A new, interactive exhibit at West Virginia University’s Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum offers a glimpse of how coal was mined in the earliest days of the industry.

Black Diamonds: The Early Coal Industry of West Virginia explains what sparked West Virginia’s coal boom in the late 19th century and focuses on the physical demands of mining coal in the hand-loading era. Hands-on activities in the exhibit simulate the work of a miner, so visitors can see if they have what it took to mine coal a century ago.

The exhibit was developed by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in partnership with the National Coal Heritage Area as a traveling exhibit to visit schools and other venues throughout the state.

“This exhibit is suited for audiences of all ages and backgrounds, but is specifically targeted toward middle school students,” says Danielle Petrak, curator of the Watts Museum. “In conjunction with the exhibit, we’ve developed a five-part educational unit, which we plan to use in programs and events for sixth to eighth graders.”

West Virginia bituminous coal is among the finest and cleanest-burning in the world, but before the late 1800s, extracting it in large quantities from West Virginia’s remote, mountainous terrain was virtually impossible. However, with the completion of major railways in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, coal companies could access and transport their product and sell it for a sizeable profit. To help meet the increasing need for clean-burning coal, the railroads also brought a pool of affordable labor to West Virginia—men and young boys eager to take on the backbreaking, perilous job of a miner.

Like today’s miners, these men took great pride in their work, and Black Diamonds offers a sense of what it was like to do their job. In the hands-on portion of the exhibit, museum visitors have the opportunity to simulate digging a trench with a pick, drilling a hole with a chest auger, shoveling loosened coal and crawling in a “low coal” mine.

Black Diamonds is on view at the Watts Museum through July 2015. The Museum is located in the Mineral Resources Building on the Evansdale Campus of WVU. Admission is free, and parking permits are available for museum visitors. For more information, please contact the museum at (304) 293-4609 or wattsmuseum@mail.wvu.edu.

Housed in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the social, cultural and technological history of the coal, oil and natural gas industries of the state of West Virginia through the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of objects relevant to these industries.



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4086, Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

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