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Lesson Plan: Dangers of Mining

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a milestone in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Dangers of Mining:
Mining was a very dangerous occupation during this time period. The risk of injury or death due to cave-ins, mud slides, machinery malfunction, or other mishap was high. Underground mining was the most risky, with accidents occurring at lower levels of the mine that prevented the escape of the workers from those levels. Inspections were done by the Bureau of Labor to make mines as safe as possible, and companies provided employees with safety equipment and rules to help prevent accidents, but they still occurred with some frequency.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Hibbing.
  4. Click on Dangers of Mining.
  5. Read the introductory material on Dangers of Mining and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of miners lighting explosives. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Dangers section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of miners lighting fuses for explosives in the mines.

    1.1) What might make lighting an explosive's fuse by hand a dangerous job?

    Possible Answer: A faulty fuse might burn faster than expected, and having an open flame near an explosive is always dangerous.

    1.2) Since there are several fuses to be lit, what can you assume about how fast the fuses burn?

    Possible Answer: The fuses must burn slowly enough so that the workers have time to get to all of them. Fuses could also be cut to longer lengths, which would take more time to burn.

    1.3) Are these men wearing and special clothing that will protect them from the blast?

    Possible Answer: Not really. Their helmets and heavy work clothes are typical of what miners wore. Once the fuses are lit, they must get as far away from the blast as possible.
    News 1

    Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
    This newspaper article describes a cave-in that occurred at one of the mines.

      2.1) What does the time at which the accident occured tell you about what life was like for a miner?

      Possible Answer: Because they were working at 2:30 in the morning, you can tell that some workers were expected to work during night shifts.

      2.2) Did the men do something that caused the cave-in?

      Possible Answer: The article doesn't say so. It seems as though they were just unlucky enough to be standing there when the dirt dropped.

      2.3) Why didn't the men just dig themselves back out of the dirt?

      Possible Answer: The article says that the man who was killed was covered by several tons of frozen earth. There was a very large amount of dirt that collapsed on these men.

      2.4) What can you learn about mining from the fact that a large number of men responded quickly to an alarm?

      Possible Answer: Dangers like cave-ins must have been a constant threat. That the mining company installed an alarm and that the men responded quickly suggests that everyone was aware of the dangers.

    News 2
    Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
    This newspaper article describes a death from falling into a mine shaft.

      3.1) According to the article, what accident did Mr. Lee have?

      Possible Answer: He was working at the edge of a mine hole without realizing how close to it he was, and fell in.

      3.2) Did being an experienced miner keep you safe from accidents?

      Possible Answer: Apparently not, since this man was a mining captain, yet died by simply falling into a deep hole.

      3.3) Did the fall kill Mr. Lee immediately?

      Possible Answer: No, he actually survived the fall itself but then died two hours later from severe injuries.

      3.4) Does the article tell you how the other miners felt about Mr. Lee?

      Possible Answer: No, not really. It said he was a very effective manager and was well known in town, but no miners gave their opinion in the article.

    Document 1
    Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
    This is a report on a mud slide in a mine.

      4.1) Why would more people have been killed at the lower levels than the upper ones?

      Possible Answer: Workers in the lower levels would have had much farther to climb in order to escape.

      4.2) What could cause a large amount of mud to suddenly come into a mine shaft?

      Possible Answer: If the mine were dug underneath a body of water such as a lake, or beneath some undiscovered water underground, the water could break into the tunnels and form a mud slide.

      4.3) What might have caused the rush of air that the miner described?

      Possible Answer: As the mud filled the lower tunnels, it would have pressed all of the air out of the tunnels in front of it.

      4.4) How could being underground have made this an even more dangerous situation?

      Possible Answer: It's dark underground, so that could have added to the confusion. The only place to run is through a tunnel. If a tunnel entrance gets blocked, the miners would be trapped.

    Data 1
    Click on the Data 1 button to open the primary source.
    These statistics show the deaths and injuries involved in mining.

      5.1) The total number of injuries was higher in 1915-16 than in 1914-15. Does this mean mining was becoming more dangerous?

      Possible Answer: Not necessarily. There might have been a lot more workers in 1915-16, in which case you would expect more accidents to occur. We do know from other sources, however, that the beginning of World War I in Europe caused there to be a higher demand for workers and ore during the 1914-1915 period. This eagerness for larger quantities of ore more quickly may have relaxed the safety standards of the mining companies and allowed for more injuries.

      5.2) From the occupation table, which job would you say is the most dangerous and why?

      Possible Answer: More miners died in accidents than did workers in any other job. Brakeman was a close second in 1914-15, but many more miners were killed in 1915-1916.

      5.3) Does the fact that more Austrians (South Slavs) were killed prove that Austrians were not very careful?

      Possible Answer: Not at all. It may have just been the case that there were many more Austrians there, or that they were being given more dangerous tasks.

      5.4) According to the first table, which mine was the safest to work at?

      Possible Answer: The mines look to be pretty equal. Most of them had only one death in two years. Only one of them had more than three deaths, then the next year it had none. Accidents could happen anywhere.

    Book 1
    Click on the Book 1 button to open the primary source.
    These reports were created for the Department of Labor inspections.

      6.1) How did the mining company make workers aware of safety?

      Possible Answer: The report says that rules and procedures have been posted all around, and that printed books on safety have been passed out to the workers.

      6.2) Why would it be important for workers to know at all times the dangers that might be around them?

      Possible Answer: In a dangerous occupation like mining, thinking ahead to what might happen could give you more time to react when something dagerous did happen, and could help you avoid the dangers.

      6.3) Why would the workers be expected to remove or report anything they considered unsafe?

      Possible Answer: That way everyone was helping to keep everyone else safe. Safety became everyone's job, not just the inspector's.

      6.4) Did this inspector say that the mines are a safe place to work?

      Possible Answer: Not exactly. He reported that the companies were willing to do what he asked, and that mining was no more dangerous than it had to be.

    Thought Questions for online Exploration:
    During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

    1. How can a photograph make an event or an issue such as danger in mining seem more realistic for the researcher or reader? How can we as historians use photographs to better understand an event or issue? What details do photographs give us that we might not find in other sources?

    2. Both of the newspaper articles about mining accidents appeared near the top of the newspaper’s front page. Why would a newspaper print articles like these on the front page?What does this tell us about the incidents? What might it tell us if the articles were found farther back in the newspaper?

    3. The Department of Labor sent inspectors to the mines to evaluate their safety. How might records of their inspections help us understand what life was like for miners? What might these inspections tell us about mining companies? How might the records of these inspections have been used if a safety lawsuit werefiled against a mining company?

    4. The statistics in Data 1 show us the number of fatalities in the mines during the years mentioned and the causes of those deaths. Statistics are often used today in studies of American citizens and their jobs, health, and home life. What are some advantages that statistics might have for the historian? What challenges might statistics like these present for the historian?

    Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes Danger in Mining
    You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to dangers in mining. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about dangers in mining does not provide a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

    Possible Themes:
    1. Dangerous Occupations and Economics
    2. Social roles in mining

    Theme One:
    Dangerous Occupations and economics

    The student will be able to:

    1. identify and evaluate the role of economics in the work of mining companies and their employees
    2. describe and explain how job safety can be impacted by economic factors
    Class Discussion:
    In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

    • Mining is a very dangerous profession. Why do you think people might be willing to work in such a dangerous profession? What might make it worth the risk for them?

    • What role do you think the mining companies played in making the mines a safer place to work? What responsibilities to the employees did the companies have if the workers knew that mining was dangerous in the first place?

    • What kind of economic benefits existed in mining that would make it a worthwhile business for the mining companies? What about for the miners? Do you think mining would have developed as an industry if there had been less economic benefit?

    • What jobs in your community today do you consider dangerous? Do you think these jobs are worth the risks involved? Would you be willing to work one of these jobs for a living? What would it take for you to accept a job in one of these dangerous positions?
    Optional activities:
    • Professional athletes, race-car drivers, astronauts, and other workers are willing to make huge sacrifices in their personal safety in order to achieve a goal or work at a job. Ask students to research a famous person who works in a dangerous job and describe what they do to handle the danger and make the job less of a threat to their safety. (For example, race cars have safety restraints, professional athletes may wear protective clothing or visit athletic trainers who teach them safe exercising techniques). Have students present these to the class as a way of explaining that in most jobs, there are now a great number of things that can be done with current technology or information to make the job safer.

    • Go over the safety rules in your school handbook. What are these rules designed to do for students? What can these rules do for parents? What can be some of the consequences of not following these rules? What plans does your school have in place for dangerous situations such as fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, or bomb threats? Ask students to develop a plan for their home for situations such as these and practice it with their family. You may wish to invite the local fire marshal or police officer to class to help students prepare their emergency plans. Students could also create a car emergency kit to place in the trunk of their family's car.

    • Take the class on a field trip to a local museum that contains artifacts used in mining. (If a field trip is not possible, you may wish to gather some photographs or pictures from other sources to use.) How are each of these items designed to improve the safety of the miner while they are at work? How effective do you think each of these would be? What changes in technology have been made since the early 1900s that have made this kind of safety equipment even more effective? Ask students to design a new piece of safety equipment for miners and draw and label a diagram of their invention.

    • Since many students and parents do work and do chores at home, ask students to evaluate their home for safety concerns and hazards. You may want to make a checklist of things that students can identify in their homes. These might include such things as hazardous chemicals within reach of children, stairways without handrails, or broken sidewalks that could cause someone to trip and fall. Have students work with their parents to make their home a safer place. It may be helpful to ask students to consider risks for young children as well as the elderly who might visit their home.

    Theme Two:
    Social roles in mining:

    The student will be able to:

    1. identify and describe the role of the miner in society and in the family
    2. identify, describe, and evaluate the societal of mining and its dangers
    Class Discussion:
    In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

    • Almost all miners during this time were men. List as many reasons as you can for why this was the case.

    • What social expectations of the time would probably have prevented women from working in the mines? (Students may consider issues such as family responsibilities, dress, and physical strength.)

    • What other responsibilities or occupations might have been more acceptable for women at this time?

    • What effects do you think a job in mining could have on the rest of a miner's family?

    Optional activities:

    • Ask students to research some of the biological effects mining can have on a worker and report to the class. Some examples are lung disease and work-related injuries or death. Remind students to consider the impact that these effects could have on the family of the miner and on their income.

    • If possible, take the students on a field trip to a reconstructed mining camp or mine to study the dangers and effects of mining on the workers and their families. Ask students to use the information they gather to create a diary page from a day in the life of a miner or a member of a miner's family. Read these aloud to the class.

    • Have students study advertisements, magazines, or books from the early 1900s and evaluate the expectations that were placed on women at that time. Have students make a list of what women were expected to do, what they could wear, and what jobs were acceptable. Compare this list to what women can and are expected to do today. How are the lists similar? How are they different? Ask students to write a short essay describing what they like best and least on both lists and whether or not they think these expectations are fair.

    • Ask students to study the life of someone who has challenged a long-standing social role or expectation in a positive way (e.g. male nurse, female CEO). Consider the opposition they faced and how they achieved their goals. Have students prepare a short biographical booklet on the person for inclusion in a classroom "hall of fame" for student inspiration.

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