Coal was first documented in Kentucky in 1750 by the explorer Thomas Walker, who used it to heat his campfire. The region’s first coal production was reported in Beattyville in 1790 – two years before Kentucky broke away from Virginia to become a state.
Before the Civil War, coal that needed to be transported over long distances was moved by barges. Mining occurred on the largest scale in eastern Kentucky in areas with easy access to water transportation, allowing towns like Prestonsburg to become thriving commercial centers.
Coal was hauled both within and from the mines by horse or mule-drawn wagons. These wagons were often manned by either young boys or men no longer able to perform the physical labor required of mining, which was at the time done with a pick and shovel.
Once out of the mine, the wagons were also used to transport coal over land. This proved to be a difficult undertaking, as straight, level, regional roads were virtually nonexistent before the Civil War. Thus, this method was used only to provide coal to local areas.
In the 1910s and 1920s, years after the Industrial Revolution had swept across the nation, new technology became available to coal miners. Instead of hand-loading coal into wagons, conveyor lines now moved coal into large rail cars.
Along with new modes of transportation, new methods for mining coal became available as well. The entire mining process became mechanized, and equipment such as the cutting machine and spinner loader greatly reduced the amount of physical labor required to extract coal from the earth.
Today’s coal mining uses highly sophisticated and complex technology. Coal may be extracted either underground or via surface mining. Machines are involved in all aspects of the mining process: Blasthole drills create space to put explosives; roofbolters help stabilize the ceiling of underground mines; loaders place large amounts of coal in trucks for transport.
The environmental impact of coal mining has also become an important issue in the 21st century. As a result, clean coal technology has been developed to help reduce the adverse effects of both coal mining and coal burning.
A convergence of several events has brought on a new normal for coal mining regions. We have accepted that a change is necessary and we are moving forward looking to re-invent. Now there is both challenge and opportunity.
Our workforce once exported coal from the region to provide for our families. Currently, an effort is underway to re-purpose our workforce. This workforce is a pool of intelligent men and women possessing proven abilities with a strong work ethic. Our adoption of technology, specifically web and software development, will bring about a new day, a new way.