At various times throughout the history of Illinois, coal has been king, particularly in Southern Illinois. A special exhibit at Southern Illinois University Carbondale Special Collection Research Center spotlights the valuable resource and those whose lives it has touched.
This special exhibit highlights “Rock Dust Johnny,” as many knew the late mine safety pioneer and Franklin County resident John E. Jones. Born in Wales in 1883, Jones was a seventh-generation coal mining industry worker who went on to earn a civil engineering degree and become a major player in the field of coal mine safety. He initially served as a state mine inspector 1915-1917 and then worked as a safety engineer for Old Ben Coal Corp. from 1917 until retiring in 1952.
Credited by many as the preeminent authority on mine safety during the first half of the century, Jones pioneered a variety of safety practices including rock dusting, which he freely distributed to save miners’ lives although it was a patented technology. In fact, many current federal regulations stemmed from his research. The Special Collections Research Center at Morris Library houses an extensive collection of Jones’ papers from 1910 to 1957.
Jones also collected Pennsylvanian age fossil plants in Southern Illinois, West Virginia and Arkansas and discovered the first long-leaved specimen “Lepidodendron” in 1942. The exhibit also highlight’s the region’s coal resources. Included are a collection of Jones’ materials and photographs by John Richardson of abandoned mines, as well as pictures of Southern Illinois coal mines and the miners who worked in them snapped by C. William “Doc” Horrell.
In addition, exhibit visitors can view photographs of Franklin County’s Orient I and II mines. On Dec. 21, 1951, the Orient II mine became the site of the second worst mine disaster in the state’s history when 119 men died there. The display also features other Illinois mine disasters, mine accidents in which five or more miners lost their lives.