The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that W.E. “Bill” Mullins, founder and president of a local coal mining corporation and pioneer in the field of land reclamation, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.
William Edward Mullins, Jr. was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1905. After his graduation from Westport High School, Bill moved with his parents and two siblings to Lawrence, Kansas, where he attended the University of Kansas. He graduated in 1929 with a master’s degree in civil engineering, and he was quickly recruited by an uncle, T.C. Mullins, to work for a coal company in Indiana.
Bill’s next career move – a job working for a Chicago-based engineering firm – proved to be life-changing. He traveled to Siberia to help develop coal mines with Soviet partners. Bill was shocked by the dangerous mining conditions and the way that the landscape was ravaged by the project. His wife later explained that the experience in Siberia helped Bill develop two important convictions: first, “that he would never put anyone to work in an underground mine,” and second, that “he would never lay waste to the land that gave him its riches.”
On his return to America, Bill worked for a mining company in Henry County, Illinois, where he met his wife, Maria Everett. The two married in 1936 and had a daughter, Mary. The same year, the family moved to Randolph County, where Bill became the founder and president of Southwestern Illinois Coal Corporation. The firm opened two mines in the area: the Streamline mine near Percy and the Captain mine near Cutler. The latter was the largest surface mine east of the Mississippi River.
Bill worked constantly to develop new mining technologies and techniques. The most famous of these innovations was “the Captain,” the enormous electric shovel commissioned for the Captain mine in 1965. At the time of its construction, the shovel was the largest mining shovel in the world – and the largest mobile land machine ever built.
Decades before coal companies were legally required to do so, Bill tirelessly pursued ways to support and reclaim the land that had given so many resources to him. He worked with local university faculty, experimenting with reforestation and agricultural projects on recently-mined ground. Eager to give back to the community that had supported his coal mines, Bill was instrumental in establishing the W.E. Mullins Recreation Area near Percy, which included lakes and ponds, campgrounds, a shooting range, the Southwestern Lakes golf course, and the Scuttle Inn.
After his death in 1978, Bill’s important work in land reclamation was recognized by conservationists. In 1981, he was posthumously given the Eddie Albert Fund Conservation Award; the fund subsequently also created the W.E. Mullins Conservation Award in Bill’s honor. Long after his death, Bill’s “foresight and imagination” have continued to be recognized by those who have hailed him as a “pioneer” and “a truly concerned citizen.”