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article number 300
article date 12-24-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Coal Changes our Nation, 1820-1920
by Floyd L. Darrow

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention.

WHEN, in 300 B. C., Theophrastus, a Greek orator and friend of Aristotle, wrote a description of coal, he did not know that he was introducing one of the most fascinating stories to be found in the pages of Nature. Little did he dream of the vast industrial era which in a few short centuries would be entirely dependent upon this black, stony substance that kindles and burns “like wooden coals.”

In that early day his vision did not take in deep mines with their grimy toilers, innumerable smoking chimneys, the steam-engine, the blast-furnace swallowing 400 tons of coal a day, iron rails that span continents, floating palaces of steel, big guns and armor-plate, huge skyscrapers, and an age of electricity—all of which would be impossible without these black rocks dug from the depths of the earth.

Coal is the symbol of power. Together with its twin brother, iron, it has spelled dominion; first over the material elements of Nature, then over industry and the military and political course of empire.

Along its black trail we trace the ever-expanding growth of the world’s industrial life. Without coal, nations wither and decay. Coal and yet more coal is the never-ceasing cry of every workshop in the world.



Coal is crystallized buried sunshine. Millions and millions of years ago this planet passed through what geologists call the carboniferous period.

The continents, then arranged somewhat differently than now, were enveloped in an atmosphere dense, hot, and humid. Tropic climates extended far beyond the present torrid zone. Along the borders of the sea or about the shores of inland lakes were vast swamps. In them grew a most luxuriant vegetation. At no other time has the earth seen its like.

Huge tree ferns and other forms, similar to modern horsetails and scouring rushes, often eighty or ninety feet high, ferns like the maidenhair of China and Japan, and immense trees similar to our club-moss and ground-pine filled these swamps in dank profusion.

Breathing through their leaves the carbon dioxide of the air, and drinking with their roots the soluable plant foods in the rich soil beneath, the energy of the sunshine, in Nature’s greatest laboratory, united these substances into the woody fibre of the tree.

A JUNGLE IN THE CARBONIFEROUS ERA. Coal is the result of a chemical change in giant tree-ferns and conifere which sank in the swamps where they had grown in the course of centuries. The chemical change is called carbonization, and it occurred in the carboniferous era. Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.

From time to time these swamps sank beneath the water and the plants were killed. Then the rivers, pouring in their sediment, buried this vegetation beneath deep layers of mud and sand. At first peat bogs were formed similar to those existing to-day in Ireland and along our Atlantic coast.

Gradually, as the layers of sediment grew thicker, their tremendous pressure, and the heat developed by it, squeezed out the gaseous matter and changed the vegetation into coal.

Here is Nature’s coke-oven. In it have been produced every variety of coal, from peat and lignite to bituminous and anthracite, the particular kind depending upon the amount of heat and pressure to which the vegetation was subjected.

The anthracite coal contains the largest percentage of carbon and the least oily and gaseous matter. It is the hardest of coals, and burns slowly and with the least smoke.


That coal was used by the Britons previously to the Roman invasion, in 54 B. C., seems evident from tools and cinders found near the ancient Roman wall. Indeed, it would be an exception to the usual course of progress, had not some primitive man, building his fire on an outcropping ledge of black rock, discovered that the rock would burn. Before the Christian era coal was also mined in China.

The first known record of the use of coal in England takes us back to 852. in that year the Abbey of Petersboro gave a receipt for “twelve cartloads of coals.” In the books of the bishop of Durham for the year 1180, we find the first account of actual mining operations.

But even a century later the use of coal was very slight; for a Venetian traveller, who told his countrymen of a “kind of black stone used like firewood,” was not believed. The first shipment of coal to London was made in 1240.

Marco Polo, the famous Italian traveller of the thirteenth century, mentions its use in what he called Cathay, in 1275. And in 1612, coal was first used in a blast-furnace for the production of iron.


Those intrepid Jesuit missionaries, Joliet and Marquette, who explored the Mississippi Valley, discovered coal in the United States near the present site of Utica, Illinois, in 1673. Later, in the year 1689, Father Louis Hennepin published a map showing a “cole mine” along the Illinois River.

That the Indians were acquainted with numerous coal beds and used the black stones for fuel, and that they actually mined it, there is no doubt. In 1766, they complained to the governor of Pennsylvania of the robbery of their mines by the white settlers.

The oldest coal-mines in America are those in the bituminous fields near Richmond, Virginia. It is said a boy discovered these beds in turning over stones in his search of bait for fishing. This was in 1702, but it was not until 1750 that the mines were opened.

During the Revolutionary War coal was in common use throughout this region. Although coal had not then been discovered in Pennsylvania, the Wyoming and Lackawanna coal-fields were purchased from the Five Nations by the Susquehanna Company in 1754.

Then, in 1760, anthracite coal was discovered in Rhode Island, and two years later settlers from Connecticut discovered anthracite in the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. There, in 1763, they made the first reservation of coal lands in what was to be the largest and most important anthracite region of America.

With the great abundance of virgin forests in this new country, forests that were long an actual bar to industrial and agricultural expansion, a substitute for wood fuel did not appeal very strongly to the pioneer population. But it was inevitable that the superiority of coal to wood should soon prove itself. Gradually but surely it came into use.


In 1769, Obadiah Gore, a blacksmith of the Wyoming Valley, first burned anthracite in his forge, and his example was soon followed by others. Farmers and blacksmiths began to mine it for their own use. But most people looked upon it with scepticism, and advocates of the new fuel were frequently subjected to ridicule.

The rich beds of the Schuylkill were discovered in 1770, but were not developed until 1834. In 1775 the government of Pennsylvania floated coal down the Susquehanna to Harrisburg—then Harris Ferry—and hauled it by wagon to the arsenal at Carlisle for use in the manufacture of ammunition.

Judge Jesse Fell, one of the pioneers in introducing coal to the public, used the fuel in the manufacture of nails at Wilkesbarre, in 1788.

There is an interesting story connected with the Lehigh Valley region. Philip Ginter, whose name would otherwise be totally unknown to history, discovered coal there in 1791. Ginter was a poor man who supported his family by hunting and trapping.

One rainy night after an unsuccessful day in the woods, as he was returning tired and discouraged to his log cabin, he came down the side of Bear Mountain. His foot struck a shiny black stone, driving it on before him. He picked it up and decided it was coal, the new fuel that people were discussing.

Ginter started to investigate. All about him he found the black rocks in abundance. The next day he reported his find to Jacob Weiss at Fort Allen, and a quarry was soon opened. In the following year the Lehigh Coal Mining Company was organized.


About this time another hunter, Nicholas Allen, found coal near Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He, too, had been hunting all day and at night had built his fire under a ledge of black rocks. After preparing his supper he wrapped himself in his blanket and was soon sound asleep.

Some time in the night he was awakened by a strong light shining in his eyes. Leaping to his feet, he discovered to his amazement that “the mountain was on fire.” When morning came he found that he had built his fire on an outcrop of coal.

This fortunate accident led to the location of one of the richest coal regions of the State.

Yet another hunter, John Charles, in digging out a woodchuck, came upon coal, for in Pennsylvania the coal in many places lies very near the surface.

Gradually the coal industry grew. In 1795, a blacksmith named Whetstone began to mine and use coal in the Schuylkill region. In 1800 it was being shipped from Pottsville to Philadelphia. But its use for domestic purposes had not yet been demonstrated.

The burning of coal and its substitution for wood was still in the experimental stage. People were laughed at for buying the black stones. Criticism seemed justified when, in 1803, the Lehigh Coal Mine Company shipped two boatloads to Philadelphia, and the stuff, refusing to burn, had to be used in place of gravel on the sidewalks.

But its importance as a domestic fuel could not long be delayed. In this same year, in Philadelphia, Oliver Evans, the great American inventor of the steam-engine, first burned coal in a grate, and Frederick Groff, also a citizen of the Quaker City, repeated the experiment shortly after.

The new fuel, however, was slow in coming into favor. Another boat-load sent to Philadelphia, in 1806, was rejected. Even as late as 1812, Colonel George Shoemaker narrowly escaped arrest as an impostor when he offered nine wagon-loads of coal for sale in Philadelphia. He succeeded in selling only two of them, then gave the other seven away.

In 1808 Judge Jesse Fell gave a public demonstration in which he burned coal in the grate in the barroom of his hotel at Wilkesbarre. This was regarded as a great event, and people came from far and near to witness the strange spectacle of rocks superseding wood in the fireplace, and burning merrily.

One of the wagon-loads of coal sold by Colonel Shoemaker had been purchased by White and Hazard, wire manufacturers located at Schuylkill Falls. After spending all night in unsuccessful efforts to make the stuff burn, they gave it up in despair. Fortunately they left the furnace door shut, and when a workman returned some time later to get his coat, he found a red-hot fire.

People did not understand, at first, that a coal fire should be left alone and not poked.


In 1805-6, John and Abijah Smith from Derby, Connecticut, settled at Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and immediately formed the coal firm of Abijah Smith and Company, the first in America to devote itself exclusively to the mining and marketing of coal. In 1807 they shipped fifty-five tons to Columbia, Pennsylvania, and, from then on, 400 to 500 tons annually to New York and Baltimore, for which supply they received from $10 to $12 a ton.

When one considers the purchasing power of money then, coal was certainly an expensive luxury. The Smith brothers shipped their coal in crude boats called “arks.” They were ninety feet long, sixteen feet wide, and four feet deep. Each “ark” carried sixty tons of coal and was manned by a crew of four men. Seven days were required to reach tide-water on the Susquehanna.

These industrious brothers realized that if they were to succeed in marketing their product they must teach the people how to use it. They therefore devised a special kind of grate, and with infinite patience did the pioneer work of introducing coal as a domestic fuel.

From their records we find that New York began to use coal in 1812, and in that year consumed 200 tons. The first anthracite coal firm in New York was that of Price and Waterbury. They retailed coal at $25 for 3,000 pounds.

The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, the oldest coal company in America still in existence, was organized in 1818 and began business in 1820, in which year they shipped 365 tons of anthracite to Philadelphia. This company was a tremendous factor in developing the coal-fields of the East. Another of the old coal companies is the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, which was organized in 1823 and began to make coal shipments in 1828.


The first use of anthracite in the smelting of iron occurred at the nail and wire mill of White and Hazard, at Schuylkill Falls, in 1812. To generate steam power, it was first used in this country in Thompson’s rolling-mill at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, 1825.

Coal had been thus used in England for nearly a century. First in Savery’s, then in Newcomen’s, and finally in Watt’s steam-engines, coal was the source of power for pumping water from the mines.

In America, with the coming of the steamboat and the locomotive, coal rapidly came into use as the most important source of energy.

In the old “Pioneer Furnace,” at Pottsville, Pennsylvania, built by William Lyman, of Boston, anthracite was first used in the smelting of iron ore. Publicly recognizing the fact that Lyman, with the use of anthracite, had produced pig iron continuously for 100 days, Nicholas Biddle and a number of other far-seeing public-spirited men, in 1839, awarded him a prize of $5,000. The first successful blast was blown in October of that year.


From the earliest times the coal-beds, or seams as they are called, have been reached by one of three methods: the “shaft,” the “slope,” or the “drift.” The shaft, either round or rectangular, is sunk vertically down to the coal. The slope is a tunnel driven downward at a steep angle; a drift is a horizontal tunnel leading into a coal seam.

Where a shaft is sunk through water-bearing strata, a water-tight lining, or “tubbing,” must be provided to prevent the flooding of the mine. All water that enters the mine flows into an excavation called a “sump” and must be pumped out. From the bottom of the shaft one or more main entries are driven, and off from these lie the headings or rooms in which the coal is mined.

In the earliest mines the coal was broken loose from its long resting-place with crude picks and thrown into baskets strapped upon the backs of carriers who toiled up and down long ladders or rough stairways. Later it was placed first in sleds, and then in carts, which were dragged by women and children to the foot of the mine shaft. From there a bucket and windlass, operated by horses or mules, brought the coal to the surface.

Gradually mules did the work of the women and children, and eventually steam and electricity hoisted the coal to the surface. Coal-mining has now been placed almost entirely upon a machine basis.



In the following pages we shall tell the story of American achievement in revolutionizing the coal industry of this and other lands. In this, the first distinct contribution of American inventors to the art of coal-mining was the coal-breaker.

A breaker is a large structure, usually of steel, but formerly of wood, in which anthracite coal is prepared for market. It is not used for bituminous coal. It was in 1830 that the first attempt was made to prepare coal after it had been mined.

By means of rakes, workmen in the mines separated the large lumps from the small ones. Only the larger lumps were brought to the surface, where they were dumped upon perforated cast-iron plates and broken up with hammers into sizes suitable for use.

In 1844, two brothers, J. and S. Battin, invented the roll-crusher and used it in their coal yard at Philadelphia. In that same year Gideon Bast, of Minersville, Pennsylvania, erected the first breaker with circular screens. With it he could break and clean 200 tons of coal in a day. Thirteen other breakers were built, in 1845, in this same field.

In the first breaker steam was used to drive the machinery, but at many of the smaller plants horses furnished the power. The first rolls were made of cast iron, but the teeth were brittle and easily broken; so, in 1876, steel teeth were substituted, being driven into a cast-iron shell.

At the Hill and Harris colliery, at Mahonoy City, Pennsylvania, the picking-table was added to the breaker in 1870. On it the slate was picked from the coal by men and boys. Then the jig, another device for separating the slate, was introduced in the lower anthracite regions.

PICKING COAL BY HAND. The picking-table was first added to the breaker about 1870. Photograph by United States Bureau of Mines.

The man who was most closely associated with the later development of the breaker was Eckley B. Coxe, one of the most prominent coal operators of the anthracite region. His grandfather, Tench Coxe, as far back as the Revolutionary days, foresaw with remarkable clearness the future value of coal to industry. He acquired vast tracts of coal lands, which two generations later were developed by his grandsons, Eckley and Alexander.

As a young man, Eckley studied chemistry and physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent his summer vacations prospecting in the family coal-fields. Very quickly he became familiar with coal-mining in all its details. After a year of study abroad, he returned in 1864 to develop his coal properties. By 1889 he was producing nearly a million and a half tons a year.

At the Red Cross collieries, and later at Drifton in his native State, Coxe devised new machinery for sizing coal. The coal is first carried in cars to the top of the breaker building, from where it makes its way down to the waiting railroad-cars and storage bins below. As it does so it is separated into grades of various sizes.

For this purpose he invented gyrating screens and oscillating bars, that is, bars with a to-and-fro movement. These resulted in better methods of feeding the coal and in increased speed of operation. Coxe also introduced corrugated rolls with continuous teeth from end to end to break up the lumps. He provided a regular series of these rolls adapted to the various sizes of coal required.

To separate the slate he adopted an automatic slate-picker, depending upon the fact that slate is thinner than coal and will drop through a slit over which the coal will pass.

Improved forms of “jigs,” another American invention for separating slate, formed a part of the Coxe breaker. The jig consists of two compartments. In one compartment a plunger descends, forcing water through a grate up into the other on which rests the coal and slate; the coal being lighter is forced to the top, while the slate settles to the bottom.

Stephen R. Krom, of New York, John H. Paddock, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and Collom and Hartz are among those who have taken out patents on various forms of jigs.

Although Coxe set the standard in breaker construction, other operators have made improvements. Many of these make the work more nearly automatic, avoid re-handling, and eliminate waste.



The first mining machine on record was patented in 1761 by Michael Menzies at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. His purpose was to transmit power from the surfaces by means of rods and chains, to a heavy pick in the mine below. Little more was accomplished until 1867, when Howit, another English miner, invented a “percussive” machine operated by compressed air.

Such a machine, as its name indicates, delivers a hammer-blow. Although Howit’s machine was not a success, it served as a model upon which other inventors soon improved.

The first coal-cutting machine in America was invented after four years of work by Horace F. Brown, of Indianapolis, in 1873. Brown called it the “Monitor Coal-Cutter.” The machine was mounted on a cast-iron frame, and its chief feature was a revolving rim which carried cutting teeth. It was operated either by steam or compressed-air engines, and ran on a track.

This first American machine, and one of the first in the world, was used in June, 1873, in the Coal Brook Mines at Brazil, Indiana.

The first patent on a pick-mining machine in the United States was issued on Christmas Day, 1877, to J. W. Harrison. Although not a decided success at first, this machine was improved, and manufactured later by the George D. Whitcomb Company, of Chicago.

That the pick should form the basis of experimentation was perfectly natural. But, although the mechanical pick was a vast improvement, and is still used, it has been largely displaced by more rapid machines.

HOLING COAL IN THE OLD WAY. Before Francis M. Lechner invented his machine, coal was “holed,” or undercut, by hand.


Standing foremost, perhaps, and one of the pioneers in this field of invention, is Joseph A. Jeffrey, of Columbus, Ohio. One day in 1877, as Jeffrey, who was connected with the Commercial National Bank of Columbus, Ohio, was passing a store window, he noticed on exhibition the model of a coal-cutter.

Francis M. Lechner, the inventor, had placed his model there for the purpose of interesting some one of means and ability toward its development and manufacture. Lechner was one of the great designers of coal-mining machinery, and his death on January 30, 1915, marked the passing of one who contributed much to the development of his country’s resources.

MODEL OF LECHNER MACHINE FOR UNDERCUTTING COAL. Francis M. Lechner had exhibited in a store window in 1877 the model which attracted the attention of J. A. Jeffrey. The machine was intended to show the feasibility of undercutting coal before it was blasted.

Jeffrey was immediately interested, and through his efforts the Lechner Mining Machine Company was organized. He was embarking upon a new field. An imperfect and untried invention needed both time and money for its development, but this was an invention that would work a revolution in the methods of coal-mining if it proved successful. The original model convinced Jeffrey that the idea was a sound one.

The machine was designed to undercut the coal previously to blasting, and to take the place of the laborious method of hand-picking and of the crude pick-machines in use. It was of the cutter-bar type; that is, the cutting was done by a bar with rigid, sharp bits. The machine was placed with the bar to the face of the coal, and compressed-air engines drove the revolving cutter-bar forward into the coal.

The feeding-and-cutting machinery was mounted on a stationary frame, and when the bar had been driven forward to the limit of this frame, the machine was backed up and pushed over another width.

This was the earliest of the so-called “breast machines.” They were first used in the New Catfish Mine in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, and in a mine at Straitsville, Ohio. They were not very robust; while they worked fairly well in cutting soft coal they quickly went to pieces in the anthracite mines.

But there was no damping the enthusiasm of the inventors. Despite the fact that these early machines were constantly on the road between the mine and the repair-shop, no one lost faith in them. It was felt that a perfect machine of this order was sure to be sooner or later developed.

MACHINE BUILT ABOUT 1878 ACCORDING TO LECHNER PRINCIPLES. The first commercially successful coal-cutter. A pair of vertical engines driven by compressed air furnished the power. Coal was cut by a chain-driven revolving cutter-bar, the coal being cut by “bits” inserted in the bar. Later the engines were mounted horizontally to reduce the height. This machine paved the way for the modern electrical coal-cutter.

Among the difficulties which these pioneers had to overcome was the opposition of the miners themselves. Here was a machine calculated to ease their burdens as nothing else had ever done, and yet they looked upon it as an enemy. In consequence, many of the machines were deliberately wrecked.

It was Charles H. Welch, popularly known as “Uncle Charlie,” who, at the Straitsville mine, put fear into the hearts of these foes of a new and better day. Gun in hand, he presided over the cutting-machine by day, and protected it by night. Welch also made many suggestions for improvements in the original types.

Other men of the Jeffrey Company whose inventions went into the improvements which made possible ultimate success were H. B. Dierdorff, H. H. Bliss, Benjamin Legg, Albert Hoermle, and Bromley.


Although these were the first commercially successful attempts at machine mining, the results were pitifully small as compared with those of present-day methods. The improved cutter-bar machines were still unsatisfactory. Then, in 1893, under the direction of H. B. Dierdorff, the first successful breast-type chain cutting-machine was invented.

Instead of using a cutter-bar, the bits were set in an endless iron chain. The first of these new machines was put to work in February, 1894, in the mines of the Sunday Creek Company at Congo, Ohio. It proved an instantaneous success.

The operation, however, was the same as before; after undercutting to the limit of the stationary frame, it was necessary to back up and set the machine over, a long and laborious process, but the machines were now driven both by compressed air and electricity.

THE JEFFREY-DIERDORFF CHAIN-BREAST MACHINE. This machine, for which H. B. Dierdorff was responsible, was known as the “chain-breast’’ machine. It consisted of a movable frame inside of a stationary frame. The motor was mounted on the movable frame; so were the gearing and triangular cutter-bar, around the periphery of which ran an endless cutter-chain composed of alternate strap and solid logs. The lugs carried removable cutter-bits. The stationary frame was jacked down to the bottom. As the movable frame was fed forward the cutter-bar was forced under the coal, cutting the kerf about five inches wide, and six feet deep. After the cut was made the machine was moved to a new position by crowbars in the hands of the machine runners.

Although the chain cutting-machine of the breast type required less power, needed less repair, and was more economical, still the goal had not been reached. From 1896 to 1898, there was brought out simultaneously by a number of companies, including the Jeffrey Company, the Sullivan Machinery Company, the Morgan-Gardiner Electric Company, and the Link-Belt Company, a new machine vastly superior to any of its predecessors.

This was a continuous cutting-machine. It carried a long, narrow cutter-bar, like the cutting-bar of a farm mowing-machine. Running about this bar was an endless iron chain in which were set the cutting-bits. The bar could be moved in a horizontal plane through an angle of 190 degrees.

Starting at one corner of a mine “room,” the machine cut its way straight into the depth of the cutter-bar, and then moved directly across the face of the coal to the opposite side of the room.

With frequent improvements this machine has been developed into the standard present-day coal-mining machine. It is used wherever coal is mined, and stands as one more monument to the genius and enterprise of American inventors.

With the machines thus far developed, the cutting was always done at the bottom. But on account of dirt bands, rock layers, and other impurities often present in the coal, it frequently became desirable to be able to cut coal at the top or the middle of the face.

To meet this need the Jeffrey engineers developed what they call the “Arcwall” machine. It carries an elevated cutter-bar which makes possible the cutting of coal at any desired point.

It was inevitable that American ingenuity should not rest. We now have a single machine that undercuts, knocks down, and loads the coal into the mine-car—all in one operation. This, too, is a product of the inventive genius of the Jeffrey engineers. They made their first attempts at producing this type of machine in 1911.

The first one was tried out at Kilsythe, West Virginia, in 1912. It was not very satisfactory but it showed the way, and soon a highly successful machine was the result. An undercutter, two vertical shearing arms, a pick frame, a coal-conveyer, and a motor are its chief features.

LATEST TYPE OF JEFFREY ARCWALL CUTI’ER. The arcwall cutter, of which this is the latest Jeffrey type, met the demand for a machine which would cut coal at the top or in the middle because of the greater amount of dirt found at the bottom. The face of the cut is left in the form of a semicircle; hence the name “arcwall.”
LATEST FORM OF JEFFREY SHORTWALL CUTTER. Originally developed about 1906. Here the Lechner chain principle is also applied.
A MODERN JEFFREY CUTTING-AND LOADING-MACHINE. This machine not only cuts coal, as does the breast and shortwall type of machine, but picks it down, conveys it back and loads into mine-cars. The first machine dates back to 1911. A machine of this type is fed into the coal to the limit of its bed-frame (about seven feet). All of the coal up to a height of forty-eight inches within reach is taken out. The machine is then withdrawn into the frame and moved by its own power four feet (the width of the cut), and the operation repeated. One hundred tons of coal are thus cut and disposed of in nine hours.


In 1850 there graduated from Dartmouth College a young man named James Phineas Upham. His father, of Claremont, New Hampshire, had been for many years a member of Congress, riding to and from Washington on horseback. In 1851 the younger Upham started a small machine-shop at Claremont.

Among the products which he turned out were engine-lathes, iron planers, paper-mill machines, circular saws, and water-wheels. At the Crystal Palace, in New York, in 1856, he was awarded the highest prize medal for water-wheels.

As the years passed, Upham was establishing for himself a profitable business. But a still larger business awaited him. One afternoon, in 1868, as he was trimming apple-trees near the roadside of his estate, two strangers drove up and inquired for James Upham. They were Albert Ball and Roger Love, from Windsor, Vermont.

Having invented and patented a diamond channelling-machine for quarrying stone, they wanted Upham to build it for them.

Then and there over the stone wall by the roadside an agreement was reached, and in that moment the Sullivan Machinery Company had its real beginning. It took its name from the county in which the business was located, a county named in honor of General John Sullivan of Revolutionary fame.

Ball, for fifty years the chief mechanical engineer of the company, was born in 1835, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where as a youth he learned the machinist’s trade. He made many inventions, one of them being a repeating rifle, which was bought by the Prussian Government. Many thousands of these rifles were used in the wars from 1866 to 1871.

At the request of our own government he invented a machine for lubricating bullets easily and cheaply, and it became the model for almost every other similar device. In mining machinery, he invented rockdrills and drill mountings, the early continuous chain cutting coal machines of the Sullivan Machinery Company, and their air-driven coal-pick machine.

Since the early nineties of the last century, the Sullivan Machinery Company has been a foremost manufacturer of coal-mining machinery. Their “Ironclad Coal Cutters,” particularly those of the “Longwall” type, are used in every part of the world. One of the early inventors of Sullivan machinery was Jonas Mitchell.

SULLIVAN COMPRESSED-AIR PICK-MACHINE. Although pick-machines of this type are still used, they have been largely displaced by coal-cutters.


Among the earliest of the rock and coal cutting tools were drills. At first they were driven by hand, then by steam, compressed air, and finally by electricity. The original and still one of the most important uses of drills is for making holes preparatory to blasting out the rock.

The air-driven pick-machine is really a larger application of the principle of the drill.

One of the earliest drills made in this country was the “Burleigh.” It was used in 1874 on the Hoosac Tunnel, but its life was only fifty hours, and it required four machines to keep one drill in operation. At this time there were in operation four drills of American make: the Burleigh, the Rand, the Ingersoll, and the Waring. Another American inventor who did pioneer work in this field was Sergeant.

Although all of these men have now passed from the scene of action, the names of three of them—Rand, Ingersoll, and Sergeant—are still associated with well-known companies devoted to the manufacture of drills and other mining machinery.

Three of these early drills had automatic feeding devices, and the Waring was able to make a speed of two inches per minute. One of the first successful electric drills was invented by W. A. Box, of Denver, about 1903.

But the man who contributed more than any one else to the art of removing rock and uncovering the mineral resources of our country was John George Leyner. Taking the crude, imperfect drilling devices of his predecessors, he fashioned patterns with the expertness of a skilled mechanic and the insight of real genius, which, for more than a decade, have set the standard of excellence in every mining-camp of the world.

Under the magic of Leyner’s hand and brain, the rock-drill passed through the percussion stage, in which clumsy machinery and heavy weights had been employed, to the compact, small, and highly efficient drill of to-day. Together with Ingersoll and Joseph Githers, he developed the “jackhammer” or piston type of drill.


Up to Leyner’s time, this had been considered an impossible feat. How to reduce its weight, simplify its mechanism, and yet make it strong and efficient, had baffled his predecessors. But Leyner saw that the future of mining, operations demanded a perfect machine of this type, and after nine years of patient work he achieved success.

As a novel feature of the drill, he first introduced a water-jet through the piston for clearing out the cuttings. More about Leyner’s work and his drills is told in the chapter on “Mining Copper and the Nobler Metals.”

In 1902 he organized a company and, employing the highest quality of material and workmanship, he evolved many of the standard rock-cutting tools of to-day-tools that are very widely used in coal and other mining operations.

The “jackhammer,” the most generally used rock-drill of America and Europe, is built on the Leyner principle. This drill holds the world record for fast tunnel driving. Leyner also invented the drill sharpener that now sharpens ninety per cent of all machine-sharpened tools.

His great achievement, however, was reducing the cost of rock and ore removal. In 1911, he sold his patents on mining machinery to the Ingersoll-Rand Company, and turned to other fields of invention. The “Little Tugger” mine hoist and the perfection of a farm tractor, on which he was engaged at the time of his death, proved the versatility of his inventive genius.



The first electric locomotive operated by current from a dynamo was not exhibited, even as a curiosity, until 1879. But three years from that date these remarkable locomotives were doing service in the coal-mines of Saxony.

The first electric surface railway in this country was built at Richmond, Virginia, in 1887; that same year the first electric mine locomotive was put into service at the Short Mountain Colliery of the Lykens Valley Coal Company, at Lykens, Pennsylvania.

The installation was designed by W. M. Schiessinger, and consisted of two motor-cars, each weighing about five tons and equipped with a thirty-two horse-power motor. This work was done under the direction of Irving A. Stearns, of Wilkesbarre, one of the most prominent mining engineers of the anthracite region.


In the following year, 1888, the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company designed and built the first electric locomotives used in the bituminous coal-mines of the United States. They were installed in the mine of the Upson Coal Mining Company, at Shawnee, Ohio.

A unique feature of the equipment was the use of one-inch galvanized iron pipes, instead of wires, for conductors. To H. H. Bliss and H. B. Dierdorff, of the Jeffrey Company, belongs the credit for originating the idea of these locomotives and carrying out their construction.

Jeffrey had previously applied to several of the leading electrical firms of the United States, asking them to equip his coal-cutting machines with electric motors and supply him with electric locomotives. It should be remembered that electric machinery was then in the experimental stage, and this state of affairs resulted in the failure of the different firms to meet Jeffrey’s requirements.

He then secured the services of several electrical engineers, and with the aid of his own staff began, within his own plant, to apply electricity to coal-mining machinery.

From that day to this the electric locomotive for every type of mine service has constantly grown in favor. It unites a high degree of efficiency, great mechanical strength, and simplicity of control with a compactness of form unattainable in any other mine tractor. These locomotives have now reached a very high state of perfection, and are both of the trolley and the storage-battery type.

THE FIRST ELECTRIC MINE LOCOMOTIVE. Jeffrey electric locomotive built in 1888, the first used in the bituminous mines of the United States. Galvanized-iron pipes served as the electrical conductors instead of wires.
LATEST TYPE OF MINE LOCOMOTIVE. The modern electric mine locomotive unites high efficiency, great mechanical strength, and simplicity of control with a compactness of form unattainable in any other mine tractor.

For more than thirty years the General Electric Company has pioneered in the development and manufacture of electric mine locomotives; other companies also contributing. To-day more than ninety-five per cent of power-driven coal-mining machines use electricity.

In 1888, in the shops of the Jeffrey Company and under the direction of H. H. Bliss, the first electrically driven coal-cutting machine was built. It was put to work in the Whip-Poor-Will Mine, in Perry County, Ohio, where it gave good results from the start.

The Jeffrey engineers then made six electric drills for the Ellsworth and Morris Coal Company, at Sand Run, Ohio, the machines doing excellent work for many years. In 1891, E. A. Sperry, of Chicago, made the first electric pick-machine, and a little later the Morgan Electric Company became conspicuous in this field of invention and manufacture.

Electric lighting in the coal-mines was introduced about the same time as the electric locomotive. Samuel Hines and Captain W. A. May, of the Hillside Coal and Iron Company at Scranton, Pennsylvania, first used electric arc lights in their breakers in 1886. Soon after this, the mines themselves began to be electrically lighted.

From these early beginnings, the applications of electric power in coal-mining have steadily grown. Not only does electricity light the mines, cut the coal, and drive the locomotives, but it also lifts the coal to the surface, pumps the water, runs the conveyer-belts and picking-tables, drives the ventilating-fans and air-compressors, operates the crushers, and keeps in motion the machinery of the breaker and the tipple.

FIRST SULLIVAN ELECTRIC ROOM-AND-PILLAR MACHINE. This had the new feed-and-control chain arrangement, the pan or starting frame (at right), and the friction clutch drive. This was an air machine remodelled about 1897.
SULLIVAN IRONCLAD CUTTER. The machine consists of a motor section or power plant, a cutter section (including the cutter-bar and cutter-chain), and the driving gear by which power is applied to the cutter-chain and to move the machine along the face or about the mine by means of the feed-chain.


One of the earliest sources of power for operating mining machinery was compressed air. Drills, pick-machines, and coal-cutters were all dependent upon the energy stored in the elasticity of compressed air. This medium of applying power is still very extensively used.

The pioneer in the field of mine haulage is the H. K. Porter Company, of Pittsburgh. Back in 1866, this company, then known as Smith and Porter, began to build steam-locomotives for service in the coal-mines and, in 1891, the company brought out its first compressed-air locomotive.

Since coal-mines are often filled with highly inflammable gas, there could be no such thing as a fire-box. The first Porter steam locomotive, called the “Black Dwarf,” was built and was sold to Wood, Morrel and Company, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

These early locomotives were manned, as a rule, only by one man—an engineer. Since they travelled but two or three miles, only a small quantity of fuel was required, and this, about 700 pounds at the most, was carried in a box in the left-hand side of the cab.

Later fireless mine locomotives were introduced. In these, highly heated steam—what is called “superheated” steam—is forced under high pressure into a boiler-like container, and enough of it is thus stored up to drive the engine for a few hours.

The first Porter compressed-air locomotives were built under the direction of Horatio Nelson Sprague. In the immediate years prior to this time there had been built in this country, ten compressed-air locomotives; but they were only curiosities, and the mule and the donkey engine continued to hold sway in the coal-mines of the world.

Under the advice of Richard P. Rothwell, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company was one of the first to employ underground locomotives at their Mauch Chunk Mines, in 1869. Now steam locomotives have practically disappeared, and the mules have been largely banished.

In many respects the compressed-air engine is the ideal form of power for mine haulage. There is no danger of sparks or short circuits, which would quickly result in fires and explosions—recurring black page in the history of the coal-mine.

In 1908, under the combined efforts of E. B. Lord, C. B. Hodges, and H. B. Ayres of the Porter Company, the two-stage compressed-air locomotive was built. This is a double-expansion engine, and highly efficient. It has been very widely introduced, and has hauled millions of tons of coal in this and other countries.

MINE POWER ON WHEELS. Ingersoll-Rand mine-car compressor and Leyner jack-hammer outfit working in the Lynch Kentucky mines of the United States Coal and Coke Co.


Probably the earliest devices to lessen the dangers of coalmining were safety-lamps. The flint-and-steel mill, invented about 1750, represents the first attempt in this direction. It consisted of a steel disk which was rapidly rotated against a piece of flint, thereby producing a shower of sparks. A very crude and laborious way of producing light, but it was thought that these sparks were not hot enough to ignite the explosive mine gases. This proved to be a delusion, however.

Among the early experimenters in this field were Doctor William R. Clanny, of County Down, Ireland, and George Stephenson, the inventor of the steam locomotive. They made more or less successful lamps, but not until Sir Humphry Davy attacked the problem in 1815 was a really successful safety-lamp devised.

The “Society for Preventing Accidents in Coal-Mines” asked Davy to invent a safety-lamp. Very soon he brilliantly succeeded in applying the principle which ever since has remained the basic feature of all safety-lamps of the fuel-consuming type. He surrounded the flame with a cylinder of copper gauze.

So good a conductor of heat is copper, that, although the explosive mine gases pass freely through the gauze and burn on the inside, the flame will not pass through and ignite the explosive mixture in the mine outside. The gauze, because of its large area, conducts the heat of combustion away so rapidly that the mine gases cannot be raised to their kindling temperature.

This lamp also enables the miner to detect the presence of small quantities of the explosive gases, fire-damp and carbon monoxide. These gases being light naturally rise, and by holding the lamp close to the ceiling and proceeding cautiously the miner is aware of their presence by the appearance of a long blue flame.


Although many improvements and new designs in safety-lamps have been made in this and other countries, no radical change came until the appearance of the electric lamp in recent years.

W. J. Richards, vice-president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, originated the idea of an incandescent lamp, and the General Electric Company developed it.

Probably the most successful electric lamp is the one invented by Edison. It employs his famous storage cell strapped to the belt of the miner, as a source of current.


As a means of preserving the health of the miners and preventing disastrous fires and explosions, the mining engineer encounters no more vital problem than that of ventilation. In the earliest mines the only ventilation known was that obtained from the natural circulation of the air, due to differences in temperature.

But it gradually came to be realized that the noxious gases issuing from the coal seams and the after-damp from blasting must be carried away and fresh air supplied. To begin with, this was accomplished by providing two shafts, an “upcast” and a “downcast.”

The upcast was always placed at a higher level than the downcast, and at the foot of it a fire was built. The heavy cold air then settled through the lower shaft and, in circulating through the mines, forced up the warmer, lighter air through the upper shaft; the principle employed in every furnace chimney to produce a draft.

So that no portion of the mine will be missed by the incoming air, mine doors placed at various points in the passageways direct its course. Many of these doors are automatic in action. As a locomotive approaches, a spring is tripped, which opens it, and, when the locomotive has passed, a weight closes it again.

Within the last twenty years, particularly in the United States, expensive machinery has been invented to provide artificial ventilation. The airways are laid out and the mine doors arranged so as to insure perfect circulation in every part of the mine.

The fire has been discontinued and instead of it, at the top of the downcast, powerful steam or electric centrifugal fans have been installed, which continually force immense volumes of fresh air throughout the mines. Here, again, the Jeffrey Company was a pioneer; while the B. F. Sturtevant Company, of Boston, also deserves praise for its work in this line.



Although the electric safety-lamp was an immense improvement over the feeble-light-giving, smoky, foul-smelling oil-lamp, it does not provide any means of detecting the presence of combustible gas. To meet this need the Bureau of Mines has developed the Burrell gas detector.

This device is so simple that any miner may operate it; it enables him to determine within one-tenth of one per cent the proportion of combustible gas present. It is ten to twenty times as accurate as the safety-lamp, weighs less, and has fewer and more durable parts.¬

In using the detector, the miner opens a valve, which admits a sample of the air to be tested. By means of an electrically heated platinum spiral, any combustible gas in the sample is immediately burned. A water-gauge and scale on the side of the apparatus then indicates the exact percentage of combustible gas.

One of the foremost leaders in the development of rescue equipment and accident-preventing devices is George S. Rice, chief mining engineer of the Bureau of Mines. Rice was born at Claremont, New Hampshire, in 1866. Educated at the College of the City of New York and the Columbia School of Mines, he went West and assisted in developing the early coal-mines of Colorado.

He designed the modern, standard steel “tipple,” the structure at a bituminous mine which takes the place of the anthracite breaker. After being appointed to the Bureau of Mines, Rice went abroad to study the causes and prevention of European coal-mining disasters.

His most important achievement was the introduction of rock dust to prevent coal-mine explosions. First the coal dust is removed as completely as possible from all mine roads, then, by means of a “rock-dusting machine” all surfaces are thickly coated with dry pulverized rock dust.

In case of an explosion, the pressure-wave that travels ahead raises a dense cloud of this rock dust which, being non-inflammable, blankets the flame and smothers it.

The “rock-dust-barrier,” another of Rice’s inventions, consists in placing at the entrance to each section of the mine, a number of boxes or shelves containing rock dust. When an explosion occurs these boxes are automatically dumped, thus blanketing the flame.

An oxygen-breathing apparatus for mine rescue work, designed by W. E. Gibbs, an engineer of the Bureau of Mines, was brought out in 1917, after a long period of experimentation. This apparatus automatically regulates the supply of oxygen to the immediate needs of the rescuer.


It keeps the air fresh and cool, the pressure-gauge can be read by touch, and thirty minutes before the oxygen supply is exhausted it rings an alarm. A pump within the mouthpiece removes saliva as fast as it is formed, a light aluminum cover incloses the whole apparatus, and the weight complete is only thirty pounds.

With this apparatus a miner may penetrate anywhere, however poisonous the atmosphere or dense the smoke.

The Bureau of Mines has also developed the “Rescue Car,” ready to proceed at a moment’s notice to the scene of any disaster and equipped with helmets, oxygen cartridges, gasoline-tanks, lamps, shovels, picks, axes, saws, hammers, sledges, pipe-wrenches, rubber gloves, disinfectants, stretchers, fire-extinguishers, rubber hose, pulmotors, flash-lights, and complete first-aid equipment.

A new device, developed by French scientists during the war and improved since by American engineers, is the “geophone.” It works upon the principle of the seismograph, the instrument for detecting earthquake tremors, and is extremely sensitive to sound-waves.

It enables the blows of a pick to be heard through solid rock 2,000 feet thick, and speech through rock fifty feet thick. With this instrument it is possible to determine the location of entombed miners.



The history of coke-making in the United States begins with 1817. In that year a small quantity was produced by partially burying a mound of coal in dirt and sods, and then setting fire to it. Such coke was used in the rolling-mill of Colonel Isaac Meason, at Plumcock, Pennsylvania.

No mention occurs of coke from then until 1825, when William Strickland was sent to England to study the methods of producing and using coke employed there. As a result of his report, coke-making was again taken up, and by 1837 coke was being used in some furnaces as the sole fuel in the smelting of iron.

The first record of the use of coke-ovens dates from 1841, when Provance McCormick, James Campbell, and John Taylor, of Pennsylvania, formed a partnership for the manufacture and sale of coke. They produced coke in brick ovens and sent it down the Ohio River to Cincinnati, but the demand was so small that they gave up the venture in disgust.

Not much more coke was produced until 1859, when Graff, Bennet and Company, of Pittsburgh, demonstrated for all time the successful use of the new product as a blast-furnace fuel. From that time on the coke industry has grown at a tremendous rate.


The closing decades of the last century marked the rise of the United States to world leadership in the manufacture of iron and steel. The two men to whose foresight and energy this remarkable industrial expansion was chiefly due, were Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick.

Frick was a pioneer in developing the coke industry. In the early seventies, with the help of a friend, he organized Frick and Company, and acquired fifty-one ovens in the Connellsville district, and 300 acres of soft-coal lands.

In the panic of 1873, Frick bought out his partners and enlarged his purchase of coal lands. Coke then sold at ninety cents a ton, but it soon rose to five dollars, and before he was thirty years of age Frick was rated a millionaire.

A little later, Frick associated himself with Andrew Carnegie in the steel business, and together they became the largest users of coke and the greatest producers of steel that the world has ever known.



In the “beehive” coke-ovens in use almost exclusively in this country until the beginning of the present century, the valuable by-products—gas, ammonia, and coal-tar—went up in smoke. Yet back in the early fifties of the last century a young English chemist, named George Mansfield, began the distillation of coal-tar to recover the valuable products it contained.

After attracting attention to his experiments, be unfortunately lost his life in the explosion of his still.

In 1856, Sir William Perkin, then a lad of seventeen, extracted mauve, the first coal- tar dye, and soon laid the foundation of a vast industry.

It is interesting to know that as early as 1857 coal-tar was distilled in this country by Samuel Warren, of Buffalo. The process, as a distinct industry, was started in 1887, by the H. W. Jayne Chemical Company, of Philadelphia, the forerunner of the present Barrett Company.

Not until the beginning of the present century, and indeed not much before the outbreak of the World War, did the manufacture of coal-tar products become of great importance in the United States.

The pioneers in the invention and introduction of by-product ovens have been Coppée, of Belgium; Knab, of France; Simon, of England; and Otto and Koppers, of Germany. The ovens were introduced in this country in 1893, but were not really successful until 1906.

In that year the United States Steel Corporation appointed a committee to investigate the by-product ovens of this country and Europe. As a result they built at Joliet, Illinois, 280 ovens of the Koppers type.

An American firm which has been a large builder of by-product ovens is the Semet-Solvay Company, of Syracuse, New York.

A WASTEFUL BEEHIVE COKE-OVEN. The valuable by-products (gas and ammonia) go up in smoke. Considering the value of the by-product of coal-tar, this is the equivalent of burning the corner drug-store.
ALL THE BY-PRODUCTS ARE SAVED. General view of by-product coke-oven plant of the Cambria Steel Co., Johnstown, Pa. There are 208 ovens. The capacity is 4,000 tons of coal per day. A plant such as this saves all the gas, ammonia, and coal-tar.


When America was discovered there were locked up in its underground storehouse 3.541 trillion tons of coal, of which we have used to date about 14 billion tons. This leaves us 3,527 trillion tons, a seemingly inexhaustible supply. This enormous reserve is divided as follows: 17 billion tons of anthracite, 1.510 trillion tons of bituminous, and 2 trillion tons of lignite, the poorest variety of coal.

In addition we have an estimated peat-supply of 14 billion tons. Our supplies of peat and lignite are still untouched; from the bituminous store we have drawn less than one per cent.

At the present rate of consumption and the natural increase with the expansion of population and industry, it is estimated, however, that the anthracite coal-mines will be exhausted in seventy-five years.

This will necessitate the coking of vast quantities of bituminous coal, in order to insure a supply of clean smokeless fuel for domestic use. But the by-products are valuable and this is an entirely feasible undertaking.

In 1870, we mined but 33 million tons of coal, while now we are taking nearly 700 million tons a year from our fuel estate. In 1870, the steam-engines in our factories, mines, and quarries developed only 2.5 million horse-power, whereas these industries now use 31 million horse-power.

If we add the steam power used on ocean liners, naval vessels, electric power-plants, railroads, and other enterprises we shall have a total of 96 million steam-generated horse-power, most of which is produced by burning coal.

More than 150 million tons of the coal mined each year are burned under the boilers of railroad locomotives, and burned in a very wasteful fashion. Although our reserves seem ample, there is still a very large opportunity for the mining engineer to develop more efficient methods of fuel conservation.

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