A little after 7 a.m. on April 28, 1924, miners at Benwood in Marshall County were preparing their work areas for their daily shift. One miner approached a roof fall, thinking incorrectly that it’d been examined by the fire boss.
His open light ignited firedamp, which is an explosive mixture of methane and air. An explosion ripped through the mine, which was dry and dusty with poor ventilation and sprinkling practices. The explosion spread quickly, and slate and debris blocked portions of the main entry.
The rescue effort was slow, difficult, and dangerous. It began shortly after the initial explosion, but rescuers had little luck due to the risk of additional explosions and roof falls. 119 miners died in the Benwood mine, which was owned by Wheeling Steel Corporation. There were no survivors. Many of the victims were recent European immigrants, particularly Italians and Poles.
Benwood ranks as the third worst coal mine disaster in West Virginia history. Ironically, it occurred 10 years to the day after the state’s second worst disaster. Exactly a decade earlier, an explosion at Eccles in Raleigh County had killed 183.