This paper summarizes the history and early experimental studies of coal and other dust explosions.
In the 1600s, the explosibility of methane, hydrogen, and other combustible gases was recognized by the scientific and industrial community, but few scholars considered the possibility of a dust explosion. (Although a dust explosion could have occurred several centuries earlier, for example in a boat transporting grain from Egypt to Greece, the first recorded dust explosion occurred in an Italian flour mill in 1785.) In Europe, coal mining became an important industry and the dangers from explosions of fire damp (methane) were quickly recognized. However, most miners and many scientists did not accept the explosibility of coal dust.
It was noted in 1803 that coal dust in passageways had burned and contributed to the flame and violence of a mine explosion in England. In the 1800s, more evidence that coal dust in the absence of fire damp was explosive was obtained by investigators of mine accidents and experimental studies.
The pioneering work during the early 1900s of Taffanel in France and Rice in the United States convinced the mining industry of the danger of coal dust. Full-scale experimental studies of mine explosions began in 1911 in the Bureau of Mines Experimental Mine in Bruceton, PA.
Studies on the explosibility of other industrial dusts followed the recognition of the hazard of coal dust. During the late 1800s, investigations were made to evaluate the explosibility of combustible dusts and the causes of serious dust explosions in U.S. flour mills. Formation of the National Fire Protection Association in 1896 gave impetus to the recognition of the explosion hazard of industrial dusts.
Laboratory experiments on coal and other dusts continue to be made by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, universities, industry, and other research organizations.