Finding the Founding Father’s Day

After a month of horrible examples of corporate irresponsibility (BP, Union Carbide, Massey Energy), we were surprised to learn of one disaster that led to an annual celebration — Father’s Day.

Although Father’s Day didn’t become a national holiday until President Nixon signed a congressional resolution in 1972, the first ceremony was held on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia in honor of the 362 men who died in the worst mining disaster in American history.

On December 6, 1907, a Fairmont Coal Company-owned  mine in Monongah, West Virginia exploded after the collapse of two shafts.  The explosion, apparently caused by the ignition of methane gas and coal dust, was felt 8 miles away. Among the casualties were at least 240 fathers.

The thousand children left behind deeply affected Grace Clayton, a resident who had lost her own father some twenty years previous. “It was partly the explosion that got me to thinking how important and loved most fathers are,” she is quoted as saying in her request that a day of honor be held at Williams Memorial Church. She chose the Sunday closest to her father’s birthday, July 5th. And so the first Father’s Day ceremony was held.

And of the Fairmont Coal Company? They paid out a total of about $20,000 to bereaved families and survivors, but “as a gratuity or donation.” They were under no legal obligation to do so.

Read more and see photos of the 1907 disaster on the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s website.