Teach PA History
Working Where the Sun Never Shines
What to Know
Teaching Time
Two 50-Minute Sessions
Grade Level
High School
  • Civics and Government
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
During the Industrial Revolution in the United States, coal became a key fuel source for machinery, transportation, and heat. As the need for coal grew in the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth century, so did the need for mines and workers. Thousands of immigrant families moved to western Pennsylvania to mine bituminous coal. Many of these laborers fell victim to coal companies who paid low wages and provided poor housing for their employees. As a result of low wages, many families also sent their sons to work. Low wages and poor working conditions in the mines led to the formation of labor unions such as the United Mine Workers of America. John Brophy, John Lewis, Joseph Yablonski, William B. Wilson, and Mary Harris "Mother" Jones were just a few of the key individuals who organized the unions, led strikes, and pushed for legislation to protect the workers and their families. In this lesson, students will have the opportunity to analyze photographs, newspaper articles, petition letters, and legislation that discussed the poor working conditions faced by miners in western Pennsylvania. They will also analyze the works of key individuals who were instrumental in forming labor unions and legislation to identify the measures that were taken to provide safety and fair wages for the miner.


Students will be able to: 1. Identify the working conditions of miners by analyzing photographs of men and boys working in the mines. 2. Identify working conditions of miners by analyzing written documents such as petition letters, newspaper articles, and other government documents. 3. Work cooperatively in groups to discuss and present possible solutions for the problems faced by miners. 4. Analyze various written documents to identify the strategies used by unions and miners to solve the poor working conditions faced by miners. 5. Synthesize information from the various primary resources by writing a Declaration of Safety Measures for Miners which models the Declaration of Independence in format.

Standards Alignment

  • Civics and Government

    5.1.9. J. Explain how law protects individual rights and the common good.
    5.2.9. C. Analyze skills used to resolve conflicts in society and government.
    5.2.9. G. Analyze political and civic participation in government and society

  • History

    8.1.9. B. Analyze and interpret historical sources.
    8.1.9. C. Analyze the fundamentals of historical interpretation.
    8.1.9. D. Analyze and interpret historical research using primary sources.
    8.2.9. A. Analyze the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914.
    8.2.9. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914.
    8.2.9. C. Identify and analyze how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history.
    8.2.9. D. Identify and analyze conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.11 G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.
    1.2.11. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.4.11. C. Write persuasive pieces.
    1.6.11. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.11. B. Listen to selections of literature (fiction and/or nonfiction).
    1.6.11. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.11. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.
    1.8.11. B. Locate information using appropriate sources and strategies.
    1.8.11. C. Organize, summarize and present the main ideas from research.

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