The Illinois coal mining boom began during the American Civil War. A farmer near Braidwood Illinois healthcare hit a rich vein of coal while he was digging a water well in 1864. During the half century following this discovery, thousands of workers migrated to Kankakee, Will, and Grundy counties to seek employment in the coal mines. A vast network of railroads was built to permit the mining companies to ship coal cheaply to the cities where rapidly-growing steel and manufacturing industries needed it. The Illinois mining industry soon came to be dominated by huge corporations such as the Chicago, Wilmington and Vermillion Coal Co., which was formed by rich Boston and Chicago investors in 1866. Boom towns like Braidwood, Coal City, and Carbon Hill sprang up as miners from Pennsylvania and other eastern states - and later, Europe - poured into them.
The miners' lives were extremely difficult and dangerous. Miners who worked in small tunnels where they couldn't stand up straight had to stoop to pick and shovel coal, then load it onto carts and push the carts to where mules took over. The miners worked ten hours each day, doing dirty work which frequently led them to develop Black Lung disease, or suffer crippling accidents caused by rockfalls, before there was any Coal City Illinois hospital treatment.
Seventy-four coal miners died in the 1883 Diamond Mine Disaster, when water from a snow-melt flooded into the mine, drowning all the men working in the tunnel. Not only were the big mine owners indifferent to their workers' safety, but they also had complete control over their lives. Workers had to live in homes rented from the company and were forced to buy from the company store (or lose their jobs), where prices were usually much higher than elsewhere.
As a result of these abuses, miners began to form unions. The first miners' union in the area was formed in Braidwood in 1872, and Coal City hospital thereafter. The United Mine Workers union was founded in 1890 from local unions in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The UMW was the first national labor union in America, which fought for and eventually won miners the eight-hour workday and minimum wage.