Friday, May 10, 2013

History of and Issues Pertaining to Coal & Gold Mining

Gregory Cole
Ned Sparrow
19th Century Literature & Culture
10 May 2013
History of and Issues Pertaining to Coal & Gold Mining
            Coal mining and gold mining during the 19th century gave rise to many environmental and human rights concerns, which we are becoming more aware of in today’s society. A lot has changed since then, but a lot more can be done as far as addressing similar issues that we still face to this day.
            Coal powered technologies substantially grew as a result of the Industrial Revolution and there was a huge demand for coal to run these technologies. The American labor force became the most productive in the world as a result of these technologies. Most major American industries used coal to produce electricity by burning it, or directly using it for steam engines and furnaces. Factories, mills, and railroad locomotives all needed this coal to properly run. With the rise of the demand for coal, there was a rise in the demand for workers, willing to engage in the difficult as well as dangerous task as a coalminer. Unfortunately, many women were lured into this job, bringing their children along in order to help make money to support their family. Workers worked for very low wages and should have received higher wages as they worked harder, but that had failed to occur, even though they had demanded for higher pay by participating in strikes. Because there were no labor unions for their protection, it became a dangerous situation for the women and their children (Teaching History).
            There was a significant amount of negative effects on the children working in the coalmines, specifically involving the health, development, and education of these children. Women, who needed the money, worked in these coalmines and brought their children along to work with them. It is quite sad, that these children were engaged in the workforce. Children were used to pull coal carts in areas too small or dangerous for men. Mine operators beat the children if they made mistakes or fell asleep at the job. Who could blame the poor children, when they had to work 14-16 hours a day. Some women worked while pregnant, resulting in health defects and developmental complications for the child they would give birth to. Workers in the coalmines faced lung problems because they were constantly breathing in coal as they worked. These coalmines could often lead to hazardous situations involving death. Explosions were common as well as tunnels collapsing from poor structural support beams. Other health effects include infections due to injuries being exposed to the damp environment. Malnutrition and under nutrition was common among the children, by eating unhealthy foods or lack of food thereof. Crawling and crouching for many hours of the day caused stunted growth and arthritis among the workers. Lastly, working in the coalmines had a significant effect on the education of the children. If the child was working all day, then obviously they were not able to attend school, causing them to become uneducated or illiterate. Unlike today, there wasn’t any legislation at the time that would protect the dignity of innocent children in the workforce, or protect those working in hazardous conditions. Labor activism and debate had sparked, as miners would go on strike asking for higher pay for their services. Eventually The Mines Act was passed in 1842, forbidding the employment of women and children as miners. This had a very positive effect on the women and children because the women would have to find safer jobs, and the children could attend school to receive a proper education that would prepare and advance them in the early stages of educational development. They were no longer susceptible to the hazardous conditions and health problem that arise from working in the coalmines (TAAP World). It was certainly a tragic situation for these women and children, to have been working under those conditions, but I believe we have definitely learned from our past. Our society has become aware of theses basic human rights issues, although we still face many of these problems today throughout the world. Women and children, and even men, continue to work for very small wages, enduring inhumane conditions in the workplace. It is important to raise awareness of these issues.
            Like that of coal, gold mining obviously yielded very positive results, but there were negatives outcomes as well, and in this case, involving the environment. James Wilson Marshall is responsible for discovering gold in California. It was January 1848 when James found gold while constructing a saw mill northeast of the Sacramento area. It was reported in the San Francisco newspaper but people had yet to believe the story. The spark that initiated the gold rush was responsible by Sam Brannan in May 1848, when he showed off a bottle of gold in the streets of San Francisco shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold from American River!” (EyeWitness History). From then on young men throughout the country hoped of striking it rich by quitting their job and temporarily leaving their family in the search of gold. They could retire early if they were lucky. Many men became prospectors, who would pan for gold in streambeds in order to locate the areas of deposits. After a prospector discovered a hot spot for gold, and after all the gold was removed from the surface, he would sell the claim to an investor who would profit off the discovery. The prospector did this because he did not have the machinery required to mine beneath the surface, splitting the quartz where gold was held. Sometimes, the prospectors were not so successful in finding gold and had to resort to becoming miners to make money. One famous prospector goes by the name of “Potato Creek Johnny” who found the largest nugget of gold at the time (U.S. History).
            There are many types of gold mining techniques, which had advanced throughout the years, but had increased detrimental effects on the environment. Early methods include placer mining, which involved dry washing, panning, and using rockers and sluices, dividing the sediment from the gold nuggets and flakes located in the streams. As surface gold was becoming rare, more complex methods of mining were needed to penetrate deep within the earth to locate and find large amounts of quartz where the gold was hidden. Hydraulic mining was used to gain access to ancient streambeds in banks of land. Large highly pressurized hoses were used to blast away the land in order to gain access to these streambeds. The debris was deposited in the surrounding streams and rivers, negatively affecting the environment by causing flooding downstream. It also caused erosion and desertification of the land. Dredging is another gold mining technique in which gravel was taken from the bottom of rivers in search of the gold (TC History). Other methods, such as drift mining, tunneling mining, pocket mining, and hard rock quartz mining involved digging tunnels beneath the earth’s surface to gain access to the deposits of quartz. Mercury was needed to separate the gold from the quartz, after they were both ground to dust particles. This very toxic material was being washed down from the mountains and into the surrounding land and water. Lastly, toxic fumes were released into the environment as a result of these mineshafts (Museum CA).
            Both coal and gold mining was a significant piece of our American history, and it is important to examine the mistakes we have made in the past and learn from them. The dignity of men, women, and children should be preserved, and the environment in which we live needs to be protected.

The Cry from the Mine

by Robert Buchanan

Out of the sinister caverns of Night,
    Out of the depths where the Hell-fires are glowing,
Cometh a cry, floating up to the Light,
    Here, where glad mortals are reaping and sowing:
'Night ever over us, blackness to cover us,
    Deeper we crawl than the graves of the Dead!
Sisters and brothers, whose fires burn so cheerily,
Fed by the coal that we work for so wearily,
    Give us, in God's name, our wages of Bread!
'Hell burning under us, gnome-like we dwell,
    Store for your hearths ever scraping and scooping,
Stifling and thunderous vapours of Hell
    Blacken our mouths, where we're stooping and drooping;
Terrors environ us, lest the fierce fire on us
    Leap, as it leapt on our kin who are sped!
Children and wives wait our wages and cry for them;
Eager to toil for them, ready to die for them,
    Darkly we grope for our handful of Bread!
'Sooner or later Death cometh this way, —
    Slain by his breathing our kindred are lying here!
Old ere our time, worn and weary and grey,
    Bear we the burthen that's dreary as dying, here!
Pain is our portion here, gruesome our fortune here,
    Still we're content when our dear ones are fed —
Sisters and brothers, while blindly and wearily
Ever we toil that your fires may burn cheerily,
    Give us, in God's name, our guerdon of Bread!'
Out of the sinister caverns of Night,
    Out of the depths where these weary ones wander,
Cometh the cry, floating up to the Light,
    Up to the sunshine that never shines yonder:
'Night ever over us, blackness to cover us,
    Toil we for ever, less living than dead! —
Sisters and brothers, whose fires burn so cheerily,
Fed by the coal that we dig for so drearily,
    See that we lack not our wages of Bread!'

Works Cited
Andrews, Thomas G. "Coal and the Industrial Revolution." Teaching History. National History Education Clearinghouse, n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>.
"The California Gold Rush, 1849." EyeWitness History. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>.
"Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the California Gold Rush." Museum CA. Oakland Museum of California, n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>.
Hillman, Jessica. "Industrial Revolution - Coal Mining." TAAP World. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. < Revolution- Mining>.
"The Mining Boom." U.S. History. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>.
"Summary of Gold Mining Techniques in Western United States 1842 - 1996." TC History. Tuolumne County Historical Society, n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>.

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