When news of the explosion in Harwick, 12 miles north of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River, reached Carnegie, then living in New York, he was deeply touched. “I can’t get the women and children of the disaster out of my mind,” he wrote, duplicating $40,000 in public donations for relief efforts. Carnegie then instructed the local relief committee to have prepared, at his expense, two gold medals “in commemoration of the acts of heroism displayed by Mr. Selwyn M. Taylor and Mr. Daniel Lyle, wherein they sacrificed their lives in an endeavor to save their fellowman.”
Neither Taylor nor Lyle was on site when the Allegheny Coal Company’s Harwick Mine exploded at 8:15 a.m. on that bitter-cold Monday. According to the report of the state’s Department of Mines to Gov. Samuel Pennypacker, a company-appointed commission concluded that the explosion was caused “primarily by a blown-out shot, which ignited a small quantity of gas in the entry. The concussion resulting from this ignition…raised the dust in the entry which, igniting in turn, and with the constant addition of dust, caused the complete explosion of the entire mine.”
“The entire population of the village was in an uproar,” the report continued, “and the utmost excitement prevailed. The explosion had been one of terrific force. The tipple, which was built of iron, was wrecked, the cages were blown out of the shaft, and a mule that had been at the bottom of the shaft was caught by the force of the explosion and blown out and over the tipple, a distance of about 300 feet. The accident had destroyed the organization that existed among the officials, as the mine foreman and the fire boss as well as almost all the employees had been killed. The officials who were present and had escaped the disaster seemed to be dazed and without confidence in themselves.”
The report’s toll of the explosion’s victims: 121 identified by name, 56 unidentified, and two killed outside the mine. The youngest victim was only 15. The count would not be final, as attempted rescue of any survivors proved deadly.