T. R. Johns papers, 1853-1948 (bulk 1919-1940)


Collection Overview

T. R. Johns papers
Dates (Inclusive):
1853-1948 (bulk 1919-1940)
Dates (Inclusive):
Johns, T. R. (Thomas Richards)
T.R. Johns was the General Manager and Vice President of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation/Industrial Collieries Corporation, the mining subsidiary of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
Personal and business correspondence, memoranda, clippings, scrapbooks, photo albums, and letterpress books documenting Johns' administration of Bethlehem Steel's affiliated mines and labor conditions in Pennsylvania and West Virginia mines.
Collection Number:
6 Linear Feet
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the  library catalog.
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.

Biographical or Historical Note

Thomas Richards (T.R.) Johns (1865-1944) was born of Welsh parents (William T. and Angeline Richards Johns) who had emigrated to American in the early 1840s. Raised in the small, predominately Welsh mining community of Coalmont, Pennsylvania, Johns entered the nearby mines of the Broadtop coalfields of Huntingdon County as a trapper and breakerboy at age twelve. He worked as a coal miner in the central Pennsylvania bituminous fields and in the mines surrounding Bessemer, Alabama between 1877 and 1885. Returning to Pennsylvania, Johns found employment as a clerk, cashier, and bookkeeper for several merchants and businessmen in the towns of Brisbane and Houtzdale. These jobs enabled him to acquire office management experience.

At age twenty-three Johns secured an appointment as chief office clerk for the Berwind-White Coal Company near Punxsutawney, largely through his uncle, a superintendent. After seven years, Johns left this company to assume similar responsibilities for several small Indiana County coal mines affiliated with the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Company from 1895 to 1913. As superintendent of the Helvetia and Walston mines, he managed finances, procured supplies, and handled the hiring and discharging of labor. Between 1911 and 1916 Johns served either as superintendent or general manager for the following coal mining operations: the Keystone Coal and Coke Company (Westmoreland County), the Ebensburg Coal Company (Colver, Pa.), the Carbon Fuel Company (West Virginia), the Cabin Creek Coal Company (West Virginia), and the Penn-Mary Coal Company (Heilwood, Pa. and Morgantown, W. Va.).

In 1916 the Penn-Mary Coal Company's properties reverted to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation following its acquisition of the Pennsylvania Steel Company. Bethlehem Steel not only retained Johns to direct the affairs of its Heilwood holdings but later appointed him general manager of its subsidiary, the Bethlehem Mines Corporation (later the Industrial Collieries Corporation) to manage and operate the steel corporation's affiliated mines. As general manager he directed the finances of the corporation's mines, supervised labor-management relations, and had primary responsibility for evaluating the prospective purchases and leasing of coal properties and mines. Under his stewardship the Bethlehem Mines Corporation expanded both its mining properties and coal producing facilities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. By the time he succeeded to the Vice-Presidency of the Industrial Collieries Corporation in 1940, Bethlehem Steel's holdings included nine mines employing over 7,000 employees. Johns also promoted company sponsorship of competitive First Aid Meets involving the mine safety and rescue teams of the constituent mines to publicize mine safety preparedness.

Beyond his immediate managerial duties, Johns played an active role in galvanizing bituminous operators' efforts to impose Open Shop conditions in the northern West Virginia coal fields during the 1920s. He further served as Bethlehem Steel's political agent in those mining communities where the company had vested economic and political interests. Johns recruited and solicited support for candidates at the local, county, and state levels in order to advance the interests of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation and Bethlehem Steel. He was particularly instrumental in building the corporation's political base in Johnstown and Cambria County between 1923 and 1942.

During his affiliation with Bethlehem Steel, Johns enjoyed the friendship and respect of such notable steel executives as Eugene G. Grace and Charles M. Schwab. Considered one of the country's leading experts on coal mining, Johns belonged to numerous professional mine engineering societies. He also served on the first Mining Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania State College which proposed guidelines and standards for the school's mine engineering curriculum.

Johns retired from the Industrial Collieries Corporation in 1942 at the age of seventy-seven, completing twenty-seven years of service to Bethlehem Steel.

T. R. Johns was married to the former Mary Jane Jones (July 8, 1865 - October 5, 1915). Their family included four children: John Rosslyn Johns, Gladys Gertrude Johns, Spurgeon Stanley Johns, and Lucille Genevieve Johns. Both John and Spurgeon Johns served as state mine inspectors for West Virginia and Pennsylvania respectively.

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Collection Overview

The T. R. Johns Papers consist of a small, diverse collection of materials documenting the life and career of Thomas Richards (T. R.) Johns, General Manager and Vice-President of the Bethlehem Mines/Industrial Collieries Corporation, the mining subsidiary of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Materials contained therein date from 1895-1944 inclusive, with the bulk of the collection falling within the date span 1919-1940. For most of the topics reflected in the collection, the coverage is greater in breadth than in depth, and the documentation is frequently fragmentary and incomplete. Included in the papers are: Johns' family correspondence; personal and business correspondence sent and received by Johns; office memoranda and documents of Bethlehem Steel and Bethlehem Mines Corporation executives; newspaper and photograph scrapbooks; and Johns' personal memorabilia. Besides chronicling Johns' career, the collection highlights the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's administrative politics toward its affiliated mines and surrounding mining communities and contains primary source material on bituminous coal mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The correspondence files of the Johns papers fall into two broad categories: letters sent and received by Johns' family members and relatives (1900-1943); and Johns' personal and business correspondence (1919-1943). There is little mention of his early years as a miner or his later managerial activities in the family letters. Relevant biographical information may be gleaned from several early reference letters (1887-1915) as well as personal and obituary newspaper clippings. Johns' advancement to Superintendent of the Helvetia Mining Company can be traced in a lettercopy book which contains over 800 letters dated 1895-1898. The lettercopy book and another early source, a typescript copy of the First Annual Report of the Cambria Iron Company dated 1853, encapsulate the nineteenth century business and managerial practices of a small bituminous mining operation and an iron manufacturing concern in Pennsylvania.

Johns' personal papers and business correspondence files constitute the collection's core. Items date from 1919 to 1942 and include letters, memoranda, and documents sent and received from: steel and mining executives; state mine bureau officials; politicians; and professional mine engineering societies. These materials provide the best documentation of Johns' administrative and managerial duties with the Bethlehem Mines/Industrial Collieries Corporation as well as the full scope of his contributions and achievements in the coal mining industry. Letters from Eugene G. Grace and Charles M. Schwab are contained in the Bethlehem Steel Executive's correspondence file.

Documents pertinent to Bethlehem Steel's policies toward its mining subsidiaries and communities are interspersed throughout Johns' personal and business correspondence as well as filed under special topic headings. Subjects include: labor-management relations; mine safety and working conditions; and Bethlehem Steel's influence in local, county, and state politics and elections.

Johns' corporate career dovetailed with a turbulent and violent period of labor-management relations--the United Mine Workers' organizational drive to unionize the captive mines of steel concerns in the soft coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia and management's determination to operate on the Open Shop principle. His collaborative efforts with other operators to thwart mine unionism is evident from an examination of the materials contained within the collection. Highlights include a brief history of strike activity at the Bethlehem Mines Corporation's affiliated mines and Johns' correspondence to Governor William C. Sproul regarding the deployment of state militia troops at Heilwood, Pa. during the 1922 coal strike. The Johns photo collection contains several photographs of the troops' encampment. There is also a 1906 wage scale proposal submitted by UMW District #21 to a mine operator. These items can be found in the Labor-Management Relations Documents (1906-1931) file.

Bethlehem Steel's political dominance in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia mining communities it administered can be traced in one file on local, county, and state politics and elections (1918-1939). This file contains much information on Johns' political activities in Johnstown and Cambria County. He solicited support for company sponsored candidates, lobbied for legislation favorable to mining interests, and organized coal operators into a powerful political bloc.

Two sources within the Johns papers provide information on working and safety conditions in the coal mining industry. The Andrew Roy scrapbook contains many periodical articles and newspaper clippings written by an Ohio state mine inspector. These document conditions in Ohio's Hocking Valley coal fields during the nineteenth century. There is also one file devoted to a mining disaster which occurred at the Bethlehem Mines Corporation, Mine #41, Barrackville, West Virginia in 1925. Iinformation on the corporation's first aid and mine rescue teams and related safety programs can be found in a booklet dated 1926.

In addition to Johns' personal papers, the collection contains 563 photographs in both bound and unbound form. Bulk dates for these range from 1906 to 1930, though many pre-date 1900 and others are not dated. The Johns photograph collection contains a wealth of pictorial information on the living and working conditions of Bethlehem Mines Corporation employees in the company towns of Heilwood, Clement, Walston, and Wehrum, Pennsylvania. Photographs of company facilities--collieries and mine tipples--are included. The photo collection illustrates the extensive social, political, and economic power which the corporation exerted in the mining communities. Photographs of company-built housing, stores, churches, and fraternal lodges document this control.

Items contained in Johns' personal memorabilia include: bound newspaper clippings and family photographs; note and date books; railway passes; and a Masonic membership certificate. Typescript copies of his public addresses as well as his published articles are contained in one file.

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Collection Arrangement

The collection is organized into three series: Correspondence and Personal Letters; Memorabilia, Scrapbooks, and Notebooks; and Black-and-white photographs, Black-and-white negatives.

The T. R. Johns Papers were rearranged after the collection was aquired. Due to the diverse nature of the collection and subsequent additions made by the donor, items were grouped in three categories with files arranged both topically and chronologically. However, there is some overlap of dates and subjects among the categories and files. Black-and-white photographs contained in the Johns Papers have been preserved in their original scrapbooks; loose photos have been numbered and filed in the order received and accessioned.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], T. R. Johns papers, 1616, Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff.

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Scrapbooks
  • Photographic
  • Artifacts

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Collection Inventory

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