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Kentucky in The Twentieth Century

Coal mining, which began on a large scale in the 1870s, was well established in mountainous E Kentucky by the early 20th cent. The mines boomed during World War I, but after the war, when demand for coal lessened and production fell off, intense labor troubles developed. The attempt of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) to organize the coal industry in Harlan co. in the 1930s resulted in outbreaks of violence, drawing national attention to “bloody” Harlan, and in 1937 a U.S. Senate subcommittee began an investigation into allegations that workers’ civil rights were being violated. Further violence ensued, and it was not until 1939 that the UMW was finally recognized as a bargaining agent for most of the state’s miners. Labor disputes and strikes have persisted in the state; some are still accompanied by violence.

After World War I improvements of the state’s highways were made, and a much-needed reorganization of the state government was carried out in the 1920s and 30s. Since World War II, construction of turnpikes, extensive development of state parks, and a marked rise in tourism have all contributed to the development of the state. Kentucky benefited from the energy crisis of the 1970s, enjoying new prosperity when its large coal supply was in great demand during the 70s and 80s. The broader economy, however, recovered slowly from a decline in manufacturing during the same period.

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