Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Lure of .... Coal?

This post is the first in a series that will focus on some aspect of Anthracite Coal Mining in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Today will be a basic history lesson into how this industry transformed the area that lured my ancestors to the New World.

Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) is the number one producer of Anthracite coal in the Western Hemisphere (ExplorePAHistory.com).  Anthracite coal is different from bituminous coal as the former is harder and more pure.  Anthracite coal was "the" green thing of its day.

But NEPA didn't get it's fame from coal mining without other industries paving the way.  In order to make this cleaner burning coal available, it had to be made accessible first to those who would mine and prepare it (and for some, get rich from it) and then to the consumers who would use it.  This was accomplished first by the creation of canals that linked the  mines to the rivers within the NEPA counties of Carbon, Schuykill, Luzerne and Lackawanna and then to cities in further reaches.  The boom of the railroad also was vital to the popularity of anthracite coal,as the rails could reach beyond the scope of the waterways of the northeast region of the United States.

When it became apparent that anthracite coal would revolutionize the heating of America, the corporate honchos with the vision to take advantage of the area knew they would need a labor force that would expand their dream for miserable wages.  Immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, England and Germany flocked to the region.  After the Civil War, the need grew even more and miners from Poland and Lithuania were brought to the front lines of the Anthracite Coal Mining region. The 1880's brought an influx of miners from the regions of Slovak, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Greece, Serbia and Italy (from "Black Diamonds", www.pacoalhistory.com/history/migration.html). 

It was during this time frame that my paternal ancestors appeared in the United States, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in the heart of the anthracite coal mining industry. Some came from Ireland, others from within the regions of Hungary and/or Czechoslavakia. 
Orphan Photo of girls at a Coal Breaker, possibly from
the Truesdale Mines in PA.
(photo in the collection of Colleen E. McHugh, Tucson, Az)

Next in the series: How the coal was mined.

1 comment:

Apple said...

Based on this photo I'd say it is in fact the Trusedale colliery in the background. It's a shame you don't know who the women are.