Employee Record Cards

One of the most exciting research sources we found this summer are employee record cards from the Lattimer Coal Company.  These cards span the early twentieth century, in the period after the massacre and the Big Strike of 1902. There are 2,685 cards in total.  They contain a huge amount of information about each employee including name, date of employ, age, nationality, country of birth (not always same as nationality), church, doctor, occupation, wage rate, and whether they have a miner’s certificate. Some cards include  the word  “Dead” scrawled across the front of the card. Some of these include notes on the back describing the cause of death for miners.  Other notes include health issues identified by the company doctor.

An example of a card can be seen here.  The name on the card is Manus Gallagher, Jr., a resident of 799 Alter Street.  He was born in Lattimer, PA in 1900.  He began work at the colliery on the July 7th, 1917. He attended a Roman Catholic Church. The collection also includes a card for Manus’ father, who appears to have been killed in the mines.

We are in the process of transcribing all of the data on the cards to a searchable database.  We hope to present it to the public.  Ideally, members of the public could add details, stories and photographs of their family members to the project. In the next post, student Katherine Chen will describe a bit about the process of  transcribing the cards,a project she has taken on for the semester.  We will also report on a visit to Lattimer we made this past week and the discoveries we made.

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A Couple of Documents from Lattimer’s Past

This summer project researchers Paul Shackel, Mike Roller and Justin Uehlein spent more than two months living in Hazleton, each day spending about 8 hours in a collection of mining operator company archives in the Heights area of Hazleton. Joe Michel, the owner of the archive, was a generous host. Along the way we had lots of visits from local historians who contributed their knowledge of local history and lore to our proceedings. We also began a series of interviews with people in the area who taught us much about local history.

In a way, digging through archives like this was much like my experience of archaeology; there is no way to prepare for what you might find.  Of course we had ideas of what we wanted to find, but things rarely behave this way.  Besides, that would spoil the fun of it!

We went through 17 boxes of material, and many volumes of mining reports, binders of letters, boxes of photographs and shelves and shelves of maps.  Even then we only scratched the surface.  Here is a description of two things we collected and documented. We will be updating this section throughout the next few months as we catalog our material. You can click on each image to view a higher resolution version.  There is more to come, lots more!

Doublehouse, detail

The first item is the blueprint of a miner’s double house from Lattimer drawn in August of 1889. The description of the drawing is “Standard Mine Dwelling Houses”. It is hand drawn in ink on velum.  This example is just a detail from the blueprint, which also includes  plan (top) views of first and second floors of the houses.  We are interested in the building sequences of the company houses in the area.  We know that houses of different sizes were rented to those in different positions throughout the division of labor at the coal mines.  Eckley Miner’s village has a variety of these houses to view. How about Lattimer? What did the other houses look like? Were they built and maintained by the company as well? How did coal miners and their families alter or customize these houses throughout time to make them livable or to accommodate them to different and evolving lifestyles of various immigrants to the area?

It has been suggested that Northeast Pennsylvania provided some of the first examples of company housing in the coal fields. The style of the double house spread from here to the bituminous coalfields of Western Maryland and Southwestern Pennsylvania, and eventually to parts of the West.

The second item is a propaganda brochure from the Second World War. It urges coal miners to consider the importance of anthracite mining to the war effort.  Note the fantastic drawing at the bottom right corner comparing a coal miner with a pneumatic drill with a soldier and his machine gun.  The text urges miners to “Make it hot (as hot as hell) for Hitler!”  Anthracite coal was understood to be essential to the war effort, fueling factories and troop ships and maintaining the warmth of houses as petroleum supplies were being diverted into the war effort.  For this reason the federal government was dependent on workers to maintain productivity. Companies, furthermore, were pressured by the federal government to maintain stability. The result was tension upon the workers, trapped between the poles of organized labor, company pressure, and now federal intervention. On several occasions in the mid 40s the federal government seized control of the mines, making company personnel employees of the federal government.  Many items in the archive date to this period and represent aspects of this complex situation.