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Miners And Prospectors › Articles

Photos of the harsh living and working conditions of miners and prospectors and of the men who endured this life.

The lives of miners and prospectors involved grueling, backbreaking, and dangerous work with long hours and low pay. Especially in coal mining: workers and their families lived in company housing, shopped in company stores, and ended up owing the mining company so much money that they couldn't quit their jobs. Generations were stuck in the "family business."

First recorded in 1946, the song "Sixteen Tons" is based on the life of a Kentucky coalminer. It describes many of the aspects of the daily life of a these men:

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store"

Boys as young as nine - by law, they were supposed to be 12 - began as "breakers." Breakers worked 10 hours a day, picking pieces of slate and rock from mined coal. The next step was the "door boy" - the door boy opened and closed the doors to the mine, allowing coal cars and men to enter or leave the mine. For this job, he received 65 - 75 cents a day and provided his own lamp, cotton, and oil - bought from the company store, of course. Next came the "driver" who took care of the mules who pulled the coal cars, guided the full cars to the mouth of the mine, then took the empty cars back down. Drivers got $1.10 to $1.25 a day and again, provided their own lamps, cotton, and oil.

Finally, at age 20, a boy could become a runner or a miner. Still working 8 - 10 hours per day, miners provided their own tools and supplies. And they made about $1.65 per day. On average, the lifespan of a miner - due to the hazardous condition of the job - was age 32 in 1902. It was a dangerous life with no escape.

These photos show the daily life, work, and living conditions of those miners and prospectors who toiled all day long for low pay.