Long before North Dakota tapped its oil, there was lignite coal mining. And a century ago, the state engineer was tasked with inspecting those mines and building a report.
From 1908 to 1911 lignite production increased about fifteen percent each year. Sixty-five mines were in operation in 1908, up to 100 by 1911. Almost eleven hundred men worked the state’s coal mines in the winter of 1911, and over three hundred through the summer, averaging six months out of the year in the mines. Each man put out a daily average of nearly four tons of coal, totaling almost five hundred thousand tons in 1911, worth about seven hundred thousand dollars.
On this date in 1912, State Engineer T.R. Atkinson inspected several coal mines near Burlington, North Dakota. He found most of the mines satisfactory, except for the Lloyd Coal Mine, which had “very poor” ventilation. In February and March of 1912, Atkinson inspected one hundred and one coal mines, as many as nine in a day. His work took him to fifteen counties in western and northern North Dakota. Some mines he found abandoned or with as few as one or two workers.
Atkinson also noted injuries and fatalities in his report to Governor John Burke. 1911 had eighteen injury accidents and one fatality—a man who died in a blast. Other men lost eyes, broke bones and sustained bruises in brushes with mining equipment. Fatalities stayed at about one a year, but non-fatal accidents spiked from five to eighteen from 1910 to 1911 in North Dakota’s lignite mines.
By 1919, the coal mining industry was dangerous enough in North Dakota that the Legislature adopted a state coal mining code that created a state coal mine inspector – that position was eliminated in 1979. Now, the state’s Public Service Commission regulates coal mining.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
North Dakota. (1912). Public documents of the state of North Dakota being the annual and biennial reports of various public officers and institutions to governor and legislative assembly for the fiscal period ending June 30, 1912, Volume 3. Knight Printing Co.: Fargo, ND.