Experiencing both boom and bust, the coal-mining industry has played an huge role in Alabama’s economy. During the 1840s, entrepreneurs discovered four large coal fields and soon vastly expanded the state’s economy beyond its traditional agricultural base. During the Civil War, most of the coal supplied to the Confederacy came from Alabama. Coal fed a post–war industrial boom and Jones Valley’s deposits of coal, iron ore, and limestone earned Birmingham its reputation as the “Magic City.” In 1878, the Birmingham & Pratt Mines Railroad linked coking coal with the iron furnaces of the Birmingham District, feeding the Birmingham iron industry and eventually spawning the development of numerous thriving “company towns,” each with their own stores, housing, churches, schools, and company-sponsored baseball teams. But by the 1950s, iron and coal markets were in severe decline and many of Alabama’s mines closed. Currently, much of the state’s coal deposits lie dormant – but Alabama still ships billions of dollars of coal worldwide.
Photos courtesy of: Alabama Department of Archives and History, University of Alabama, Troy University Library