Centralia Mine Disaster

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CENTRALIA MINE DISASTER. On 25 March 1947, an explosion at the Centralia Coal Company in Centralia, Illinois, killed 111 miners. Following the disaster, John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, called a two-week national memorial work stoppage on 400,000 soft-coal miners. A year earlier, against the opposition of coal operators, the Interior Department had issued a comprehensive and stringent Federal Mine Code, which tightened regulations governing the use of explosives and machinery and set new standards for ventilation and dust control in mining operations. Lewis, who since the 1930s had repeatedly campaigned to make coal-mine safety a federal concern, blamed the Department of the Interior for its lax enforcement of the mine code. Lewis claimed that the victims of the disaster were "murdered because of the criminal negligence" of the secretary, Julius A. Krug. Of the 3,345 mines inspected in 1946, Lewis argued, only two fully complied with the safety code. Lewis called for Krug's removal, but President Harry Truman, who regarded the mourning strike as a sham, rejected this demand.

Despite the president's chilly response, the disaster awakened officials to the need for improved mine safety. In August 1947, Congress passed a joint resolution calling on the Bureau of Mines to inspect coal mines and to report to state regulatory agencies any violations of the federal code. The resolution also invited mining states to overhaul and tighten their mine safety laws and enforcement. The Colorado Mine Safety Code of 1951 is among the most notable examples.


DeKok, David. Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Warren Van Tine. John L. Lewis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Whiteside, James. Regulating Danger. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.


See alsoCoal ; Coal Mining and Organized Labor ; Mining Towns ; United Mine Workers of America .

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Centralia Mine Disaster