When studying the coalfields of Appalachia, it is also beneficial to take a look at the area that was one of the biggest destinations for Appalachian coal during the golden age of coal mining: The Rust Belt (called by some the Industrial Heartland). This is a region that centers around the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, both of which supplied the river transporation that gave the area's industries an advantage. The Rust Belt was also once endowed with ample rail transporation. While that may still be true, the steel rails on many lines have been removed. Appalachian coal was transported by these means to the steel mills of Pittsburgh (see "Steel Belt" map) and Chicago, automobile factories in Detroit, electrical power plants, and various manufacturing plants such as the International Harvester or Firestone.

The Industrial Heartland attracted a huge number of immigrants from 1890-1930. The Polish came in droves, especially to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and the Chicago-Milwaukee area. Italians immigrated also, explaining why eight of the 24 Mafia families in America were located in the region. Some other immigrants were Irish, Greek, Slovak, Slovenian, Lituanian, and Hungarian, among others. African-Americans came from the Southern U.S. looking for opportunity as well. All of these people were added to the German and Scots-Irish population that was already present in the area.

Companies such as Joy and Jeffrey manufactured mining machinery and shipped it to the coalfields. High quality metallurgical and steam coal from Appalachia fueled the Industrial Heartland. These two regions of America maintained their symbiotic relationship with each other until unfortunate events befell the midwestern industrial states in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Factories and steel mills closed and industrial jobs disappeared by the thousands within a few years. By the early 21st Century the large steel companies were consolidating and had sold off their captive mines. Though the coal mines of the Appalachian mountains still ship coal to the Rust Belt, the glory days are over.

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