Iron ore was extracted from both open-pit and underground shaft mines in the Adirondacks. Most ore was extracted from shaft mines. In the 1880s, the Witherbee & Sherman Company built the Joker Shaft, which tunneled hundreds of feet into the ground.
Early miners used hand-drills and black powder to blast iron ore from the mines. Miners called “hand muckers” shoveled the iron ore into ore carts which were sent to the surface on rails. Later miners used drills powered by compressed air or water. Dynamite replaced black powder for blasting.
In any time period, the miners faced many dangers in the underground mines. Blasts went off too early, ore carts tipped and spilled iron ore, and accidents with tools and machinery also occurred. Many miners were killed in shaft mines like the Joker Mine.
The dirty, dusty work environment was also dangerous. After working years in the shaft mines, many miners discovered they had silicosis, a disease affecting the lungs.