Forum Caps Off Mining Heritage Month

February 2, 2019

WILKES-BARRE — A society of engineers that formed here in 1871 hoped to make mining safer and more efficient by educating themselves and mine workers.

In the ensuing years, members of American Institute of Mining Engineers led a probe in Scranton’s collapsing streets, shared papers about mine technology and organized responses to mine disasters.

They endowed colleges, started a prep school and created a correspondence school that served more than 1 million students.

Financier Andrew Carnegie chaired an AIME committee in 1890, while Herbert Hoover was president of the society nine years before being elected president of the country.

On Thursday, society members recapped accomplishments of their forebearers during a forum at Rodano’s that capped off Anthracite Mining Heritage Month.

Bode Morin, curator of the state museum known as Eckley Miners’ Village, told about the village’s namesake, Eckley B. Coxe.

One of the three men who summoned engineers to AIME’s first meeting, Coxe grew up wealthy in Philadelphia. His grandfather, Tench Coxe, a delegate to the Continental Congress, bought 80,000 acres in Northeast Pennsylvania after coal was discovered shortly after America gained independence.

Eckley Coxe trained in Paris and Freiberg, Germany, where technical societies already existed to help master the problems of mining. Those European institutions sparked an idea for an American counterpart that could promote economical production and greater safety through “associations or societies ... and by the periodical publication of essays and papers,” according to the opening statement of the AIME on May 16, 1871.

Since then, the society expanded to other specialties and its name lengthened to the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers. Miners now fill one section, the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

Its local chapter is the Pennsylvania Anthracite Section, whose members said their predecessors helped to make mining more efficient and helped to reduce fatalities underground.

“Now we’re a foundation to support sister societies,” said Barbara Arnold, society president.

Likewise earlier society members were public benefactors.

Coxe started the school that has become MMI Preparatory in Freeland and gave to Lehigh University, as did his widow, Sophia.

Robert V.A. Norris, a society president who lived in Wilkes-Barre, taught at Harvard and became chief engineer of coal operations for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The society just nominated him for the National Mining Hall of Fame.

Rufus Foster started the International Correspondence School in Scranton to educate miners in 1891.

By 1910, more than 1 million students had taken courses. The school is now the site of Scranton Preparatory School. Scranton Prep’s teams play soccer where a factory once printed textbooks for the correspondence school.

“They had 100 different classes,” said society member John Voigt.

Rufus Foster called for a federal mining department four years before one began in 1896. The creation of U.S. Department of Mines in 1910 coincided with research into mine subsidence in Scranton.

A collapse in the Hyde Park section that damaged Public School 16 during summer vacation in 1909 launched the investigation. Lead investigators Eli Connor and William Griffith, both AIME members, concluded that 15 percent of Scranton was at risk. They proposed solutions such as pumping sand to shore up underground workings.

Thomas Edison — whose inventions included a battery-powered light that wouldn’t ignite mine gas, unlike lamps that miners wore on their heads — designed a course for the International Correspondence School.

President Theodore Roosevelt visited the school.

Roosevelt also intervened to stop the 1902 coal strike, angering hard-line coal baron John Markle of Hazleton, who didn’t want to concede to the miners’ union.

Newspapers started referring to Markle as disgruntled.

When he moved out of Hazleton in 1928, his mansion at Broad and Church streets was moved a block west and now houses Krapf and Hughes Funeral Home.

Markle didn’t lack for space after relocating to New York City.

His residence in the top two stories of Fifth Avenue skyscraper cost $1 million, the construction cost for the Jeddo Tunnel that Markle conceived to drain mines beneath the coal fields in the Hazleton Area.

The tunnel was a called a marvel when construction finished in 1895 and menace in the 1960s after the mines closed but polluted water continued to rush out, said society member James LaRegina, who suggested that engineers might be able to tap the water flow to generate electricity and develop other technologies to treat the water or plug the tunnel — projects too pricey and complex to attempt this far.

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