Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, The Worst Industrial Accident in US History


Davitt McAteer
HC/J  978-1-933202-29-7

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Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster documents the events and conditions that led to the worst industrial accident in the history of the United States. This mining accident claimed hundreds of lives on the morning of December 6, 1907 and McAteer, an expert on mine and workplace health and safety, delves deeply into the economic forces and social-political landscape of the mining communities of north central West Virginia at the beginning of the twentieth century to expose the truth of this tragedy. After nearly thirty years of exhaustive research, McAteer resolves that close to 500 men and boys—many of them immigrants—lost their lives that day, leaving hundreds of women widowed and more than one thousand children orphaned. The tragedy at Monongah led to a greater awareness of industrial working conditions, and ultimately to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which McAteer helped to enact. 

2007 ForeWord Magazine Finalist in the History category
IPPY Bronze metal in the History category
Watch a C-Span BookTV interview of Davitt McAtter.

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Introduction by Robert B. Reich
  3. J.H. Leonard, Oiler for the No. 6 Mine
  4. The Northern Coal Fields of West Virginia
  5. Lester Emmitt Trader: Assistant Fire Boss at Age 22
  6. The Company Men
  7. The Mining Companies: The Early Years
  8. The City of Mines
  9. Immigrants Wanted
  10. "Hire Bands or Anything That is Neccessary"
  11. And the Explosion Came
  12. Escape and Rescue
  13. "They Are All Gone"
  14. "We Know So Little About How These Explosions Occur"
  15. The Monongah Mine Relief Fund in Aid of Sufferers from the Monangah Mine Explosion
  16. Wheels of Justice
  17. The Number
  18. "An End to This Huge Loss and Waste"
  19. The Conscience of a Nation
  20. Postscript
  21. Notes
  22. Bibliography
  23. Individuals Mentioned in Monongah
  24. Reprint of the Mines Relief Committee Report
  25. Index



Davitt McAteer is internationally recognized as an expert on mine and workplace health and safety. He worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader to help enact the landmark 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. During the 1970s, he led the safety and health programs of the United Mine Workers of America and founded the Occupational Safety and Health Law Center. During his career, Mr. McAteer has consulted and lectured extensively on health and safety issues for governments, unions, and corporations in South Africa, China, Australia, Chili, Peru and elsewhere. From 1994 to 2000, he served as Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health at the US Department of Labor under President Clinton and for nearly two years, 1996 to 1997, also served as Acting Solicitor of the US Department of Labor. Shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, he was called on as an advisor to the recovery efforts at Ground Zero, consulting with union representatives of equipment operators and subway workers. Mr. McAteer served as Vice President of Wheeling Jesuit University from 2005 until his retirement in June, 2012.

On four occasions, at the request of two West Virginia Governors, he has conducted independent investigations into mine disasters and accidents. Most recently in April of 2010, then West Virginia Governor, Joe Manchin, III, requested that McAteer conduct an independent investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the largest coal mine disaster in the United States in forty years, which resulted in the deaths of twenty-nine miners. He has testified before Congress on safety and health issues on numerous occasions.

Davitt McAteer maintains a law office and lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with his wife Kathryn.


"Monongah is an important book, long overdue."
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor

"McAteer skillfully analyzes the tragedy, examining players on the company side from the upper levels of the rich and powerful to the mine supervision and operations level, while giving equal weight and voice to the immigrant groups that provided the vast majority of the victims... It is fortuante that a man of David McAteer's caliber undertook to tell the tragic story."
Charles McCollester, West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional History

"Monongah is a major scholary work, and another in a series of WVU Press offerings that tells previously untold stories about the people who really built West Virginia, and often suffered in doing so."
Ken Ward, The West Virginia Lawyer

"[Monongah] is a compelling, cautionary tale of avarice and corruption, as well as a testament to the ultimate resilience of exploited people."
Shirley Stewart Burns, The Journal of Southern History

"McAteer's work is undeniably significant and his extensive research is evident."
Joshua StahlmanPennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies