December 19

This Day in History

Disaster

Dec 19, 1907:

Pennsylvania miners perish in coal mine explosion

A coal mine explosion in Jacobs Creek, Pennsylvania, kills 239 workers on this day in 1907. Only one worker in the deep mine at the time survived the tragedy.

The Pittsburgh Coal Company set up the Darr mine on the side of a mountain near the Youghiogheny River. The mine was almost two miles deep and six workers at a time--most of whom were immigrants--would ride a wood bucket back and forth from the surface.

At about 11:30 on the morning of December 19, 240 workers were below the surface when a huge explosion rocked the mine. It was so powerful that homes in Jacobs Creek rattled and windows shattered. Thick black smoke poured out of the mine before the entrance collapsed. Mrs. John Campbell reported her observation, "My husband was about due for his dinner when the loud report came and I looked out the back door toward the mine. Instead of my husband, I saw a great cloud of dust and smoke pouring out of the mouth of the mine. It floated upward and disappeared across the river."

Joseph Mapleton, who was near a side entryway to the mine when the explosion occurred, was the sole survivor of the disaster. The victims died from a variety of causes: Some were crushed to death from the collapse of the mine, others suffocated and the remainder was killed in the blast itself. The precise cause of the explosion was never determined, but most coal-mine blasts are set off when a pocket of gas is accidentally ignited. Prior to the disaster, there was much talk among the miners about the prevalence of gas pockets in the Darr mine.

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