Today’s post is in honor of National Miners Day, celebrated annually on December 6th. This blog is written by John C. Harris, Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
Amidst the era of New Deal regulation and reform, Congress aimed to regulate the coal industry. The Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935 established the Bituminous Coal Commission (BCC) as well as the Bituminous Coal Labor Board (BCLB) to regulate the coal industry by establishing marketing and production standards, investigating violations of those standards and enforcing penalties, as well as levying a tax on non-code members–operating outside of the authority of the BCC and BCLB to incentivize participation in the commission.1 Within a year, coal lobbyists challenged the constitutionality of the act, which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling which dissolved the BCC.2
Despite the initial blow which eliminated the BCC, Congress ratified the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act in 1937 and established the Bituminous Coal Division (BCD). In large part, the new agency mirrored its predecessor except for two distinctions: first, the tax imposed on coal produced by mines operating outside of the BCD increased from 15 percent to 19 1⁄2 percent; and second, it did not provide the governing boards of the BCD’s districts–made up of agencies of the producers–the power to determine the price of coal. Instead, the producers’ agencies could suggest prices to the regulators within the BCD who had the final say in determining the minimum price standards.3
The National Archives at Philadelphia preserves the records created by the BCD–and its successor agency, the Solid Fuels Administration for War (SFAW)–from their field offices located in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These records reveal how the BCD and SFAW worked to fulfill their mission by regulating the marketing and sale of coal and recorded labor disputes as part of its effort to regulate the hours and wages of workers.
Summary of Documents and Potential for Research
Record Group 222 and 245 contains records created by the three field offices of the BCD that operated in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Bluefield, West Virginia, and Fairmont, West Virginia. The arrangement of these documents into series pertaining to the three field offices and their further placement within sub-series ranging in subject matter from correspondences with active and inactive Bituminous Coal Code Members, analysis and reports of coal and mining preparations, as well as reports on code violations are primed to be mined and provide a foundation of primary sources upon which an array of research opportunities can be developed. The records are capable of supporting a comparative analysis of the different region’s mines adherence to the BCD’s and SFAW’s regulations, their operating priorities, and their contemporaneous insights into the coal industry between the years 1937 to 1948. Those industry insights can simultaneously provide an opportunity to evaluate the regulatory power of the BCD and SFAW by examining the violations that occurred and how the agency’s responded to enforce the code. One might even use the records to contextualize, then dispute or confirm, Eugene V. Rostow’s 1941 thesis provided in the Yale Law Journal that “the Bituminous Coal Act of 1937 is an experiment which has failed…it should not be renewed.”4
To portray the strength of the records and data contained in RG 222 and RG 245 held by the National Archives at Philadelphia and their prospective use in research, examples of records from the collection which indicate the efforts of the agency to fulfill its mission are highlighted below. Specifically, a survey of the records created by and about the Consolidated Coal Company under the jurisdiction of the District One field office in Altoona, Pennsylvania will exemplify how the Bituminous Coal Division and Solid Fuels Administration for War accomplished their goal as outlined in the preamble of the legislation, and indicated in the record, of regulating and enforcing fair marketing rules, and eliminating unfair methods of competition.5 6
Part 1: BCD Marketing Rules and Coal Analysis Files
Among the most prevalent records found in the collection are those made in regard to the mines’ compliance with Section VIII Rule X of the Marketing Rules and Regulations which directed mining companies procedures in the creation of their coal analyses files.7 These reports, found in the series Coal Analysis Reports, 1940–1943, contain information like the name of a mine, the size of the coal analyzed, and the geological seam from which it originated. Their value to potential research is found in the proximate analyses that indicate key characteristics of coal. The characteristics evaluated in these reports included: the ash yield, or the incombustible material in coal; fixed carbon, the amount of carbon that remains in coal after combustion occurs; moisture, how much moisture content was found in the coal; and volatile matter, the compounds that will be converted to gas in coal during combustion.8 These properties contribute to the overall quality of coal, which determined how it was valued by the marketing arm of the company, and became a core component of commercial sale contracts between mines and their customers. Therefore, these reports helped to ensure that the quality of coal sold by a mine would not be misrepresented in the marketing.
Thousands of marketing analyses like these make up a core component of the BCD records. While they provide important understanding into how coal was marketed and priced in contracts for a researcher digging into the operating procedures of the industry, these records can prove helpful to environmental researchers as well. Years worth of data within these proximate analyses indicate how the makeup of coal mined from specific sites may have changed over time. While the three examples from Consolidated’s Mine #119 from the years 1938, 1940, and 1943 appear to remain relatively stable, other coal samples, derived from a different mine, may not be. To the researcher looking into geological phenomena, significant changes in these characteristics of coal might correlate with an event that significantly altered the trajectory of the carbon cycle. Therefore, if significant changes to those characteristics are to be found, these data sets may be a clue to the history of the formation of the landscape.
Part 2: BCD Investigations into Violations and Washington Charges
In addition to the BCD’s task of reviewing how coal was marketed by its producers, the agency also sought to eliminate “unfair methods of competition” in part by establishing minimum prices and maintaining a “cost-floor” for sale of bituminous coal. According to Waldo E. Fisher and Charles M. James, the goal of this was “to improve the position of the industry and enable it to pay the wages and meet the terms of employment arrived at under collective bargaining. The Act thus provided for the establishment of a minimum price structure for bituminous coal which would return to producers an income equal to their costs less capital charges.”9 However, this price floor and how it was maintained was a contentious matter as indicated in records contained in the series Violations – Washington Charges, 1937 – 1943.
On occasion, disputes arose when the enforcement of marketing standards, such as the quality of coal, led to penalties that resulted in coal sales that resulted in a profit less than the guaranteed-by-law effective minimum price.
According to the above memo from the Treasury Department, this was the case in 1941 when Consolidated Coal Company was penalized for violating a federal contract by selling substandard coal with a high ash content to Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Uniontown, D.C. The penalty incurred by Consolidated led to a penalized sale that netted less the guaranteed price minimum.
After failing to reconcile the dispute with the Treasury Department, Consolidated Coal Company sought to recover the cost of the contested penalty. They did so by calculating the difference between the guaranteed price minimum and the price of the penalized sale which provided them with the net loss. The company then used that price to determine an amount of substandard coal which could be sold at a standard quality price to afford them to make back the cost of the original penalty. However, the BCD scrutinized this action as an attempt by Consolidated to evade the price provisions of the Bituminous Coal Act. A litany of memos were exchanged between the BCD’s Director, Branch Managers, Compliance Coordinators, and Consolidated’s executives and an investigation ensued. On January 13, 1942, Compliance Coordinator Issac M. Bradburn was sent to Consolidated’s #10 Mine in Eckhart, Maryland to conduct a check report and investigate the matters of the dispute. To do so he completed the following Check Report (Form B.C.D. No. 339).
The case files within the Violations series contain critical primary sources to determine how the BCD carried out its regulatory practices. Specifically, they indicate what kind of code violations occurred in the mining industry and contain data to evaluate the power of the BCD. These Check Reports in particular indicate specific infractions by mines, outline the review processes conducted by BCD agents, and shed light on how enforcement was determined.
In his investigation, Compliance Coordinator Bradburn reviewed the records of shipments made to St. Elizabeth Hospital, documented the process by which coal is sifted and separated to ensure its quality, and interviewed the Division’s Manager to learn that generally “fines” (perhaps a reference to the fine content such as the excess ash found in the disputed shipment) are typically removed from shipments. However, he was unable to determine whether such a process had occurred when the coal was loaded to be shipped to St. Elizabeth Hospital.
As indicated in the above memo, ultimately, Acting Director Dan Wheeler, ruled that under Section X, Rule 1 of the Marketing Rules and Regulations the actions of Consolidated were permissible. His statement concluded, “You should handle this matter as an allowance for substandard preparation or quality under Section X only if you can do so in good faith.” The investigation was not a unique circumstance. The BCD reviewed and ruled on a range of charges brought against the coal mines. Sometimes the charges were dismissed. In the most extreme cases, the BCD delivered cease and desist orders to the mines in violation of the code and subjected them to the full 19 ½ percent tax until the mines operations could be re-evaluated and reinstated as a code member. Other case files from the Violations – Washington Charges, 1937 – 1943 series, which consist of charges, investigations, transcripts, and verdicts can be used to determine the regulatory practices of the BCD.
Part 4: BCD/SFAW and Labor
In addition to the regulation of marketing practices in the bituminous coal industry, the BCD and SFAW also monitored labor disputes. According to Fisher and James, another key provision of the BCD legislation was that workers, “shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively with respect to their hours of labor, wages, and working conditions through representatives of their own choosing, without restraint, coercion, or interference on the part of the producers”10
In 1943, the Bituminous Coal Division was absorbed by the Solid Fuels Administration for War. Much like its predecessor, this new agency regulated and advised the conglomeration of fuel industries, including producers of every quality of coal, in the production, pricing, transportation, and distribution of its resources as part of the war effort and operated until May 1947.11
The Teletypes, 1943-1947 series contains messages from the field offices to the headquarters in Washington D.C. which reveal daily updates on direct action of miners in their efforts to bargain for enhanced working conditions at the mines. In addition, these messages provide insights into the effect that the workers’ efforts had on the mining operations and the responses of the corporations.
For example, the above teletypes between the SFAW field office in Altoona and headquarters in Washington document an August 6th 1946 strike at Consolidated Coal Company’s Mine #123. The record discloses that 118 workers struck that day, ceasing operations in response to a dispute over the rotating system of day shifts to night shifts. And although the strike lasted only one day, as indicated in the following day’s teletype report, the miners’ action disrupted operations that typically produced 670 tons of coal daily. If a researcher was to look into changes in operations by a particular mine, these teletypes might reveal the role of the laborers in determining that change.
The RG 245 holdings at the National Archives at Philadelphia contains five years worth of these daily updates. And while this example–selected to supplement the survey of records from the Altoona field office regarding Consolidated Coal Company–does not clearly indicate the strike’s effect on the operations of shift work rotations at the #123 mine, these reports can provide evidence on a range of research topics. Still yet, many other teletype reports indicate the demands of the strike, and if those demands were met or not before the workers went back into operation. While the previous records can be used to determine the power and influence of the BCD and SFAW’s over the mining industry, these teletypes, in part, record power of organized labor, and can measure the BCD and SFAW’s commitment to provide the freedom of association to the miners working under the agency’s jurisdiction.
This selection of records represents just a fraction of a percentage of the entire record groups. With that in mind, this survey of analyses, reports and forms, and correspondences were selected to highlight records that indicate the Altoona field office’s work to fulfill the mission of the agency. Their inclusion here does not measure the agency’s success or failure, but instead they expose veins of potential research into the BCD, the SFAW, and the mines that operated under their jurisdiction until 1947.
In 1967, the first recorded preliminary inventory of the records was made to determine the composition of the collection. Since then, aspects of the collection have been housed in three NARA facilities: Philadelphia where the records highlighted in this piece are preserved, Kansas City which safeguards meeting minutes and the agency’s statistical records, and the Cartographic Division of NARA College Park which contains maps of the United States related to coal production.
Furthermore, according to NARAs Guide to Federal Records, research of Record Group 222 and 245 may be buttressed by an analysis of records from related records such as copies of publications of the Bituminous Coal Division in Record Group 287,and Record Group 150: Publications of the U.S. Government – Records of the National Bituminous Coal Commission, 1935-1936. If you’re Interested in learning more about the records of the Bituminous Coal Division and Solid Fuels Administration for War at the National Archives at Philadelphia? Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your research or make an appointment.
1 “Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935” in United States Statutes at Large of the United States of America from January 1935 to June 1936 Concurrent Resolutions Recent Treaties and Conventions, Executive Proclamations and Agreements, Volume XLIX, Part 1, 1936. 74th Congress Session I, Chapter 824, p. 991-1011, https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/ll/llsl//llsl-c74/llsl-c74.pdf.
2 James W. Carter, a shareholder in Carter Coal Company (whose father owned, and was the namesake of the company) challenged the legitimacy of the BCC in the Supreme Court lawsuit Carter v. Carter Coal Co. In the case, the court referred to the Commerce Clause in the Constitution to determine the extent of Congresses regulatory power over the coal industry. In a five to four ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act was unconstitutional. Among their justifications for their decision was the notion that the mining of coal–a critical part of the process which the BCC and its Labor Board regulated–was a local endeavor, not yet at the stage of interstate commerce and therefore subject to local regulations and out of the jurisdiction of Congress to regulate. Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U.S. 238, 56 S. Ct. 855 (1936). https://casetext.com/case/carter-v-carter-coal-co-helvering-v-carter-tway-coal-co-v-glenn-tway-coal-co-v-clark/case-details.
3 Waldo E. Fisher and Charles M. James, Minimum Price Fixing in the Bituminous Coal Industry, (Princeton University Press, 1955), 43 – 44. https://www.nber.org/system/files/chapters/c2882/c2882.pdf.
4 Eugene V. Rostow, “Bituminous Coal and the Public Interest,” The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 50, No. 4 (February, 1941), 543. https://www.jstor.org/stable/792629
5 “Bituminous Coal Act of 1937” in United States Statutes at Large Containing the Laws and Concurrent Resolutions Enacted During the First Session of the Seventy-Fifth Congress of the United States of America 1937 and Treaties, International Agreements Other Than Treaties, and Proclamations. Volume L, Part I, 1937. 75 Congress, Chapter 127, p. 72, https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/ll/llsl//llsl-c75s1/llsl-c75s1.pdf
6 “Records of the Bituminous Coal Division [BCD],” Guide to Federal Records, Archives.gov, Accessed August 30, 2023, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/222.html
7 H.A. Gray, “Order amending order 333,” Federal Register, Vol. 6 No. 203, October 17, 1941, p. 5289. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1941-10-17/pdf/FR-1941-10-17.pdf
8 “Proximate Analysis,” Kentucky Geological Survey Earth Resources–Our Commonwealth, uky.edu, Accessed August 30, 2023, http://www.uky.edu/KGS/coal/coal-analyses-proximate.php.
9 Fisher and James, Minimum Price Fixing, 39.
10 Fisher and James, Minimum Price Fixing, 41.
11 “Records of the Solid Fuels Administration for War [SFAW],” Guide to Federal Records, Archives.gov, Accessed August 30, 2023, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/245.html.