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Chapter 4 - The Early History of Coal in the United States

Transportation and Coal-Mining—the Industrial Siamese Twins

THE PRESENT generation might think that the early European settlers in America used coal, the same as we do. But such was not the case. As a matter of fact, the extensive use of coal did not become possible until the question of modern transportation had been solved through the construction of canals and railroads connecting with the coal regions. As long as coal had to be hauled by the wagon load over bumpy country roads there was no market for coal and no profit in coal-mining. In fact, in many parts of the country coal was a hundred years ago looked upon as a curious "black stone," which would burn, sort of a freak of nature.

The production of coal in the United States for the year of 1814 was 22 tons, while for 1821 it was only 1,322 tons. In 1820, 365 tons of anthracite were sent to Philadelphia from the head of the Lehigh River. What little coal trade there existed, was largely local. A farmer would come along with his wagon to get half a ton at a time. The scales of those days consisted of two big wooden boxes suspended from a trestle. One box would be filled with about half a ton of rocks, and when a customer happened along, the other box was shoveled full of coal until it tipped the "scales," and they called it square.

About a hundred years later, in 1918, the total coal production was over 678 million tons, with a value of over 1,828 million dollars, carried to markets in tens of thousands of railroad cars, barges and ships.

We have not the space to enter into the fascinating details of the early days of coal-mining, so we simply give some brief data.

Early History of Bituminous Coal

1679.—

Father Hennepin discovered a coal mine on Illinois River.
1684.—

William Penn granted privilege to mine coal in Pittsburgh, Pa.

1750.—

Richmond, Va., coal was mined and marketed.

1758.—

Coal was discovered in Coal Hill, opposite Pittsburgh, on Monongahela.
1766.—

Richmond coal was advertised at 12d per bushel.

1774.—

Coal was discovered at Deep River, North Carolina.
1786.—

Coal was discovered at Chinchogak Bay, Alaska.

1802.—

Initial shipment of Pittsburgh coal to Cincinnati.
1804.—

Coal was first mined near Frostburg, Md.

1810.—

Coal mined in Summit Co., Ohio.

1811.—

Coal mined in Fulton, Perry Co., Ind.

1834.—

First mention of coal in Alabama by Dr. Alex Jones.

1848.—

First discovery of coal in Washington.

1852.—

First production of coal on Pacific coast at Newport, on Coos Bay, Ore.

1858.—

Indiana block coal district opened.

1862.—

Clearfield district opened.

1864.—

Domestic soft coal at Chicago, $17.00 per ton.

1871.—

Straitsville, Ohio, district opened and began operations.

Early History of Anthracite Coal

1820.— Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. began mining and shipping coal from Summit Hill region.
1825.— Schuylkill canal was completed from Mt. Carbon to Philadelphia.

1829.—

Canal opened from Mauch Chunk to Easton, and Delaware and Hudson Canal Co. began transporting coal from Carbondale region.

1831.—

Nesquehoning Railroad built. Morris canal opened, Philadelphia to Newark.

1832.—

Shamokin Division of Northern Central Railway origin-ally opened. Little Schuylkill Railroad began transporting coal from Tamaqua region.

1833.—

Delaware division of Pennsylvania Canal opened.

1834.—

Wyoming and State Canals opened.

1836.—

Morris Canal opened to Jersey City.

1837.—

Canal opened from White Haven to Mauch Chunk; shipments of coal began from Beaver Meadow region; shipments of coal began from Pine Grove via Union Canal; Morris and Essex Railroad opened.

1838.—

Shipments of coal began from Hazelton region.

1839.—

Summit Branch Railroad opened ; shipment of coal began from Shamokin region westward, and from Lykens Valley westward.
1840.—

Shipment of coal began from Buck Mountain region. Quakake Railroad opened.

1842.—

Philadelphia & Reading Railroad began transporting coal to Port Richmond.

1846.—

Shipments of coal began from Wilkesbarre region, via L. & S. R. R. and Lehigh Canal.

1850.—

Pennsylvania Coal Co. began business.

1852.—

Central R. R. of New Jersey opened from Elizabeth to Easton.

1854.—

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western began mining and shipping.

1855.—

Lehigh Valley R. R. Co. began transporting coal to Philipsburg.

1856.—

Treverton R. R. opened; third rail laid from Hampton Junction.

1857.—

Belvidere Delaware R. R. began transporting coal.

1858.—

Mining began in McAuley Mountain region. Lake and Bloomsburg R. R. opened.

1864.—

Stove coal sold at auction in July for $12.03 per ton.

1868.—

Lehigh & Susquehanna R. R. opened to Waverley.

1870.—

Nesquehoning Valley R. R. and Panther Creek tunnel opened; Sunbury, Hazelton and Wilkesbarre R. R. opened.

1871.—

Erie R. R. began mining and shipping coal.

1879.—

Stove coal sold at auction in September for $2.36 per ton.

The above piece of concentrated industrial history is very instructive and interesting. It shows that the history of coal production is primarily the history of the development of transportation. Since 1871, the last date mentioned in the above list, one railroad after another has entered into the various coal regions of the country and tapped them of their coal. The two industries are grown together like the Siamese twins, inseparable in life and death.

The close connection of the coal-mining industry and transportation industry is being brought home to us every day. The coal famine of 1920, which threatened to become a national catastrophe, was caused largely by a break-down of the means of transportation, car shortage etc. The workers of England have long ago clearly understood that fact and formed "the triple alliance" of coal miners, railroad and other transportation workers, which alliance has repeatedly shaken the foundation of the British empire. In the United States the workers concerned have been slower to see this natural connection. Only at this writing, early in 1922, the press brings us the news that conferences have been held between the officials of the coal miners' and the railroad workers' organizations, with a view to joint action against further wage reductions. In 100 years coal has become such a vital factor in the life of this nation that the coal miners and railroad workers in connection have absolute control of the country and its fate, if they only would act in solidarity and if they only were organized in the right manner. How long shall it be before the patient ox becomes conscious of his strength, shakes the yoke from his bleeding neck, and gores his tormentors?

On to Chapter 5

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