August 3, 1977: Coal Operator W. P. Tams Dies at 94


Coal operator W. P. Tams died on August 3, 1977, at age 94. Tams studied engineering at Virginia Tech before going to work in 1904 for coal operator Sam Dixon in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Four years later, Tams launched his own company, known as Gulf Smokeless Coal in the new Winding Gulf Coalfield. He founded the Raleigh County town of Tams as his company’s headquarters and later acquired another coal operation in neighboring Wyoming County.

Tams was an unusual coal operator in several ways. First, he retained his company’s independence at a time when most operations were being consolidated into large conglomerations. He didn’t sell out until he retired in 1955. Another thing that separated Tams from other coal operators is that he lived his long life in the same town as many of his miners. The town of Tams was a model coal camp for its time. And his modest bachelor home was no larger than those occupied by most of his miners. His major indulgence was a sizable personal library. W. P. Tams is considered the last of the old-time coal barons.