (not the automobile kind) and moved by mules or miners to the shaft. At the bottom of the shaft awaited the “tub hooker” who hooked the loaded buckets to the bottom of a steel rope (often ½ to 5/8ths in width). On the other end of the rope was a geared hoist powered either by electricity or steam. The operator’s seat was positioned so he could look directly down the shaft below. Carefully the bucket was raised to the top of the shaft, dumped, and then lowered back down without every leaving the rope it was attached to, ready to be put back into service.

Lanza, after addressing the process of lead and zinc mining, turned his attention to conditions in the mines. He discovered that mines with two or more shafts generally had good ventilation. The larger the mine, the better the air, and Lanza commented that at least in the Webb City and Carterville area, due to interconnected mines, men could walk for several miles without ascending to the surface. Interestingly, the doctor also noted that the mines used very little in the way of timber, which in other mines was often a source of carbon dioxide.

On average, the temperature in the mine at the working face ranged from 58 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Though, these temperatures were gathered at a time Lanza said was seasonally “ideal” and he believed the temperatures would be more severe in hotter months.

Water was a constant source of irritation for miners and in varying degrees. In some mines, pumps were required only to remove a few gallons. In others, as much as 1,500 gallons a minute had to be pumped out of the mine. The water contributed to high levels of humidity, but unfortunately as discovered, did little to reduce the amount of dust the process of mining produced and tossed into the air to be inhaled by the miners.

The dust came from many sources, drilling, blasting, popping boulders, and even a process of clearing drill hose by blowing out dust with powerful blasts of air. Nor did the dust immediately settle once disturbed, but had a tendency to fill every part of the mine and simply remain suspended in the air for a considerable amount of time. Enough dust was created by shoveling the ore, unless the ore was wet and Lanza commented that shovelers sometimes preferred to shovel in pools of water when available. However, this was done because the water loosened the dirt up, not as a precautionary measure against the airborne menace.

The dust collecting apparatus.

In order to measure the amount of dust particles in the mines, Lanza introduced a dust gathering apparatus worn over the mouth. The device collected dust by intercepting it as it was inhaled through a glass bulb and then the exhaled air was collected in a special bag. The method to devise the amount of dust per breath was performed by measuring the amount of captured dust in the bulb against the amount of air breathed (exhaled) into the bag.

It was discovered that the dust in the Joplin district was much lighter than that found in mining locations around the world, including England and South Africa. This meant that the dust was more likely to linger in the air longer than in other places. The dust particles were also made up of flinty chert, which had splintery and knife-like edges perfect for destroying lungs. These attributes then combined with a mining practice which exacerbated the impact of these qualities. The mining was done in large open chambers, versus more confined spaces. This allowed for a greater dispersal of the dust.

Lanza made a number of recommendations to reduce the amount of dust in the air. First, implement drills that used water to wet down the face at the same time as drilling. If that type of drill was not available, then at least the provision of a hose to water down the face of the mine. Second, stop squibbing (blasting) and popping boulders while miners are still in the mines. Third, improve ventilation with new shafts.

Miners stand by two filled buckets and are surrounded by boulders likely to be "popped" in the near future.

The doctor’s study was not restricted to just dust, but to other contributing factors to high rates of pulmonary disease. Among them, sanitary conditions in the mines, or as Lanza discovered, the lack thereof. On average, most mines employed between 25 to 30 men, and while privies were established on the surface, there were none in the mines. Despite a rule against “ground pollution,” Lanza noted that there was “much evidence of this abuse.” In conclusion, he reported that “wretchedly insanitary privies are only too common everywhere in the district.”

Drinking water was also a concern. In some mines, a keg of water with a common drinking cup were found. In others, simple upturned spigots were provided. What both had in common, to the investigator’s dismay, was the ease by which germs could be spread mouth to mouth by thirsty miners. In small mines, Lanza believed the best solution was for every miner to bring his own water down for consumption.

Above ground, an innocuous problem existed. The failure of miners to use change houses, places where they could change out of the clothes from the mines into a set of clothes clean of the ever present dust. Instead, the miners often preferred to go from the mine straight to town. Another issue involved men coming out of the mine with wet clothes from the moist conditions, and then heading off in cold weather. Eager as the miners were to be done with their underground work, Lanza discovered many took lunches (dinner) for only 20 minutes, eating quickly and returning back to work so as to leave sooner in the evening. This short lunch deprived the men of the needed physical rest and made them more vulnerable to sickness and other physical ailments.

Beyond the working conditions and practices, Lanza focused on the system itself in how miners were paid and worked. Shovelers, he found, were paid by the “piece.” This meant for every can (bucket) of ore they filled, they were paid between five and eight cents. Every bucket’s capacity, in turn, averaged around 1,000 to 1,650 pounds. Experienced shovelers made between 3 to 5 dollars a day. By the application of quick math, this means that on a daily basis, shovelers moved at the least 60,000 lbs of ore/dirt a day to at least a staggering 93,750 lbs a day. Many of the shovelers were young men, who began around the age of 18 or 19, and initially could fill between 60 to 70 cans a day. Some claimed that there were miners who even filled over a 100 cans, which meant over 100,000 lbs. It was back breaking hard work and of the kind that gradually broke the men physically. Within two to six years, the shovelers’ output declined and their daily capacity was reduced to around 35 to 40 cans.

Young men often were shovelers, enjoying a job that paid well but demanded backbreaking and dehabilitating work.

Lanza included a grim timeline of the decline and death of a shoveler in the mines, here quoted in its tragic entirety:

“After a few years of shoveling, the shoveler finds himself beginning to get short-winded and his strength failing. When he comes to the point where he feels exhausted at the end of his day’s work and feels “groggy” when he starts in the morning, he begins to rely on alcoholic stimulation to see him through, and if it has not already done so, alcohol now begins to lend a hand in furthering physical breakdown. The next step in the process is tuberculosis infection, and when the shoveler finds that he is no longer able to make a living shoveling, he gets work as a machine man or machine helper. He finally becomes unable to work, and as these men usually work as long as they possibly can, death follows not long after cessation of work, most often when the man should be in the prime of life. Usually a fair-sized family is left behind and is apt to need charitable assistance”

Lanza concluded, “Although this sequence of events has not occurred in every case of fatal illness among miners, it is fairly typical of a great many.” His only solution was to prevent young men from being employed as shovelers in hope that the few years prior to engaging in the practice might mean more years later to live.

Lastly, Lanza directed his attention toward the homes of miners above ground. There he found that many families dwelled in two to three room “shacks,” often without water and only as clean as the circumstances allowed. Commonly, the shacks were rented, though for a low price, within the area near the mines. They were “of the type most readily associated with poverty and disease.” Drinking water came either through barrels supplied and drawn from deep nearby wells, or if the homes were within the city limits, then provided by the city through piping. Lanza lamented what he perceived to be  spendthrift habits amongst the miners, and stated he believed most were all too ready to spend the money they earned, rather than save for the future. The result, when pulmonary disease struck and the men became unable to work, or work as well, the families quickly became destitute.

His investigation of the Joplin mining district over, Lanza summarized what was discovered. The death rate from pulmonary disease was unusually high for the district. Alcoholism, use of common drinking receptacles, poor housing, exposure and over work, helped to spread infection and lower resistance. The number one reason for the high rate, Lanza believed, was the impact of the dust, which miners were exposed to nearly every minute of their shifts, and the composition of the dust as sharp and knife-like.

Miners stand by multiple empty buckets, possibly the lay by area. Note the hooks on the buckets for hoisting to the surface.

The doctor believed that the problem the dust posed could be eradicated almost completely by the use of water in the drilling process, improving ventilation, and making sure miners were not in the mine when blasting or squibbing was performed. Health problems could also be further alleviated by not employing men under the age of 20, by providing drinking sources which weren’t communal, a limit on the daily tonnage shoveled by miners, education to miners and their families on better health practices, and providing warm, dry places for miners to change after their shifts.

Lanza’s study of the Joplin mining district was part of a growing concern in occupational safety, be it in factories in the great northern cities, or in the mines of Southwest Missouri. At this time, we can’t speak to the immediate impact of the study on the Joplin mines, but if for nothing, the study provides a capture of what mining lead and zinc in the Joplin district was like and the dangers that it poised to its miners.

Source: Pulmonary disease among miners in the Joplin district, Missouri, and its relation to rock dust in the mines,” by A.J. Lanza, Google Books for diagrams and image of dust collecting apparatus.

Perils of the Mines – Snapshot 1910

In the background, two miners examine the roof of the mine.

From the beginning, lead and zinc mining in the Joplin district was a dangerous means to make a living, and if lucky, a fortune, too.   The year 1910 was considered a good one, respectively, when compared to 1909 when 51 miners lost their lives.  In 1910, in contrast, only 32 miners were killed in the pursuit of the valuable ore.   Every year, mine inspectors from the state toured the mines which surrounded Joplin to ensure compliance with mining laws and to note deaths and the causes behind them.  In 1910, two inspectors toured 551 mines and 65 accidents.  Here are the results and a snapshot of mining in Joplin in 1910.

In summary, the most dangerous element in a mine came from above.  Of the combined deaths and serious injuries, falling mine roofs accounted for 27% of the victims.  The next deadliest was the more obvious danger of explosives in the form of premature explosions, squib shot (involved in the dynamiting process), and to a degree, the foul air which was caused by failing to blow out the air in a mine following an explosion.   Sadly, even entering and exiting a mine bore a certain amount of lethal danger, as our previous post on the unfortunate Number 52 noted.


Source: Joplin News Herald

From the beginning, lead and zinc mining in the Joplin district was a dangerous means to make a living, and if lucky, a fortune, too.   The year 1910 was considered a good one, respectively, when compared to 1909 when 51 miners lost their lives.  In 1910, in contrast, only 32 miners were killed in the pursuit of the valuable ore.   Every year, mine inspectors from the state toured the mines which surrounded Joplin to ensure compliance with mining laws and to note deaths and the causes behind them.  In 1910, two inspectors toured 551 mines and 65 accidents.  Here are the results and a snapshot of mining in Joplin in 1910.

Why the Missouri School of Mines isn’t in Joplin


Why Isn’t the Missouri School of Mines in Joplin?

When thinking of Joplin’s past as a part of the Tri-State Mining District, an area that covered thousands of acres, one might wonder why the Missouri School of Mines was not located in Joplin. After all, the lead and zinc mining industry was a dominant industry for decades in the region, and notable advancements in mining were made in the area.

The most obvious reason is because the Missouri School of Mines was founded in 1870. Joplin, founded in 1871, was not yet a muddy mining camp on the edge of Ozarks. The French began mining in what is now today eastern Missouri in the 1700s. The mining industry in eastern Missouri actually endured until the 1970s when mining giant St. Joe Mineral Corporation finally shut its doors.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, there was an interest in establishing a school of mines and metallurgy. Rolla, on the edge of Missouri’s eastern mining region, was selected as the location of the new school. In 1870, the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy opened its doors to students.

Joplin was established too late to be considered as a location for the Missouri School of Mines. In fact, it was not until 1937 that Joplin received its first college, when the Joplin Junior College was established (eventually to become Missouri Southern State University). One can only wonder what Joplin would be like today if it had received a state normal school like Springfield, its neighbor to the east, whose state normal school is now known as Missouri State University.