Spotlight: Happy Birthday, West Virginia

West Virginia officially became a state on June 20, 1863 and will celebrate its 157th birthday this year. The state was created when several northern Virginia counties were admitted to the Union during the Civil War after several years of petitioning the United States Government. Economic and social differences between southern and northern Virginia lead loyal unionists in the northern region to push for legal statehood. The date of its admittance is known as West Virginia Day and it is traditionally celebrated with festivities across the state. We are marking the day by sharing a film from our holdings that highlights the vast natural resources of the region.

still from 70

Still taken from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

The film, West Virginia and Its Natural Resources, was part of the film library of the Bureau of Mines. The library served as a way to further agency’s mission to spread information on the extraction, processing, use and conservation of mineral resources. Now, the film is part of NARA’s holdings in Record Group 70: Records of the Bureau of Mines and Series: Public Information Films and Video Recordings, 1934-1975. West Virginia and Its Natural Resources was produced in 1954 with the cooperation of Weirton Steel, a West Virginia based steel and tin plate producer. Beautiful color footage captures the beauty of the state and highlights its natural resources and industry.

Clip from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

The production of steel in West Virginia began in 1884 in the Northern Panhandle city of Wheeling. By the time this film was produced, the state’s steel production had expanded to several other areas including the city of Weirton. During the height of steel production in West Virginia, the industry employed over 20 thousand in the state with the majority in the Northern Panhandle. The film clip below captures the tin and steel making process at Weirton Steel.

Clip from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

Another natural resource and industry highlighted in the film is salt. Salt brine was the earliest natural resource to be developed in the area and a salt boom occurred in the Kanawha Valley in the early to mid 1800’s.

Clip from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

A film about West Virginia’s natural resources would not be complete without discussing the state’s most well-known resource, coal. Originally, coal was mined for use by the salt industry, demand for it grew as other industries also began using the resource. Such demand allowed for the coal industry in West Virginia to flourish and those who owned mines profited. Owners, seeking to keep profit high and costs low, employed people who had difficulty finding work in other industries because of prejudices. Black coal miners were recruited from the south and by the early 1930’s made up 20-25 percent of the total mining labor force. Immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe also made up a large portion of miners in West Virginia. The work done by these groups was often the most dangerous and lowest paid.

Clip from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

West Virginia has a rich and diverse history. The state’s natural resources highlighted in this film helped to fuel America’s industrial revolution and its rivers, forests, and natural beauty continue to draw visitors from around the world.  A quote from the film sums it up, “This is West Virginia, rich in raw materials and power, rivers of abundant water, mountains of natural resources above and below the ground, a great and vital variety of industry, rich in agriculture, a leader in fruit orchards, and with people of many talents…”

Clip from West Virginia and Its Natural Resources

The entire film can be viewed in our catalog here, West Virginia and Its Natural Resources. Other special media records relating West Virginia and the Bureau of Mines can be found at the links below.

Series: Lewis Hine Photographs for the National Research Project, 1936-1937

Series: Public Information Films and Video Recordings, 1934-1975 of the Bureau of Mines

Still Picture records relating to West Virginia 

Cartographic records relating to West Virginia

Motion Picture records relating to West Virginia

One thought on “Spotlight: Happy Birthday, West Virginia

  1. An informative post, but mostly one-sided. A more balanced post would mention what coal extraction has cost WV.

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