In 1943, Emil Usibelli, an Italian immigrant, opened Alaska’s first surface coal mine and founded an enduring coal mining company. With dedication, innovation, and hard work, Emil built Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. into the predominant coal supplier in interior Alaska, delivering 350,000 tons of coal per year during the 1960s to Fairbanks-area utilities, U.S. military installations, and the University of Alaska.
Emil Usibelli was determined that Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. would be a good corporate citizen. He had only three years of formal education but was a strong supporter of education in Alaska. In 1964, before his death, Emil made a commitment to provide coal to heat the Monroe Catholic Schools in Fairbanks, a commitment that is still honored by Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.
Each year, Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Research, and Service Awards, worth $10,000 each, are awarded to three faculty members at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The Usibelli Foundation provides diverse support to Alaska educational institutions and a variety of community and non-profit organizations.
Emil Usibelli pioneered surface coal mining in the harsh climate of interior Alaska. He never stopped innovating. He continuously upgraded his mining fleet to include larger and more modern equipment. He experimented with hydraulic stripping to remove overburden at the Usibelli mine. He installed a heavy media plant for coal cleaning. In 1956, he purchased a continuous miner and mechanical loaders to open an adit for underground mining.
Emil Usibelli died in a mine accident in 1964, but under the leadership of his son and grandsons, Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. continued to grow and prosper. During the 1990s, the company produced 1.5 million tons of coal per year, half for export to a utility in South Korea.
Emil Usibelli’s spirit of innovation continues to drive the company he founded. The Usibelli mine is a model operation and has been recognized many times for its safety program. Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. began to reclaim mined lands in 1971, six years before federal reclamation laws were passed. Reclamation techniques developed by the company were later used during the construction of the Alyeska Pipeline.
Emil Usibelli immigrated to Washington state from Italy with his family at the age of 14. In 1935, he became an underground coal miner in Alaska. In 1943, with a used bulldozer, a used logging truck, and a one-year contract for 10,000 tons of coal, Emil Usibelli started the first surface coal mine in Alaska. From those humble beginnings, Emil Usibelli realized the American dream.
Emil Usibelli built well. His name survives on Usibelli Peak, near the Usibelli mine, and in the Usibelli Group of five Cenozoic coal-bearing geologic formations. Emil Usibelli’s legacy lives on in the company he founded and in the role it plays in the lives of the people of interior Alaska.