“Sixteen Tons” is a song written by Merle Travis about a coal miner, based on life in the mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Travis first recorded the song at the Radio Recorders Studio B in Hollywood, California, on August 8, 1946. Cliffie Stone played bass on the recording. It was first released in July 1947 by Capitol on Travis’s album Folk Songs of the Hills. The song became a gold record.
The line “You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt” came from a letter written by Travis’s brother John. Another line came from their father, a coal miner, who would say: “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.”
In 1987 Johnny Cash released a country version on his album Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town.