James H. Pierce earned his degree in mining engineering from Lehigh University in 1907. Following his graduation he went on to work for various anthracite coal mining companies in some of the soft coal of West Virginia. During his early career he was also involved in some of the bitter strikes as the United Mine Workers union was trying to organize the coal industry in 1912.
By 1914, Pierce had become vice president of the coal mining firm of Thorne, Neal and Co. in West Virginia. He was given a "ninety days leave of absence" to handle a Russian assignment which generated a five-year periodic return to Russia to advise them in procuring the equipment and updating their mining activities.
In 1965 Pierce became one of the only survivors of an airplane crash in which the plane caught fire while in flight. After the crash he refused to stay in the Williamsport Hospital, and had his wife drive from Scranton to Williamsport to take him home.