When several leaders of the Kentucky coal industry met in 1942 to form a statewide coal operators’ association, the times were quite different. Privately owned coal companies held great influence in the industry, and most problems remained local. Coal companies competed against each other with perhaps even more intensity than they do so now.
Those icons of the Kentucky coal industry managed to overcome their differences and take visionary action. They formed the Kentucky Mine Owners Association. Five years later, the evolution of a statewide organization took its biggest step. On April 28, 1947, the board of directors adopted the “Constitution and By-laws” of the Kentucky Coal Association (KCA).
KCA was born of the district associations that represented coal operators’ local concerns. The district associations represented by KCA initially included the Big Sandy Elkhorn Coal Operators Association, Hazard Coal Operators Association, Harlan County Coal Operators Association, Operators Association of Williamson Field, Southern Appalachian Coal Operators Association, and the Kentucky Coal Agency.
Those with legible signatures on the original by-laws include: Joseph J. Ardigo, Operators Association of Williamson Field; S. M. Cassidy, Consolidation Coal Co.; Finley Davis, Kentucky Sun Coal Co.; John J. Foster, Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Co.; Harry S. Homan, Big Sandy-Elkhorn Coal Operators Association; L. P. Johnson, Crummies Creek Coal Co.; Frank P. Kerr, Eastern Coal Corp.; Harry LaViers, Sr., Southeast Coal Co.; H. C. Moore, Kentucky Coal Agency; G. Moss Patterson, West Kentucky Coal Co.; B. F. Reed, Turner-Elkhom Mining Co.; William B. Sturgill, Hazard Coal Operators Association; and George S. Ward, Harlan County Coal Operators Association.
The association founders concisely stated their intent: “The objects and purposes of this association are to promote the best interests of the coal mining industry of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all those engaged therein, employers and employees; and to disseminate general information relevant to the mining industry and all public matters pertaining thereto.” These stated purposes have guided the association throughout its history—a history distinguished by a long line of leaders who have provided energy, vision, and dedication to the coal industry and to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The Kentucky Coal Association is the state’s leading organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the coal industry across Kentucky. KCA’s member companies are drawn from throughout Eastern and Western Kentucky, from underground and surface producers, from union-represented and union-free mining operations. This diversity enriches the association and allows it to build consensus as it works to resolve the complex problems confronting the 21st Century coal industry. Now, more than ever, the Kentucky Coal Association is critical to maintaining the health of Kentucky’s coal industry and, thereby, the economic vitality of the Commonwealth.
Bill Sturgill, one of the founders and a past member of the KCA board of directors, related that the early days of KCA brought together representatives of the district associations, unionized mines and non-union mines, underground miners and surface miners, and ultimately eastern Kentucky coal operators and western Kentucky coal operators (Illinois Basin and Appalachian coalflelds). But he also points out that KCA did not start out as the smooth running organization that it is today.
“The toughest association organizing problem was getting people to contribute, because we were going to do the work anyway,” Sturgill said. “The objective of the association was to benefit the entire Kentucky coal industry.”
Sturgill points out that the foundation for KCA was well-laid, which promoted growth to its current status. A key to the association’s success has been the stated policy of engaging neither in coal sales nor labor relations, but public relations was always an association strong point.
“In the early days of KCA, people generally thought of the industry as unkind and dirty,” Sturgill said. “Over the years, KCA helped bring the public to recognize the importance of the Kentucky coal industry to their lives and to the economy of the state.”