West Virginia's State Industries


salt works photo.

Salt is an important mineral and is needed by all animals in their diet. During the early pioneer times salt was a matter of life and death. A solution of salt brine (salty water) sometimes makes it way to the surface and was in there areas the pioneers would collect the water and evaporate it, leaving the salt behind. They could then use the salt to preserve food to use year round. As more settlers made their way to the region, salt became a major industry. Large wells would be dug and the water would be forced evaporated by fires to get the salt quickly. By the 1850s, the area that is now West Virginia was producing over 3 million bushels of salt each year. West Virginia remains a major producer of salt today.

e-West Virginia Salt Industry Information

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey's History of WV Mineral Industries-Salt Information


coal miner boring to place explosives.

The first industrial use of coal in the region was for the Kanawha Valley salt industry. Salt operators used bituminous coal from nearby hills to fire their furnaces. The first coal boom began with the cannel coal industry in the Kanawha Valley in the 1840s and 1850s. Distilled oil from this type of coal became popular fuel for lights throughout the country. In the late 1850s, the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad sparked the industry’s growth. However, it was the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1873 that served as the catalyst for West Virginia to become the coal capital of the nation.

From 1880 to 1917, the demands for large quantities of coal saw increases in production rise from 490,000 tons to 90 million tons. Over 90,000 miners were needed to mine that much coal quickly. That many people working hard and fast led to accidents. During this time period West Virginia had some of the worst mining accidents in the nation and hundreds of lives were lost. New laws by state and federal governments established improved safety conditions and increased inspections. While the coal industry reached its peak in 1947, mechanization and increased surface mining along with the nation’s growing dependence on petroleum products caused employment in the coal industry to decrease rapidly in the 1950s. Despite the decline, West Virginia continues as a major exporter of coal for our country’s electric power plants and the world’s steel industries.

e-West Virginia Coal Mining Industry Information

e-West Virginia History of Coal Mining in WV Lesson Plan

e-West Virginia West Virginia Mine Wars Lesson Plan

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery's Coal Bed Mapping Project

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery's Maps and GIS Files Related to WV Geology

MH3WV.org's Coal Industry Resources


Amos power plant.

Hydroelectric (water) power was the earliest electric power source in what would be West Virginia. Along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal both Power Plant and Dam No. 4 and Power Plant and Dam No.5 were built in 1835. Both are still in service today and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Providing electrical services throughout the mountain state started slowly. Business investors looked for large populated areas, improving the possibility of having many paying customers and making a profit. Many rural homeowners did not have electrical service until the 20th century when their communities grew and technology made it easier to reach them.

The first coal-fired power plant went into operation in 1919. Many more would follow throughout the 20th century making West Virginia a major exporter of electricity throughout the country. In 2002 Mountaineer Wind Energy Center went into operation and several other wind power areas have opened in recent years. In the future, we will also see electricity produced from natural gas. Today West Virginia continues to help the United States meet its energy needs as the fourth largest exporter of electricity in the nation.

West Virginia Office of Energy Webpage

e-West Virginia American Electric Power Information

e-West Virginia Rural Electrification Information

e-West Virginia Hydroelctricity Information

U.S. Department of Energy Energy 101: Hydroelectric Power


burning springs.

Early oil drilling at Burning Springs, Wirt County West Virginia State Archives

Oil and gas became important resources in West Virginia in the late 1800 and early 1900s. Oil was found in Burning Springs in Wirt County by two brothers named Rathbone who were drilling for salt and found oil instead. Burning Springs was the site of the first commercial (operated for profit) oil well.

Natural gas has been produced from wells since the early 1900s. Pipelines were built to enable the gas to be transported for use in factories and heat homes. West Virginia is among the top ten producers of natural gas in the United States. Our state is experiencing a new gas boom in the 21st century with the development of technology to extract natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales.

e-West Virginia Natural Gas and Petroleum Information

e-West Virginia Burning Springs Oil Field Information

e-West Virginia I.C. White Information

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery's History of WV Mineral Industries -Oil and Gas

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery's Maps and GIS Files Related to WV Geology

West Virginia Department of Energy Webpage

MH3WV.org's Oil and Natural Gas Resources


saw mill with operator cutting a tree.

It would be correct to say the West Virginia timber industry dates to the frontier, when pioneers cut down trees to build their houses and heat their homes. The commercial timber industry took off with the spread of railroads after the Civil War. Logging towns emerged quickly. Loggers cut down trees and transported them to a saw mill. Many logging operations constructed log rafts and floated them downriver to the mill. This became a common sight on any navigable river or stream. At the mill, logs would be cut a variety of lengths and thicknesses based on the many ways lumber was used by consumers. Steam powered band saws accelerated the amount of lumber sawmills could produce, making West Virginia the third largest hardwood producing state in the nation between 1870 and 1920.

The timber boom had one significant negative impact on the state – deforestation. In 1870, the state had 10 million acres of old-growth forests. In 1910, only 1.5 million acres remained. By 1920, it was all gone. Due to the conservation efforts and the decline of rural agriculture, the state has more trees today than in the early 1900s.

e-West Virginia Timber and Logging Industry Information

e-West Virginia Reforestation Information

MH3WV.org's West Virginia Wood and Forest Resources


glass vase

pottery pitcher

West Virginia is an excellent region for the production of glass. With an abundant supply of silica (mineral found in sand) and other necessary components, West Virginia has had a rich history in the glass manufacturing industry. West Virginia is famous for its handmade glass, marbles and a wide variety of art glass.

e-West Virginia Glass Industry Information

e-West Virginia Pottery Industry Information

e-West Virginia History of West Virginia's Glass Industry Lesson Plan

The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia Information


steel works

Weirton Steel Plant: West Virginia State Archives

Early in the history of the region deposits of iron ore were discovered near some of the larger rivers around West Virginia. As early as 1742 an iron furnace operated at The Blommery in what would become Jefferson County and soon others followed. Further west Peter Tarr built an iron furnace in Hancock County in 1794. In 1832, the Wheeling Iron works started production and by 1835 had four iron foundries.

Steel is refined iron ore mixed with other minerals. Wheeling became an important city in the production of steel, especially in the manufacturing of nails. The nails made there gave Wheeling the nickname “Nail City.” Once one of our nation’s major steel mills was located in Weirton where some of the finest steel in the world was made.

e-West Virginia Steel Industry Information

e-West Virginia Iron Making Information

e-West Virginia Economic and Industrial Growth during WWII Lesson Plan

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery's History of West Virginia Mineral Industries-Iron Information


Nitro chemical industry plant.

Explosives Plant, Nitro, 1918 West Virginia State Archives

West Virginia’s chemical industry is rooted in the 350-million-year-old brine deposits that made the region a leading salt producer in the early 1800s. Of these natural deposits, chlorine is used in water treatment and to make chlorine gas. Calcium and magnesium chlorides are used in road building, and salt brines contribute to the manufacturing of automobile gasoline, soda ash, hydrochloric acid and bleach. The chemical industry in West Virginia came into its own during World War I. Before the war, most of the chemicals used in U.S. manufacturing came from Germany. When the war with Germany broke out, chemical plants were established on the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.

The Kanawha Valley became known as the “Chemical Capital of the World” after chemists discovered they could convert the local natural gas supply to ethylene. West Virginia’s chemical industry grew steadily during the first half of the 1900s but then decline rapidly as companies moved plants to other states. However, the West Virginia chemical industry continues to be a leader in the fields of polymers and biochemical engineering.the 1950s. Despite the decline, West Virginia continues as a major exporter of coal for our country’s electric power plants and the world’s steel industries.

e-West Virginia Chemicals Industry Information

e-West Virginia Elk River Chemical Spill Information


panoramic view of the New River Gorge during the fall.

Photo courtesy of: Ed Goody, WV Tourism

West Virginia’s newest industry in recent years is tourism. Many tourists come to West Virginia to enjoy the beautiful scenery and outdoor recreation like camping, white water rafting, hiking, hunting, skiing and zip lining. The tourism industry helps to grow other businesses who provide visitors with food and lodging, gas stations and local craft stores. Besides outdoor activities, visitors also visit West Virginia to learn about its history. Many people visit old mining towns, museums, Civil War sites and unique points around the state.

A major portion of West Virginia's tourism industry is its fairs and festivals. Across the mountain state there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate what is special about West Virginia. From the Mothman to ramps to heritage festivals there is a celebration for everyone. See below listing for some of the more popular fairs and festivals:

The Black Walnut Festival Webpage

Vandalia Gathering Webpage

Webster County Wood Chopping Festival Webpage

West Virginia Pumpkin Festival Webpage

Mothman Festival Webpage

Fasnacht Festival Webpage

West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Webpage

Feast of the Ramson Webpage

Bridge Day Webpage

Mountain State Forest Festival Webpage

Ripley 4th of July Celebration Webpage

Pinch Reunion Webpage

Clay County Golden Delicious Apple Festival Facebook Page

Appalachian String Band Music Festival Webpage

The West Virginia State Fair Webpage

e-West Virginia Tourism Industry Information

e-West Virginia Exploring West Virginia's Parks and Forests Lesson Plan

e-West Virginia Fairs and Festivals in West Virginia Lesson Plan

e-West Virginia State Parks Information

West Virginia Department of Tourism Webpage

Museum Hours of Operation

Operating Hours:

Tuesday through Saturday

9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

***Closed Sundays and Mondays, and major holidays***

Admission is free

For more information call: (304) 558-0220