Blueprints of America: The First Coal Mine in the U.S.

Blueprints of America: The First Coal Mine in the U.S.

Coal – one of the oldest, most widespread resources used across the globe for heat, electricity, and manufacturing. But when did coal mining begin in the U.S., and how has it impacted history? 

The first coal mine in America was established in 1701 in Midlothian, Virginia. The coal pits in the area made significant contributions throughout history, and their ruins have been preserved in a park so people can still visit them today. 

Now, coal is still used to produce energy, and continues to be a strong economic driver for the country, providing thousands of jobs to American workers each year. It’s for this reason that we decided to name one of our aluminum wallets Coal Black, as a tribute to all the coal miners of America. 

Keep reading to learn more about the history of coal mines in the U.S., and gain a better understanding of how this important industry has shaped the country we live in today. 

Brief History of Coal Mining

Coal Mining in the US

Coal has been used for centuries to provide energy and materials to those lucky enough to find a deposit of this natural resource. 

But when was coal first used, and where? 

The history of coal mining is an interesting one that is believed to be dated as far back as 3490 BC in China when citizens used coal for household tasks. Coal was also used in ancient Rome and by the Aztecs, who used the substance as fuel. 

The use of coal was widespread throughout history, and eventually made its way to the rest of Europe. It was first used for domestic heating in Britain in the first half of the 14th century, and it was during this time that the coal mine was developed into a more advanced, industrialized system, which made gathering this resource a much easier task. 

The First Commercial Coal Mining in the U.S.

Coal Miner Boot and a Geogrit wallet

The history of American coal mining can be traced all the way back to the 1700s in Chesterfield County, Virginia. 

Coal was first discovered in the county in 1701 near a French Huguenot settlement in an area called Midlothian. As several more families started to move into the region, the operation of multiple coal mines began, according to historian Martha W. McCartney.

As these mining operations continued to grow, the operators started searching for miners to work in their coal pits. Miners started to flood in from Europe and settle in Midlothian. 

Eventually, several families of investors opened the first commercial coal mines in America. And by the 1730s, commercial coal mining was well underway in Midlothian. 

Years later, the same coal pits would supply the Westham cannon factory with this critical fuel source during the Revolutionary War, prompting the British to invade the town and destroy the mines in retaliation, which were rebuilt. 

The Midlothian mines were so important in the 1700-1800s, the citizens of the area were able to lobby for the construction of a turnpike as well as a railroad, both of which greatly opened up travel to and from the area. 

By the year 1835, as many as eight commercial mines were operating in Chesterfield County, and modernized production techniques allowed them to produce around 75,000 tons of coal each year. 

Midlothian Mining Imagery

In the mid-1850s, the Midlothian mines suffered from a series of explosions that killed a large number of people and caused earth tremors for miles, even forcing some buildings to cave in. These incidents marked a dark time for Midlothian history, as many residents and workers fled the area out of fear for their lives. 

The mines in Chesterfield once again surged in business when the Civil War broke out. The local mines provided coal for the Confederacy’s defense industry and were somehow left unscathed by the war, thanks to heavy guarding against the Union. 

After the war was over, coal production in the area drastically decreased and never regained momentum. When yet another explosion at the Grove Shaft killed 32 people in 1882, an embezzlement scandal involving the company’s superintendent was revealed and the mining operations in Midlothian were shut down. 

Several attempts were made to revive the area over the years, none of which were successful. It wasn’t until World War II when new construction came to the area, creating a suburban community, that Midlothian saw life again. 

Midlothian Mines Today

Midlothian Mines Park

You can still visit what remains of the Midlothian mines, the remnants of which were turned into a park several decades ago. 

In 2004, Chesterfield County decided to turn the first coal mine in America into a 44-acre preserve dedicated to the citizens of the county, appropriately dubbing it Mid-Lothian Mines Park

The ruins of the mines are surrounded by beautiful woods, which now contain numerous exhibits outlining the history of the area as well as a variety of trails. Several observation decks and an amphitheater surround a pond within the park, where events are periodically held. 

Some of the ruins of the old coal mines are still there and can be accessed by the trail system. 

To learn more about the Mid-Lothian Mines Park, check out their website here

Importance of Coal Mining in America

Primary Use of Coal - Coal Mine Photography

Most people know that coal plays an important role in keeping the United States running, but many don’t know all of the ways in which it contributes. 

The primary use of coal today is to generate electricity. It is burned in coal-fired power plants, and the heat produced by its combustion is used to convert water into steam, which drives an electricity-producing turbine, according to the U.S. Geological Survey

Some types of high-carbon coal are also used to make steel, while others are used in cement production, and to make products like carbon fibers and foams, tar, medicine, and fuel. 

Beyond that, the coal industry provides nearly 140,000 jobs in the United States, and contributes around $43.5 to the U.S. economy every year, according to a study by West Virginia University.

Coal Facts

Now that you know about the history of coal, here are some interesting facts about this important resource:

  • The United States has the largest reserve of recoverable coal in the world – about 252 tons.
  • There are four different types, or “ranks,” of coal, each with its own unique purpose. 
  • The largest coal deposit in the U.S. is the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which has over 160 billion tons of recoverable coal. 
  • Coal is mined in 27 U.S states. 


Coal is an important resource that contributes significant amounts of electricity, jobs, and economic resources to the United States. From electricity to steel, this industry is essential in the U.S. 

The first coal mine in America can be traced back to the 1700s in Chesterfield County, Virginia, where a variety of commercial mines kicked off this important business. You can still see the site of America’s first mines by visiting the Mid-Lothian Mines Park in Midlothian, Virginia. 

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