Coal Miners

Brookside Coal Mine in Troy and employees, circa 1910

Brookside Coal Mine in Troy and employees, circa 1910. Some of the miners in this photograph are wearing oil-wick lamps like Bill Frangen’s and other are wearing the newer carbide lamps.

When Bill Frangen’s father died of erysipelas (a bacterial skin infection) in 1898, 12-year-old Bill left school to work in the Brookside Coal Mine in Troy. His mother, a German immigrant, took in washing. Together they supported Bill’s three younger siblings.

Miner’s oil lamp, circa 1890-1900

Galvanized steel oil-wick miner’s cap lamp circa 1890-1900, used by William (Bill) Frangen. MCHS object 2018-302-0011-FIC.

The galvanized steel oil-wick lamp pictured here belonged to Bill. To use it, Bill filled the lamp with oil and pulled the wick through the spout to light it. Then he hung the lamp from his cap so he could see his way in the mine.

Carbide lamps replaced oil-wick lamps by 1920. Also worn on the miner’s cap, the lamp basically consisted of two chambers and a burner. Water dripped from an upper chamber to calcium carbide in a lower chamber, creating a reaction that produced acetylene gas. The miner lit the burner with a match.

Below is a picture of Bill in his mid/late-70s. Bill might be among the miners pictured above at the Brookside Coal Mine. He would be about 25 years old. Do you see him?

William (Bill) Frangen

William (Bill) Frangen, circa early 1960s (age mid/late-70s)


Edwardsville Intelligencer. Various articles.

National Museum of American History (U.S.). Behring Center. “Mining Lights and Hats.” [National Museum of American History website]. Accessed August 30, 2019.

United States census records and other public records.

[William Frangen obituary.] Troy Tribune, October 14, 1965.