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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


The nation needed coal. Locomotives, factories, ships, generators, home furnaces, all burned coal.

Before 1900, most coal came from northern fields stretching from Pennsylvania to Illinois. The opening of the massive coalfields of West Virginia changed everything.

“The state is a huge layer cake. The slices are mountains, the layers are rocks and the filling is coal, flat, thick, regular and rich.” James M. Cane

The first entrepreneurs into the coalfields were former miners. John Cooper began mining in Wales at the age of six, immigrated to Pennsylvania then headed south to West Virginia. Cooper borrowed twenty thousand dollars and opened his own mine in Mercer County.

Stuart McGehee: When John Cooper moved on the Bluestone River, there were no roads, there were no schools, there was nothing. He owned a lease to a thousand acres to some of the richest coal bearing land in America. He had to bring in labor, he had to negotiate sales contracts, he had to deal with the railroad. He had to physically construct a sawmill to build a house to live in. He literally, with his hands, had to build coal mining operation.

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