The Power of Montana History is Memorable


(Photo of giant crane at Colstrip)


Activity at Colstrip in 1953 was in full swing when a member of Winton Weydemeyer’s Montana Conservation Caravan took this shot of a giant machine dwarfing their nearby bus. History is made every day, and the people at Colstrip had no inkling of the controversy coal and the power plants would face today. The Montana Historical Society has more than 500,000 images from Montana’s past and thousands upon thousands of archival research material that are the “Memory of Montana.”


Coal Mining History in Montana

Montana's coal mining industry began on a small scale in 1880, and was well-established by 1900. In 1918, annual coal production peaked at 5 million tons, a relatively minor total compared with states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In the early 20th century, coal mining in Montana was almost entirely underground; one mine alone, the Colstrip Mine in eastern Montana, produced about one-third of the state's coal during the 1930's. Coal mining declined in subsequent decades, but remained relatively stable until the 1950's, when Montana coal mining dropped to a very low level due to the decline of coal-fired locomotives. (While coal mining in Montana in the early 20th century was relatively disaster-free compared with Appalachian mines, a 1943 explosion at the Smith Mine in Washoe, MT, killed 74 coal miners.  


MHS Photo Archives #PAC 2005-14

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