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Your Land is My Land: A Look at Bootleg Coal Mining During the Depression
What to Know
Teaching Time

Two 50-minute classes

Grade Level
Middle School
  • Civics and Government
  • Economics
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • The Great Depression and World War II - 1929-1945
Bootleg coal mining began with people picking culm piles during the strikes of 1902. Women and children collected this coal to heat their homes. During the Great Depression, however, huge layoffs precipitated a larger bootleg movement. Most unemployed miners, especially in rural areas of Pennsylvania, had no way to earn enough money to survive so "we just dug our own holes, as one bootleg practitioner recalled. What started out as small mines worked by three or four men in the night under extremely dangerous working conditions, eventually grew into more organized operations worked in broad daylight with "unions to protect them from law enforcement. By the 1930s it is estimated that bootlegging coal had become a thirty-million-dollar industry which cost the Commonwealth millions in uncollected taxes. What conditions led to such a large growth in the bootlegging industry? What was it like working illegal mines? How do the characteristics of this phenomenon challenge notions of right to private property and land ownership? Examining this issue helps students understand the extremely difficult conditions through which these coal miners lived and provides a challenge for students to understand the multiple perspectives of those affected by its practice.


Students will be able to: 1. Understand the extreme conditions of unemployment existing during the Great Depression. 2. Uncover the inherent dangers of bootleg coal mining through analysis of photographs. 3. Research and adopt the perspective of a person affected by bootlegging coal during the Great Depression. 4. Consider the complicated moral situation from a variety of viewpoints. 5. Synthesize the class activity in a written assignment.

Standards Alignment

  • Civics and Government

    5.2.6. A. Compare rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

  • Economics

    6.1.9. D. Describe the historical examples of expansion, recession and depression in the United States.
    6.3.6. A. Explain how scarcity influences choices and behaviors.

  • History

    8.1.6. B. Explain and analyze historical sources.
    8.2.6. B. Identify and explain primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from Beginnings to 1824
    8.2.6 D. Identifies conflicts and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history from beginnings to 1824
    8.3.6. B. Identify and explain primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from Beginnings to 1824.
    8.3.6. D. Identify conflict and cooperation among groups.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.8. D. Identify basic facts and ideas in text using specific strategies.
    1.1.8.G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.
    1.4.8. B. Write multi-paragraph informational pieces.
    1.5.8. C. Write with controlled and/or subtle organization.
    1.5.8. F. Edit writing using the conventions of language.
    1.5.8.B. Write using well-developed content appropriate for the topic.
    1.6.8. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.8. C. Speak using skills appropriate to formal speech situations.
    1.6.8. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

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