Coal Mining Terms & Timeline

 Coal Mining Terms

Afterdamp - Atmospheric pollution following fire or explosion, usually lethal.

Anthracite - Coal of the highest metamorphic rank, in which the fixed carbon content is between 92 percent and 98 percent. It is hard, black, and has a semi-metallic lustre and semi-conchoidal fracture. It ignites with difficulty and burns with a short blue flame without smoke.

Airshaft - A shaft used exclusively for conducting air.  A vertical shaft in which air is blown down through the various sections of underground mine.  The air is generated by a large fan on the surface providing oxygen for the miners below.

Apparatus - Self contained breathing equipment used in mine rescue to assure safe air. 


BTU - British thermal unit.  A measure of the energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.

Back entry - Usually the air-returns way off the slope at a right angle.

Barn boss - The man in charge of the mule or horse barn on the surface or underground.

Barricading - Enclosing part of a mine to prevent inflow of noxious gases from a mine fire or explosion.

Bituminous coal - A middle rank coal (between sub-bituminous and anthracite) formed by addition pressure and heat on lignite.  Usually has a high Btu value and may be referred to as "soft coal."

Blackdamp - A deadly gas that is caused from coal burning in an atmosphere which lacks oxygen.  Mostly a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen found in mines after fires and explosions.

Blacklist - A list of workers, especially those active in Union Organizations against whom all avenues of employment are closed.  

Black-powder - A highly explosive substance, set off by a flame.

Blast - A controlled explosion which is used to loosen the substance being mined. 

Blasting cap - A detonator containing a charge of detonating compound, which is ignited by electric current or the spark of a fuse.  Used for detonating explosives.

Blown out shot - An ineffective shot in blasting.  A shot that has failed to do its work.  The energy of the explosives has blown out of either the front or the back of the shot hole.

Bony - Coal containing material slaty in composition.

Bore hole - A hole of small diameter drilled or bored to explore the strata beneath, above, beside or ahead.

Boss - Any member of the managerial ranks who is directly in charge of miners.  Including shift-boss, face-boss, fire-boss, etc. 

Brattice or brattice cloth - Fire-resistant fabric or plastic partition used in a mine passage to confine the air and force it into the working place. 

Brusher - A workman (always an experienced miner) who keeps the roof, sides and pavement of a passage in good repair.

Cap -  A miner's safety helmet.  Also, a highly sensitive, encapsulated explosive that is used to detonate larger but less sensitive explosives.

Cap piece - A piece of timber, about 12 inches long, used to wedge in the prop.

Car - A railway wagon, especially any of the wagons adapted to carrying coal, ore, and waste underground.  Small four wheeled wagon made out of wood in which the coal is hauled underground.  

Cave-in - A depression on the surface caused by a fall of roof in the mine.

Checkweighman - The miners representative, chosen by ballot, who checks the weight of coal recovered in the miner's favour, when the coal boxes filled by the miners underground are weighed at the bankhead.

Coal -  A solid, brittle, more or less distinctly stratified combustible carbonaceous rock, formed by partial to complete decomposition of vegetation; varies in color from dark brown to black; not fusible without decomposition and very insoluble.

Coal dust - Particles of coal that can pass a No. 20 sieve.

Coal field - The coal deposit or bed, in total, in a given geographic locality.

Coal mine - An area of land and all structures, facilities, machinery, tools, equipment, shafts, slopes, tunnels, excavations, and other property, real or personal, placed upon, under, or above the surface of such land by any person, used in extracting coal from its natural deposits in the earth by any means or method, and the work of preparing the coal so extracted, including coal preparation facilities.

Collier - An underground workman in a coal mine - a coal transporting ship.

Colliery - British name for coal mine.

Company house -  A house in which a miner lives and pay rent to the coal company he works for. 

Cross-bar - The horizontal member of a roof timber set supported by props located either on roadways or at the face.

Crosscut- A passageway driven between the entry and its parallel air couse or air courses for ventilation purposes.  Also, a tunnel driven from one seam to another through or across the intervening measures; sometimes called "crosscut tunnel" or "breakthrough".  In vein mining, an entry perpendicular to the vein.

Cut - A groove excavated in the coal face in preparation for blasting.

Cut through - A short tunnel connecting two roads.

Digger - A worker at the mine who digs for coal, and fills the mine cars with coal.

Driver - Person whose duty it was to guide the mine cars to and from the cases below.  Mules usually pulled cars and the drivers led the mules to designated area.

Drill - A tool for boring holes in coal or rock.

Entry - An underground horizontal or near-horizontal passage used for haulage, ventilation, or as a main-way; a coal heading; a working place where the coal is extracted from the seam in the initial mining.  An entrance into a series of dugout tunnels and/or passageways in the underground mine.

Examiner - An official who patrols a mine section to examine the workings for accumulation of gas and other hazards.

Explosive - Any rapidly combustive or expanding substance.  The energy released during this rapid combustion or expansion can be used to break rock.

Face - The exposed area of a coal bed from which coal is being extracted.  Usually the working place for coal extraction.

Face man - The man who did the actual mining by working on the face of the coal.

Fan - A machine propelled by steam or electricity used to draw a ventilating current of air through the mine. 

Feeder - A small stream of gas escaping from a coal crevice. 

Fire-boss - Supervisor, checked in the mine for methane gas in all working places.

"Fire in the Hole" - An exclamation shouted by a miner as a warning just before he fires a shot. 

Firedamp - A combustible gas formed in mines by decomposition of coal or other carbonaceous matter, and that consists chiefly of methane.  The combustible gas, methane, CH4.  Also, the explosive methane-air mixtures with between 5% and 15% methane.

Floor - The bottom of a mine excavation, normally in relation to the coal deposit, it is the upper surface of the stratum immediately underlying a coal seam.


Gas - This term is used synonymously with firedamp.

Gob - The void resulting from excavation of coal and also meaning the area from where coal has been extracted and the roof has been allowed to fall in.

Groover -  a miner.


Hewer -A miner who cut coal, stone and a face worker in the mine.

High-Volatile Coals - Coals containing over 32 percent volatile matter.

High-Volatile "A" Bituminous Coal - A non-binding bituminous coal with less than 69% fixed carbon, more than 31% volatile matter and 14,000 or more B.T.U.

High-Volatile "B" Bituminous Coal - A non-binding bituminous coal having between 13,000 and 14,000 B.T.U.

High-Volatile "C" Bituminous Coal - A binding or non-weathering coal having between 11,000 and 13,000 B.T.U.

Hoist - An engine with a winding drum and rope which hauls or hoists a trip or cage.

Inspector - Person appointed by the Government, Department of Mines, under the mining regulations.  His duties include the making of examinations of the mine to ascertain whether the regulations relating to the operations are being observed.


Knuckle - Where the track from the slope levels off before entering the tipple.


Lamp - The electric cap lamp worn for visibility down in the mine.  Also, the flame safety lamp used in coal mines to detect methane gas concentrations and oxygen deficiency.  (see also safety lamp)

Lignite coal - A brownish black coal that is intermediate between peat and sub-bituminous coal.
  Loader - A miner's assistant who loads coal into boxes and generally assists the miner at the face.

Low-Volatile Bituminous Coal - A non-binding bituminous coal with 78% to 86% fixed carbon and 14% to 22% volatile matter.

Main entry - A main haulage road.

Man car - A vehicle used for personnel transport underground.

Man trip - A carrier of mine personnel, by rail to and from the work area.

Man way - An entry used exclusively for personnel to travel from the shaft bottom or drift mouth to the working section; it is always on the intake air side in gassy mines.  Also, a small passage at one side or both sides of a breast, used as a traveling way for the miner, and sometimes, as an airway, or chute or both. 

Manager - The official in charge of a mine, surface and underground.

Medium-Volatile Bituminous Coal - A non-binding bituminous coal with 69-78% fixed carbon and 22-31% volatile matter.

Meta-Anthracite Coal - A non-binding anthracite coal that has 98% or more fixed carbon, and 2% or less volatile matter.

Mine run - Coal as it comes from the mine, before screening.

Miner - Technically a workman engaged in extracting coal at the coal face, but generally used to describe anyone who works underground.

Misfire - The failure of a blasting charge to explode when expected.  A charge which has failed to explode.

Mouth - The opening at the surface of any passage into a mine.


Opening - Any excavation in or into a mine.

Outcrop - Coal that appears at or near the surface.

Overman - An underground official ranking below underground manager, in charge of a mine section, or, in some circumstances, in charge of a whole mine during the overmen's shift.

Peat - An unconsolidated deposit of semi-carbonized plant remains of a water-saturated environment, such as a bog, and of persistently high moisture content (at least 75%). It is considered the early stage or rank in the development of coal.

Peat Coal - A coal transitional between peat and brown coal or lignite.

Pick - Tool used by a miner.

Pillar - A column of coal left and not mined, as a support for the roof.

Pit - Shaft giving access to the coal seam.  Also used to describe the whole coal mine.  
Pitch - The inclination of a seam; the rise of a seam.  An angle at which a coal seam inclines below a horizontal line.

Pitman - a coal miner.

Powder box - A wooden box in a miner's room in which were kept black powder, cartridge paper, cartridge stick, squibs, lamp, wick, chalk, and tools.

Portal - Entrance to the tunnel.

Pump - A device used to move water from one place to another.  Pumps were placed in different sections of the mine floor to pump any excess water.

Pump man - the miner who maintains and supervises a pump's operation.

Putters - Person who pushes mine wagons from the working place to a horse road or mechanical haulage road.


Rescue station - Building set apart for the training of men, the breathing apparatus and other equipment when a mine is to be entered after an accident, such as an explosion or fire.

Rescue team - Men trained to used self contained breathing apparatus.

Rib - The side of the room, entry, or slope.  

Rock dump - The refuse dump on the outside of the mine. 

Rockman - a person who worked in a quarry usually placing the charges on the rock face.

Roof - The top of the coal seam.

Room and Pillar - A system of mining in which the distinguishing feature is the winning of fifty percent or more coal in the first working. The coal is mined in rooms separated by narrow ribs or pillars. The coal in the pillars may be won by subsequent workings. The rooms are driven parallel with one another, and the room faces may be extended, at right angles or at an angle to the dip. This method is applicable to flat deposits, such as coal, that occur in bedded deposits.


Safety lamp - Lamp that can be used with safety in a gassy mine.  A lamp with steel wire gauze covering every opening from the inside to the outside so as to prevent the passage of flame should explosive gas be encountered.  The original oil safety lamp has now been replaced for illumination, but the electric lamp operated by a storage battery. (see also lamp)

Safety Switch - A sectional switch that also provides shunt protection in blasting circuits between the blasting switch and the shot area.  

Seam - A layer or bed of coal.

Semi-Anthracite - Coal intermediate between anthracite and semi-bituminous coal and having a fixed carbon content of between 85 percent and 92 percent. Physical properties resemble anthracite.

Semi-Bituminous Coal - Coal that ranks between bituminous and semi-anthracite. It is harder and more brittle than bituminous coal, has a high fuel ratio and burns without smoke.

Shaft - An opening, usually vertical, connecting the surface with the underground workings. 

Shaftman - A workman who patrols in a slowly moving cage in a mine shaft, and maintains the shaft by working through the cage side, or on its top, or suspended from the cage bottom. 

Shift - The time during which workmen work, alternating with some other period.

Shooting - Blasting in a mine.

Shot - The explosive charge in the coal face.

Shot firer - The official prior to detonating an explosive charge to blast coal, examines the area for gas, examines the preparations made for the blasting and when assured that all safety regulations have been complied with, detonates the shot. Person whose duty is is to place the explosive in a hole drilled in the face of the coal and then fire the explosive.

Slope - Primary inclined opening, connecting the surface with the underground workings.

Slant - Roadway driven at a slight angle to the main roadway.

Stableman - A workman who cares for the horses and maintains the stable underground. In off-working days the stableman is responsible for watering the horses.

Straw boss - An assistant mine foreman.

Stoppings - Ventilation structures used to segregate air withing underground workings.  Obstacles of brick or stone to force and alter the ventilating current.

Sub-bituminous coal - A black coal that ranks between lignite and bituminous coals. It has higher carbon and lower moisture content than lignite.

Sub-Bituminous "A" Coal - A non-binding sub-bituminous coal having between 11,000 and 13,000 B.T.U.

Sub-Bituminous "B" Coal - A non-binding sub-bituminous coal having between 9,500 and 11,000 B.T.U.

Sub-Bituminous "C" Coal - A non-binding sub-bituminous coal having between 8,300 and 9,500 B.T.U.


Tamping - The act of packing a drilled hole around a cartridge with fine dirt before blasting to prevent misdirection of the force of the blast.

Timber man - Men whose occupation it was to place timber supports in the mine below to prevent the ceiling or roof from caving in where it was excavated or dug out.

Tipple - The coal processing outdoor plant.  Originally the place where the mine cars were "tipped" and emptied of their coal, and still used in that same sense, although now more generally  applied to the surface structures of a mine, including the preparation plant and loading tracks. The cars were loaded down below in the second or third level and brought up on the  cages through the main shaft to the tipple. 

Track -The steel rails on which the coal cars ran.

Trackman - A workman who keeps mine tracks in repair.

Trapper - Trapper boy, a boy stationed at an underground door, to open and close it when boxes pass, and thus control the air current.

Travelling way - A passageway for men and horses in and out of the mine.

Trip - A train of mine cars.

Trip coal - a loaded number of coal cars on the slope.

Trip man - the cars used to transport men into and out of the mine.


Ventilation - The provision of a directed flow of fresh and return air along all underground roadways, traveling roads, workings and service parts.  


White damp - Carbon monoxide gas mixed with air.  Carbon monoxide, CO.  A gas that may be present in the after-damp of gas - or coal-dust explosion, or in the gases given off by a mine fire; also one of the constituents of the gases produced by blasting.  Rarely found in mines under other circumstances.   It is absorbed by the hemoglobin of the blood to the exclusion of oxygen.  One-tenth of 1% (.001) may be fatal in 10 minutes. 

Wind blast - Air blast caused by roof fall displacing air.

Windy - A blown-out shot.

Working face - Any place in a mine where material is extracted during a mining cycle.

Working - Said of a room in which appear warnings of an impending cave-in, such as the droppings of small pieces of slate from the roof, and when fragments of coal break from pillars with a cracking sound like the snapping of dry twigs underfoot.

Workings - The entire system of openings in a mine for the purpose of extracting coal.

Cherry Coal Mine Disaster:
Cline Mining Corp.:
Miner Musuem:
Groutage, Lorenzo.  "Wyoming Mine Run," 1981, Paragon Press, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mining online Expo:
Think Quest:
United State Bureau of Mines: 

1000 A.D:  Hopi Indians living in what is now Arizona, use coal to bake pottery made from clay.
1701:  Huguenot settlers find coal near Richmond, Virginia.
1748:  The first recorded commercial U.S. coal production from a mine in the Manakin, Virginia area.
1762:  Anthracite is discovered in Pennsylvania.
1776-1782:  During the Revolutionary War coal is used to manufacture shot, shell and other war materials.
1816:  Baltimore, Maryland is the first city to light streets with gas made from coal.
1818:  Blasting in American coal mines begins.
1839:  The steam shovel is invented and ultimately becomes used in surface coal mining.
1848:  The first coal miner's union is formed Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.
1858:  The first fan in a U.S. coal mine is installed in Locustdale, Near Ashland, Pennsylvania.
1861:  The American Miner's Association is organized in Bellevile, Illinois.
1866:  Strip, or surface, mining begins near Danville, Illinois. 
1870:   Briquetting of coal is introduced in the United States.
1873:  The first coal mining machine invented in the United States, a five-horsepower steam undercutter, is used at a mine near Brazil, Indiania.  The machine is capable of mining 100 tons of coal over a 24-hour period.
1875:  Coke replaces charcoal as the chief fuel for iron blast furnaces.
1877:  A steam shovel is used to excavate some 10 feet of overburden from a three-foot-thick coal bed near Pittzburg, Kansas.
1880:  First major coal strike in West Virginia at Hawk's Nest.
1882:  Cutting and drilling machines operated on compressed air are used at the Union Pacific Coal Co. minines in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
1885:  Chinese Riots in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
1890:  Office for the Inspection of Mines is created
          The United Mine Workers of America is organized in Columbus, Ohio.   

1896:  Steel timbering is used for the first time at the shaft mine of the Spring Valley Coal Co., where 400 feet of openings are timbered with 15-inch beams. 
           The transition from mules or horses to trolley haulage out of mines begins in earnest.
1912:  The first self-contained breathing apparatus for mine rescue operations is used.
1914:  Ludlow Massacre, Colorado
1920:  Battle of Matewan
1917-1918:  Coal plays a major role in the U.S. war effort during WWI.
1921:  Battle of Blair Mountain.
1923:  Frontier Wyoming, mine explosion in No. 1 Mine kills 99 men.
1927:  The Mine Safety Appliances Company announces the development of a continuous methane recorder for coal mines.
1930:  Molded protective helmets for miners are introduced.
1937:  The shuttle care is invented by Joy Manufacturing Company.