Labor History in 2:00

March 25 Centralia Coal Mine #5 Explodes

March 25, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1947.

That was the day Centralia Coal Mine #5 exploded, killing 111 miners in Centralia, IL

The explosion occurred just as the day shift was ending.  

Those not killed instantly were trapped and died from their burns or the afterdamp.

Words scrawled on the walls of the mine read, “Look in our pockets. We all have notes. Please give them to our wives.”

State inspectors had been forewarning mine owners about the dangers of accumulated, combustible coal dust for years before the explosion, but were ignored.

Illinois Mine Inspector Driscoll Scanlan had been filing reports since 1942 about deteriorating conditions.

The demand for coal during wartime had increased production at the expense of safety.

In the aftermath of the explosion, John L. Lewis, president of the UMWA, called a work stoppage in memory of the dead miners.

He also held Secretary of the Interior, Julius Krug, guilty of criminal negligence.

Lewis accused Krug of having failed to enforce existing mine regulations.

In response, Krug ordered that 518 mines remain closed for inspection.

The House and Senate proceeded to organize hearings on mine safety.

They demanded that the Bureau of Mines continue to pass inspection findings onto the proper state agencies.

Given the power mine owners held at the state level, these instructions ensured no improvements in mine safety would occur.

It would be another 22 years before any real change occurred at the federal level.

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