In 1917, Finzel was called the champion coal miner of the world “who just before the recent wage increase became effective earned $347.92 in one month mining coal,” according to The (Oakland) Republican.
He accomplished this by mining an average of 12 tons of coal daily at a time when a good day’s work at the region’s mine was five tons of coal.
“He leaves his home with his fellow miners and returns with them and does as much work as two or three ordinary miners with apparent ease,” the Cumberland Evening Times.
Though he accomplished this great feat in Hooversville, Pa., Finzel was born in Garrett County and had worked in mines in Maryland and West Virginia, accomplishing similar feats.
He came from a mining family. His father, Henry, was a German immigrant who settled in Garrett County and mined for half a century. Finzel was one of six brothers who were taught to be industrious not only in the coal mines but on the family farm.
“When the farm was in good state of cultivation and the work could be done by the boys in the evening, the boys went into the mines. After digging coal the greater part of the day, they came home and worked on the farm,” The Republican reported.
His industriousness paid off for him. Coal mining pays miners by the amount of coal they mine. When Finzel worked for the Consolidation Coal Company, he was “drawing the largest pay for any miner in the small-vein mines in that region,” according to The Republican.
He took a job in West Virginia working for the Saxman Coal and Coke Company near Richwood. “Working in a seam of coal three feet high, he earned $2,360 in one year, and average of $196 per month. He loaded 4,000 tons of coal, an average of 12 tons daily. This is believed to be the greatest amount of coal ever dug by one miner in the State of Virginia,” The Republican reported.
He then moved his family to Hooversville to work for the Custer & Sanner Coal Company. He was told that the previous earnings record for a miner was $175 in two weeks. Finzel set to work to break the record. During the first two weeks of October 1917, he earned $136.97 (with a poor car supply) and during the back end of the month, he earned $211.05, which broke the previous record handily. Finzel even thought he could have done $400 during the month if he had had a good car supply in the early part of the month.
It was such an accomplishment that it made news around the country, particularly in newspapers in coal-mining regions.
He also held a record for mining 600 tons of coal in a month, according to the Cumberland Evening Times.
“On one occasion he was given a heading to drive and two other miners were given an air course. In one month Finzel had driven the heading sixty feet deeper in the coal than the others had driven the air course,” the Connersville, Ind., Daily Examiner reported.
For all his great accomplishments in the mine, Finzel was not a large man. He was described as being of medium height and his friends called him “the little big digger.” Because of his great feats, he was often examined by doctors looking for something that made him special. The Cumberland Evening Times noted that “a physical examination at John Hopkins Hospital he was pronounced the finest muscled man that ever came to the institution.”
Finzel died two years later after his record-setting month, on January 19, 1919, from complications from pneumonia. He left behind a wife, a daughter, and three sons.
According to the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette, Finzel’s headstone read: “He led the world in coal mining during the World war.”