Coke ovens in winter, western Pennsylvania, circa 1900.
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Frick Industry Mines Danger Sign
This battery of Coke Ovens depicts a danger sign written in six different languages, reflecting the mixture ethnic backgrounds working in the Coke District.

Credit: Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives

The roasting of bituminous coal in Pennsylvania's bee hive coke ovens, more than 46,000 of which were operation in the 1910s, poured huge clouds of toxic smoke into the air, twenty-four hours a day, and 365 days a year.  The chemical cocktail of ammonia, tar, phenols, benzene, lead, sulfur dioxide and more than a thousand chemical compounds poisoned the surrounding landscape and caused untold illnesses among coke workers and residents of Pennsylvania coal country.

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