The earliest export industry of the Kanawha River Valley
revolved around the manufacturing of salt. Though the
discovery of coal veins in Putnam County dates back to at
least 1800, for most of the nineteenth century these coal deposits supplied only limited amounts of coal for the region's salt furnaces and for the steamboats on the river. Commercial mining did not take hold in Putnam County until the end of the nineteenth century.
By the first decade of the 1900s, the county employed over 1,000 miners and exported 400,000 tons of coal in peak years. Several mining companies set up operation in Putnam, including Plymouth Coal and Mining Co., Marmet-Smith Coal and Mining Co., Black Betsy Coal Mining Co., and Alpha Mining Co. Large-scale mining in Putnam County ended in the 1940s, when rising costs made profits vanish. Additionally, the coming of World War II siphoned away labor to the armed forces and to munitions plants.
The coal vein that runs through Putnam County contained a large amount of clay, which posed
a cave-in hazard. Between 1900 and 1924, there were at least 53 fatalities recorded in the region's mines, with falling slate and electrocution being the most common cause.