Chapter 1

“Continually Devising Some New Thing"

From the moment that the Lorado Mining Company directed employee Ezra Lusk to back his dump truck up to the edge of the haul road on the Middle Fork’s western bank, in the autumn of 1947, and began dumping the first loads of coal waste into the hollow below, the fate of the Buffalo Creek Valley, a seventeen-mile long ribbon of coal camps in Logan County, West Virginia that clung to the winding creek as it made its way from the watershed at Three Forks to the Guyandotte River at Man, was sealed.


Two decades later, in February of 1968, a 30-ton coal hauler would begin dumping coal waste in a place designated by Buffalo Mining Company Vice-President Steve Dasovich as the ideal location for a by-now necessary third impoundment bank. This new impoundment dam, located about a half-mile further up the hollow from the point where the Lorado Mining Company had begun a waste dumping operation that had continued virtually uninterrupted for the last 20 years, would within four years swell to a colossal mound of nearly a million tons, filling the valley of the Middle Fork from one mountainside to the other. With its first pile of coal waste, this new dam’s fate, too, was already determined. 


It was doomed to fail. 


The five thousand people, the miners, wives, and children who lived in the long narrow valley below, simply could have no idea of the unimaginable horror that awaited them. And it would come exactly four years, to the day, after that late afternoon on February 26th of 1968, when Dasovich haphazardly sketched out across a single sheet of plain paper, using the hood of his truck as a desk, the designated place and form of this new ‘Number 3 Dam’.




It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the fate of the Buffalo Creek Valley, indeed of West Virginia itself and the people who would inhabit it, had been determined by destiny long before any construction began on this third dam. In truth, time had already settled the course of their lives nearly three hundred fifty-million years before the #3 Dam began to fill the floor of the Middle Fork hollow, within what is known as the Carboniferous Period, a geologic span of time near the end of the Paleozoic Era.

It was then that the organic foundations of nearly pure carbon (from which the name “Carboniferous” is derived) beneath these Appalachian Mountains were laid down along with the raw materials of the sedimentary rocks of limestone, shale, and sandstone that exist today. This geologically unique and consequential period secured the destiny of West Virginia as home to one of the largest and richest deposits of coal anywhere on earth.  But it also secured the laborious and dangerous mining of this coal as the ordained and dominant way of life for those who would eventually settle in these deep and isolated mountains.


Hundreds of millions of years ago a super-continent existed, made up of colliding continental plates that would eventually begin to move apart, separating into the 4 individual landmasses that we know today as North America, South America, Africa, and Europe.

Where these plates first came together, however, along the eastern seaboard of present-day North America to form an interlocking landmass called Pangea, the colliding geologic plates created enormous undulating ridges and mountains. Much like the way in which two vehicles colliding head-on would cause the flat steel hoods of both cars to crumple upward, folding back on themselves like an accordion from the force of the collision, the crust of the earth’s surface crumpled and upheaved, folding back on itself in a collision that lasted millions of years.[1]  Creating parallel rows of huge mountain crests, the upheaval also pushed up a broad wide basin, an elevated plateau, behind this colossal mountain range that extended all along what is now the eastern coast of the United States.[2]

The land that makes up West Virginia today is located within the remnant of this expansive wedged-shaped plateau that stretched away from the western side of these ancient mountain ranges. Void of trees or other plant life unable to grow at such high altitudes, these enormous prehistoric mountains, once as tall perhaps as the modern Swiss Alps, fed sediment and silt down their western slopes, washed away by the repeated incursions of ocean waters, torrential rains and melting snow and ice, to settle in this wide plateau, creating a deep soil bed.

Later, the continental plates that would form Europe and Africa would begin to slowly separate from the North American landmass.[3]  The dynamic movement of the Earth’s crust caused the expanding body of water between the continental plates to rise and fall by thousands of feet, over and over, pushing the sea waters a thousand miles inland before receding again. Hundreds of millions of years of this back-and-forth oceanic activity eroded away these early coastal mountain ranges, leaving behind a relatively flat plain that today makes up much of the American landscape east of the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This continuing cycle of upheaval and submerging of the earth’s crust was the geological catalyst not only for the formation of this Atlantic coastal plain but also for the enormous deposits of bituminous and anthracite coal that now lie beneath the surface of much of West Virginia and her adjoining sister states of Pennsylvania and Kentucky. It happened this way:

Organic plant life that flourished in the eastern half of the American continent was slowly covered by the sediment and silt brought in by the coastal river deltas, lakes, and ultimately, the rising ocean. Over hundreds of thousands of years, this inland ocean blanketed its seafloor with the remnants of ocean-borne arthropods, invertebrates, and other shellfish that lived in these prehistoric waters.


When the waters receded, the exposed ocean floor was slowly covered again with silt and sediment, and plant life began to grow within the swampy bogs left behind, only to be lost once more beneath rising ocean waters as this geologic cycle – each lasting hundreds of thousands of years – repeated itself over vast eons of time.

This rich organic plant life that was slowly and repeatedly buried under the ocean incursions is the key ingredient in the formation of the massive West Virginia coal reserves. Prevented from fully decaying within the deep oxygen-free swamps into which it fell as it died, these successive layers of organic material were transformed into a carbon-rich material we know today as ‘peat’. 


The repeated accumulation of peat, sand, sediment, and shellfish over hundreds of millions of years of rising and disappearing oceans and shifting continental plates was subjected to enormous pressures and temperatures as each successive geologic layer was compressed further underground.

Undergoing significant chemical and physical metamorphosis, these materials became, respectively, sedimentary rocks known today as coal, sandstone, shale, and limestone. 


This geological layering, which has resulted in stacked layers of coal at relatively predictable depths, thickness, and intervals beneath the Appalachian plateau, is known as a cyclothem and is typical throughout southwestern West Virginia in a specific repetition unique to each major coalfield. These layers are visible today where portions of the mountains have been blasted away to allow for the construction of roadways and highways, exposing the generally horizontal patterns in the sheer rock faces.

And then, finally, the last Ice Age that began about 3 million years ago covered much of the upper half of the North American continent beneath enormous sheets of moving ice and glaciers that put the final touches on the face of the continent. As the glaciers receded, so too did the waters that filled the sloped Appalachian basin, shaping the rugged landscape of present-day West Virginia.


What remains aren’t really mountains at all, at least not in the true geologic sense. Rather, the sharply undulating landscape is the remnant of an ancient seabed. As the sea receded, the flowing waters carved out the deep lush valleys from this extinct ocean floor, washing away the “hollows” and leaving behind the “mountains” to form the present-day Appalachians.


The vast layered fields of rich bituminous coal lay deep beneath the high ridges of these West Virginia hills, patiently awaiting discovery. That discovery, when it came, would write the first lines of an Appalachian History that while not a global history, would be, as author Stephen Stoll pointedly asserts, “a history with global implications.[4]


The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, about 40 miles below present-day Boston in November of 1620, knew well the usefulness of coal, having burned small amounts of it within the hold of the Mayflower for warmth during the chilly Atlantic crossing. 


Coal had been mined for profit in England since the 1200s.  Emperor Claudius’ Roman Legions, dispatched to invade England early in the first century, burned the black rocks they found scattered along the English coastline for cooking and for heat, but the intentional use of it in the country seems to have left along with the Roman soldiers in the mid-400’s AD. [5] 


Coal reappears as a mined resource in England near the end of the Dark Ages. By the time that the Mayflower limped her way into the Cape Cod Bay, coal mining was widespread across England, and it was a commodity with a recognized value among English landowners.[6]

While the early settlers in this new American wilderness knew about coal, however, they had little incentive to look for it, and little need for it if they had found any. A readily available source of energy was not something they struggled to find. Those early Pilgrims, and the hundreds of thousands of settlers who would follow throughout the 17th Century, stepped onto a forested expanse unlike anything ever seen before or since.

For a thousand miles north and south, beginning almost at the ocean’s edge and extending from the northern reaches of Canada southward nearly to the Gulf of Mexico, and inland as far as the Great Plains beyond the Mississippi River, a vast woodland “ocean” in its own right lay before them, virtually uninterrupted in every direction. All the wood they could ever need for cooking, heating, housing, farming implements and fencing, furniture, and commerce (these tall, straight mast-like timbers were transported back to shipbuilders in a nearly barren and wood-starved England) was theirs for the taking. Great expanses of oak, walnut, fir, beech, and “exceedingly great chestnut trees” covered the land.[7] 

Mining for coal was the farthest thing from the minds of these new settlers. That sentiment would eventually change, and the history of the world would change along with it. But, as Barbara Freese notes in her exceptional study, Coal, A Human History, “it would be a very long time before anyone realized that in addition to this astonishing wealth of wood, the continent also held the world’s richest coal deposits, including a coalfield half the size of Europe lying beneath the eastern American forest.[8]

Exactly when these new settlers discovered the coal that existed in this New World isn’t quite clear.  Explorers who crossed the Alleghenies as early as 1740 recorded in their journals and letters evidence of vast coal deposits in the mountains beyond,[9] and by the middle of the 1700’s it’s clear that they were beginning to figure out just what they had.  Though the first commercial coal mine opened in Virginia, near Richmond, around 1750, western Pennsylvania saw the first systemic integration of coal into American industry.

The expulsion of the French from the Ohio valley during the Seven Year’s War in 1758 gave the English control over the ‘Forks’ in western Pennsylvania where the Ohio River draws its water from the converging Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers. The victorious British took possession of the abandoned French Fort Duquesne located at the point where the three rivers came together, graciously renamed it in honor of the 1st Earl of Chatham, “The Great Commoner” of England, Prime Minister William Pitt, and Pittsburgh was founded.[10] Almost immediately, they began taking coal from the endless seams that were visible in mountainside outcrops seemingly everywhere around them.

With the conflict formally ended, English settlers in great numbers now felt safe enough after the end of the war to cross the Appalachians into the western country beyond. And cross, they did. By 1817, Pittsburgh would be the largest American settlement west of the Appalachians, with a population of over 6,000.

Transforming a vast forested wilderness into an “industrial metropolis”, Pittsburgh would accomplish within a single generation what Britain had required centuries of sluggish progress to achieve.[11]  Quickly becoming a major manufacturing center, Pittsburgh provided goods and stores for settlers headed further west into the Ohio frontier and beyond, and used the area’s apparently endless supply of coal and wood, but mostly coal, to fuel their factories.


Meanwhile, on the east coast of America, factories in the manufacturing and agricultural processing centers of New England still relied primarily on waterwheels to provide the needed mechanical energy. Coal was available in limited supplies from the new mine near Richmond, or from imports from Nova Scotia or even across the sea from England, either of which, though expensive, was still less than the cost of transporting coal over the Appalachians from western Pennsylvania.[12]

After having found what appeared to be an inexhaustible supply of coal within the fledgling country’s settled western-most frontier, the country itself was still somewhat unsure about exactly what to do with it. The Appalachian Mountains that stood between western Pennsylvania and the economic centers of coastal America at the end of the 18th Century assured that the abundance of coal surrounding Pittsburgh benefitted few beyond the limits of this growing industrial dominion.


What was needed, it seemed clear, was a relatively cheaper and more plentiful source of coal accessible to the primary economic centers of America east of the Appalachians, along with a new technology that could more efficiently make use of the tremendous energy stored within the black Carboniferous relics.

Then, as is so often the case throughout history, consequential events occurred at just the right time, made so seemingly by luck or by providence, but nonetheless just when needed most.

On either side of the Atlantic and within a span of about 20 years, nearly simultaneously when considered within the whole of American history, two wholly separate but consequential things occurred, each seemingly by happenstance. The convergence of these two distant happenings, however, would significantly change the course of history, both in America and around the world.


James Watt, by all accounts a sickly and tenuous child, was born in Scotland in 1736 and would be the only one of his parent’s five children to survive to adulthood. He had a mathematical brain and demonstrated an early penchant for tinkering with finely tuned mechanical things.

By the age of 21 he was making compasses and navigational quadrants in a shop of his own on the grounds of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, UK.  It so happened that this same university owned a “Newcomen Engine”, a rudimentary piston steam engine invented by Englishman Thomas Newcomen near the beginning of the 18th Century.[13]

A miraculous invention, these Newcomen engines were first installed for use in the English tin and coal industries in 1712 to pump water from underground mines. Vastly inefficient and limited in power, however, the device consumed enormous amounts of fuel, burning wood or coal to boil water, with very little relative mechanical advantage to show for it.[14]

One day in 1763, the university’s Newcomen Engine stopped functioning, and Watt was asked to take a look at it and see if he could get the thing working again. He fixed it, and that was that it seemed.  But the incredible machine was never far from his mind, and he thought about it often. 


And then, sometime later while on a peaceful afternoon stroll through a Glasgow park, an idea suddenly “flashed in his mind” that would significantly improve upon Newcomen’s design, an idea which would prove instrumental in making steam engines a viable, practical, and more efficient industrial device.[15]

He had already realized while working on the device that Newcomen’s design sacrificed vast amounts of thermal energy, wasting work potential along with the large supply of wood or coal required to fuel it.

Simply put, Newcomen’s engine consisted of a single piston in a vertical cylinder, with a rod connecting the top of the piston to one end of an overhead horizontal lever. The other end of this lever, a short distance away from the device, was attached to a pump bellows or crude impeller or some other mechanical device designed to perform a certain repetitive movement.


A fulcrum between the two ends of the lever was positioned off-center and closer to the steam engine such that the working end of the lever, the one attached to the bellows or impeller, was further away from the fulcrum and thus heavier.  Once gravity let the heavier end of the lever fall (thusly moving whatever mechanical device was attached to it), this, in turn, raised the piston within the cylinder at the other end, and the engine then went to work.

Steam was injected into the sealed chamber below the piston, expanding and filling the cylinder. Cool water was then sprayed into the now-pressurized steam chamber, causing a rapid cooling that condensed the steam back into water. This rapid condensation created a vacuum that pulled the piston and its attached rod down – aided by the higher atmospheric pressure above the piston which helped to push it down – thus raising the working end of the lever.

Once the piston was pulled down, the steam chamber was vented to the atmosphere by opening a valve, which released the vacuum and equalized the pressure above and below the piston. Gravity then took over as before, allowing the heavier end of the lever to fall once again, and the whole process was repeated.

Spraying cool water into the steam chamber to achieve a vacuum by condensing the hot steam, Watt knew, wasted enormous amounts of energy by robbing the steam chamber wall of its latent heat. The piston steam chamber would then require even more steam and more fuel during each subsequent operating cycle in order to maintain a sufficiently high temperature in the chamber. Less heat in the steam chamber translated directly into less vacuum and thus less mechanical energy produced per engine cycle. Until this problem was solved, larger steam engines would be impossible, as the amount of heat lost in each cycle would render it virtually useless.

Watt’s idea, like most important discoveries viewed in hindsight, seemed remarkably simple. The idea that came to him during his afternoon stroll, however, was ingenious.

His solution was to add a separate condenser chamber to the engine. The pressurized steam in the piston cylinder, once expanded, would be rapidly extracted from the cylinder and sent to this separate condensing chamber by opening a valve at just the right moment when the piston reached its high point in the cylinder.

This rapid voiding of steam from the cylinder into the low-pressure area of Watt’s condensing chamber would still create a vacuum in the primary steam chamber but would do so without losing any of the residual heat in the cylinder wall or piston. Cooling in the separate chamber, the steam condensed into hot water that could then be routed back into the boiler chamber, where – still hot from the condenser – it required less fuel to turn it back into steam.

Watt’s idea, when implemented, would immediately return a useful dividend, extracting over four times the energy from each pound of wood or coal used.  More efficient and more powerful engines utilizing Watt’s external condenser, which could be easily scaled up as the size of steam engines increased, were now possible.

Others would soon exponentially improve upon Watt’s new design, men such as American inventor Oliver Evans and British engineer Richard Trevithick, both of whom are credited by history with the nearly simultaneous invention of the high-pressure steam engine, an idea which would eventually enable steam engines to generate enough power to drive locomotives and, much later, modern power generating plants.

But the solution that James Watt discovered made possible the transformation of steam engines from a mere mechanical novelty into a productive and transformative industrial machine.

The second component which together with Watt’s Steam Condenser would combine to kick-start the approaching era of industrial development in America awaited another moment of solitude similar to Watt’s afternoon stroll through a Glasgow park. This next unsuspecting saunter, however, wouldn’t occur until 20 years later on a picturesque hillside almost three thousand miles away.


Philip Ginter (or Ginder), about whom only a little is known, emigrated to America from Holland around the year 1745 at the age of about fifteen, part of the steady flow of Dutch immigrants into the New World prior to the American Revolution, who was, like many Europeans, fleeing natural disasters, famine, and disease. 

Floods repeatedly inundated the coastal regions of the Netherlands throughout the 1600s and 1700s, killing thousands of people and destroying food crops all across the land, starving thousands more. Bubonic Plague in Holland in 1664 killed nearly a quarter million. By 1790, more than one hundred thousand Dutch immigrants would endure the hardships of a northern Atlantic voyage to step off the gangways of sailing ships and onto the fertile soil of this young American nation.


Philip Ginter was one of them.

After the Revolution, Ginter is known to have settled in the Mahoning Creek Valley in present-day Carbon County, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles north of Philadelphia, near Allentown. Following the lead of many settlers of the time, Ginter simply picked out an uninhabited piece of land, staked a claim, built a cabin, and settled his family in it. An enterprising farmer by natural inclination, as were most Dutch immigrants of the time, Ginter desired to build a mill along the Mahoning Creek to process the agricultural products of the surrounding farms.

One Pennsylvania autumn afternoon in 1791, as the story goes, Ginter took his muzzle-loading flintlock rifle and set out alone on a hike across the surrounding countryside. Prepared to hunt game if the opportunity presented itself, Ginter was also looking for a suitable rock from which he could fashion a millstone. Climbing Sharp Mountain (now known as Summit Hill), Ginter must have marveled at the beauty of the Lehigh Valley landscape spread out below him. But something else, too, caught his eye.

Beneath the exposed roots of a fallen tree on the hillside, Ginter noticed an outcropping of a rock he had never seen before, jet-black and shiny.[16] He pried loose a fist-sized lump or two and carried them back home, where he shortly showed them to a friend, former Revolutionary War Colonel Jacob Weiss at Fort Allen, in what is now Weissport, PA. Weiss, a traveled and knowledgeable man, immediately suspected that what Ginter had found was a mineral known to Weiss as “stone coal”, so named in part because of its inherent hardness.

What Ginter had found was indeed “stone coal”, what we know now as Anthracite coal. The presence of coal within Pennsylvania this far east, not more than 70 miles in a straight line from Philadelphia, was suspected but not confirmed. Weiss took the samples with him on his next visit to the city of “Brotherly Love”, the literal Greek translation of ‘Philadelphia’, and in turn showed them to business acquaintances Michael Hillegas and John Nicholson, both lawyers, along with Charles Cist, a Philadelphia printer.

Together, the four men quickly formed the Lehigh Coal Mining Company in 1792, the country’s first anthracite mining company, and secured the leasing rights to the tract of land, nearly ten thousand acres, wherein Ginter had made his discovery. Granted, it’s a certainty that someone, if not Ginter, would have eventually stumbled upon the presence of anthracite coal in eastern Pennsylvania. But Ginter found it first, or at least history recorded his find first, and so the credit is mostly his.[17]

Ginter, however, did not experience a windfall of good fortune as a result of his discovery. In exchange for leading Weiss and his new partners to the place where this outcrop of anthracite coal was located, Ginter asked for and received a small piece of property within the larger tract of land that the newly-formed Lehigh Coal Mining Company had secured title to.  Ginter built his mill and his home on that ground. 


However, some years later it was discovered that the property upon which Ginter lived and worked had already been surveyed and titled by an absentee owner long before Weiss and his associates granted Ginter his portion of their newly titled tract.

The Lehigh Coal Mining Company apparently worked out their side of the survey and title dispute, but Ginter did not and was ultimately forced off his mill and homestead.[18]  Where he went then, and what became of him afterward, is unknown.

Still, it took some time for anthracite coal to catch on as a useful energy source.  Anthracite, unlike the softer bituminous variety, was difficult to ignite. So difficult, in fact, that rather than burning it for fuel some Philadelphians broke it up and spread it on garden pathways in place of gravel. [19]


Additionally, the persistent problem of transporting the coal to Philadelphia and beyond in sufficient bulk to be worthwhile still had not been overcome. The Lehigh River, which flowed through the Company’s land lease before joining the Delaware River on its way south to Philadelphia, was a rocky and turbulent waterway that presented enormous difficulties for flatboat navigation. The Lehigh Coal Mining Company, after digging some pits and extracting some anthracite for markets in Philadelphia, gave up on their mining operations in the early 1800s.


Before this first anthracite mining company threw in the towel, however, it had managed to deliver a few modest loads of extracted coal to prospective buyers in Philadelphia. One of those early shipments found its way to a wire & nail mill operated by partners Josiah White and Erskine Hazard.[20] 


At first, White and Hazard found the anthracite coal troublesome to work with. An extremely dense material made up of almost pure carbon[21], anthracite is difficult to ignite and, once ignited, requires just the right conditions to burn in a controlled way. After some experimentation with the design of their iron furnaces, White and Hazard found a way to burn anthracite successfully.


Quickly realizing the potential in what they had, the partners gave up nail making for anthracite coal mining, leased the rights to the Summit Hill mine which the Lehigh Coal Mining Company had abandoned, and formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in 1818.[22] 


Immediately, they petitioned the Pennsylvania state government for the right to undertake a massive effort to make the Lehigh River navigable. Organizing and managing a traveling workforce of over a thousand laborers, they cleared boulders and built dams, in places expanding and deepening the Lehigh River, and in the process founded the present-day Pennsylvania town of Jim Thorpe,[23](originally called Mauch Chunk, which perhaps suggests why later townsfolk went looking for a new name).

It didn’t take long for the burgeoning manufacturing industry in Philadelphia to realize that a pound of anthracite provided more than twice the energy of a pound of wood (a commodity that was rapidly disappearing around larger cities). It was denser than wood, and thus required less space per pound to transport and store. It burned cleaner and hotter than wood or bituminous coal and was readily available for the taking.


With that, the race for anthracite coal was underway.

Rich deposits discovered in nearby Pottsville, Pennsylvania led to the construction of the Schuylkill Canal, which opened for business in 1825.  A series of dams and water locks over a hundred miles long, the canal allowed coal-laden barges to be incrementally lowered nearly six hundred feet in elevation on their way to the distant shipping ports of Philadelphia, the first canal of its kind anywhere in America. 

In its first years of operation, brawny, resilient workers with ropes attached to the boats pulled the anthracite-filled barges along the entire length of the canal to Philadelphia, and then pulled the empty boats back again, walking along towpaths on either side of the canal the entire way, a backbreaking two-hundred-mile round trip that took nearly six weeks to complete, by any account a herculean effort almost incomprehensible to us today.[24]

Shortly thereafter, White and Hazard began construction on their own canal locks to enable travel in both directions on the Lehigh River. Prior to that, wooden barges were built at the mining site, loaded, and floated downriver to Philadelphia, where they were promptly unloaded and disassembled. The essential parts and pieces were carried by wagon back to the mine’s loading docks, nearly a hundred water miles distant, where new barge construction was continually underway. 

Before long, canal-building in the eastern Pennsylvania anthracite coalfields became all the rage. Frozen waterways in winter, however, made the canals virtually useless for weeks and sometimes for months on end.  Anthracite mining operators quickly turned to untried railroads to solve the problem, the first Americans anywhere in the country to do so.[25]

In an ever-expanding circle of development, anthracite required canals to get the coal to the eastern markets, and the industrial demand it spurred would eventually require railroads to ensure a steady delivery. Rails, spikes, steam boilers, and ever-larger pieces of machinery would require iron, and the rapidly increasing demand for iron would require tons of anthracite, rather than the sulfur-rich bituminous coal, to smelt it. Expanding production centers and ever-distant mining towns would foster an increased commerce to sustain the growing population of workers at either end of the anthracite supply chain.

Opportunities for a life different from any that Americans had known before were suddenly to be had nearly everywhere they looked. As historian Kathleen Burk notes of the time: “…everything changed extremely rapidly: new life? Just up stakes and move further west or to the city. Tired of being a farmer? Try being a merchant.  Begin as a ploughboy, end as a land speculator.”

Clearly, the great engine of national production was gathering steam. The American Industrial Revolution had begun.


A child born on the same afternoon that George Washington took the first Presidential Oath of Office, April 30th of 1789, would celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday in an America that had arguably expanded more, progressed more, transformed itself more within the past three and one-half decades than had any other civilization in any prior period of human history.

By 1824, the country could hardly have changed more. What had once been a brand new republic of eleven admitted states and a population of fewer than four million people on the day of Washington’s inauguration was now a youthful nation of 24 states, with millions of acres more of territorial lands that stretched south to the Gulf of Mexico and northwest to the Pacific Ocean, and all of it home to nearly twelve and one-half million citizens.

Since the founding of Jamestown, the dusk of each passing day had laid a blanket of darkness across the eastern face of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains as the setting sun disappeared beyond the unseen horizon, emphasizing in stark shadows the ominous and imposing western boundary of the burgeoning colonies.

But these newly minted Americans, weary from more than three decades of war and national uncertainty that ended with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, had decided that this new American country that they had struggled to create was something that they wanted to see more of.

Americans pushed westward from Wheeling and Pittsburgh along the Ohio River, and new river towns appeared all along the navigable waterways that radiated out into the fresh reaches of the young nation. Cleveland, Knoxville, Memphis, Buffalo, Hannibal, and Paducah had been newly founded. Pioneers in the new settlement of Marietta built boats and ships for the westward push along the Ohio River,[26] and further still with the first southern excursions that would carry Americans along the length of the Mississippi to New Orleans and the ocean beyond.


The construction of the National Road, the first Federally funded road project, had begun in 1811 and would link its easternmost starting point of Cumberland, Maryland with the new American settlements in the Ohio Valley. The Erie Canal was nearing completion. Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston built the first commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont, in New York in 1807, and within a few years, steamboats were carrying people and merchandise along almost every useful waterway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi.

Before much longer, steam-powered locomotives would appear. Steam engines and steam boilers were powering sugar cane mills in Louisiana, sawmills in Virginia, and whiskey distilleries in Maryland and Kentucky. In 1808, there were 15 cotton textile mills in the entire United States. By 1814, there were nearly 250.[27]

Iron furnaces in the northeast supplied an ever-growing demand for raw materials for machinery and tooling manufacturers, fueled increasingly by a steady supply of anthracite that streamed from the sloping mines of eastern Pennsylvania.

Eli Whitney, already known for his invention of the infamous cotton gin, had gone on to revolutionize American commerce once again by introducing the novel concept of interchangeable parts, an idea he created for the firearms industry in 1798 that would eventually make mass assembly-line manufacturing possible.[28]

Once almost entirely agrarian, the country now made as much as it sowed. Americans everywhere, as a British visitor would note, “seem(s) to be continually devising some new thing” to make their work more productive.[29] In 1790, the Federal Patent Office issued three utility patents. In 1824, two-hundred and twenty-eight Patents were granted,[30] including patents for new machines and methods to shell corn, steam and harden hats, bind books, grind paint pigments, and patents for new and better products such as door locks, self-sharpening plows, boat rudders, nails, razors, umbrellas, and dozens of patents for new steam boiler designs and gear mechanisms for driving new types of machinery.

New ideas for patents came practically with each new thought, and sometimes, it seemed, before even the thought itself had fully evolved. The first tin can, invented by Peter Durand in part to help preserve food stores for long westward excursions, was patented in 1813.  It would be another 45 years, however, before Ezra Warner would patent the first tin can opener.[31]

With a ready supply of carbon-rich coal within reach of a rapidly growing population and industrial centers, and with substantial improvements to the steam engine that made it a powerful source of energy for manufacturing and transportation beyond anything known before, the center of American production and manufacturing, once located amidst the tranquil hydro-powered textile and agricultural mills of New England, was now centered squarely on bustling Philadelphia.[32]

The raw materials were being assembled all across the growing republic, and America stood, it seemed, at the starting block, ready to build an Industrial Colossus unlike anything mankind had known before.  The fuse was lit that would bring about an unprecedented explosion of national industrial development and expansion beyond even what had already been accomplished.

The coming economic, technological, and engineering accomplishments of America, by Americans, throughout the remaining years of the 1800s would stun and amaze the world, and it wouldn’t end there.

The nearly uncontrollable industrial leviathan within America would strain at the leash, eager to feed an unquenchable appetite for raw materials and the fuel to power itself. In time, the enormous coalfields of southern West Virginia would beckon, and the giants of American Industry would respond with a vengeance.














[1] Mostly eroded away over the millions of years since the formation of these ancient mountains, the elongated ‘s’ pattern of the present-day Appalachian Mountain Range stretching from Alabama to Maine, clearly recognizable on any topographical map of the eastern United States, is visible evidence of this tectonic collision.

[2] For a fascinatingly concise and detailed examination of the geologic formation of West Virginia’s topography and underlying mineral deposits, see Lebold, J.G. and Wilkinson, C., Roadside Geology of West Virginia, Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, MT, 2018.

[3] Proof of this is in the sedimentary rocks of similar geologic age and structure found on both the east coast of North American and the west coasts of Europe and Africa.

[4] Stoll, S., Ramp Hollow, The Ordeal of Appalachia, Hill & Wang, NY 2017, p 34.

[5] Coal was also known in England in its early history as “sea coal”, though it is unknown as to whether the name had more to do with the location in which it was first found along the coast, felled by the tidal erosion of exposed cliffs, or whether due to the primary route by which it was delivered to industrial centers like London or Manchester. Regardless, the name stuck. See Freese, B. (2003) p 21.

[6] Freese, B., Coal, A Human History, Penguin Books Group, N.Y., 2003, pp 15-24.  This chapter relies heavily, and with this author’s sincere gratitude, on Barbara Freese’s fascinating and authoritative study of coal, particularly with respect to the early history of coal in England and America.

[7]  Fraser, Rebecca, The Mayflower, the Families, the Voyage and the Founding of America, New  York, St. Martin’s Press, 2017, p 78.

[8] Ibid, pp 104-105.

[9] Eller, Ronald D., Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers, Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930, University of Tennessee Press, 1982, p 44.

[10] Middlekauff, R., The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution, 1763-1798, Oxford University Press, 1982, p 9.

[11] Freese., pp 107-108.

[12] Ibid., p 110.

[13] Inexplicably, as has been noted often before, Newcomen has been largely overlooked by history, even though his was the first atmospheric steam-driven machine designed to transfer the steam energy it created into mechanical energy, which eventually made steam-powered transportation possible. No portrait of Thomas Newcomen is known to exist.

[14], March 2019.

[15] Freese, p 62

[16] Brenckman, F., History of Carbon County, 1913, as cited by

[17] In 1891, on the 100th Anniversary of Ginter’s discovery, the Pennsylvania State Legislature approved funding for a monument to be erected in Ginter’s honor on Summit Hill.  However, disputes over exactly who should be credited with the discovery of anthracite ended the official effort. Other counties and townships claimed credit for one of their own, including the people of Schuylkill County, who asserted that a trapper named Necho Allen discovered the presence of “stone coal” in their county in 1790, a year before Ginter, when Allen awoke from a nap while hunting to find that his campfire has accidentally ignited a nearby seam of anthracite.  Nonetheless, in 1941, on the 150th Anniversary of Ginter’s discovery, the people of Carbon County, PA, entirely on their own accord, erected a stone monument in his honor in Summit Hill.  See Orenstein, R.H. article in the March 23, 2019 edition of The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, Tribune Publishing Company.

[18] Centennial Anniversary of the First Shipment of Anthracite Coal from the Lehigh Region, Pamphlet No. 1, Carbon County Historical Society, Mauch Chunk, PA, August 9th, 1914.

[19] Centennial Anniversary, Ibid.

[20] Freese, B., Coal, A Human History, pp 116-118.

[21] The origins of anthracite coal, like bituminous coal, are the thick beds of peat laid down deep beneath the ground over past eons. However, the coal beds that became Anthracite were subjected to the increased forces of the tectonic geologic collisions noted earlier, which folded the crust of the earth along the east coast of America, including the land that makes up eastern Pennsylvania, like an accordion. The increased pressures of being folded and compressed forced nearly all of the impurities out of the coal, leaving behind a nearly pure carbon material much denser than bituminous coal. This geologic folding also explains why anthracite coal beds are more sharply inclined beneath the ground, as opposed to the generally horizontal bituminous beds further west and southwest. The area comprised of 6 counties in eastern Pennsylvania where anthracite coal is found is the only place in the United States where it exists.

[22] The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company survived continuously until 1965. The company was reincorporated in 1989 as the Lehigh Coal Mining Company and is still pulling coal from beneath the ground in northeast Pennsylvania to this day. See Orenstein, R.H. in The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, Tribune Publishing Co., Sat, March 23rd, 2019 Edition.

[23] Freese, B., pp 116-117.

[24] Ibid., p 119

[25] Ibid., pp 120-122

[26] McCullough, David, The Pioneers, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019, p 137.

[27] Wood, G.S., p 703.

[28] Howe, D.W., p 532.

[29] Ibid., p 534

[30], 2019.

[31], 2019.

Works Cited

Branckman, F. H. (2019). Retrieved from

Centennial Anniversary of the First Shipment of Anthracite Coal from the Lehigh Region. (1914, August 9). Pamphlet No. 1.

Eller, R. D. (1982). Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers; Industrialization of the Appalachian South. University of Tennessee Press.

Fraser, R. (2017). The Mayflower, The Families, The Voyage, and The Founding of America. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Freese, B. (2003). Coal; A Human History. New York, New York: Penguin Book Group.

Howe, D. W. (2007). What Hath God Wrought; The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford University Press.

James Watt. (2019, March). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Lebold, J. &. (2018). Roadside Geology of West Virginia. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing.

McCullouch, D. (2019). The Pioneers. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.

MIddlekauff, R. (1982). The Glorious Cause. Oxford University Press.

Orenstein, R. (2019, March 23). Centennial Anniversary. The Morning Call.

Stoll, S. (n.d.). Ramp Hollow; The Ordeal Of Appalachia. New York, New York: Hill & Wang.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office. (2019). Retrieved from

Wood, G. S. (2009). Empire of Liberty; A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. Oxford University Press.



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