The emergence of coal-based fuel economy over the course of the nineteenth century was one of the most significant features of America’s Industrial Revolution, but the transition from wood to mineral energy sources was a gradual one that transpired over a number of decades. The documents in these volumes recreate the institutional history of the American coal industry in the nineteenth century — providing a first-hand perspective on the developments in regard to political economy, business structure and competition, the rise of formal trade unions, and the creation of a national coal trade. Although the collection strives to be wide-ranging in region and theme, the Pennsylvania anthracite coal trade forms the thematic backbone as it became the most important American mineral resource to see successful development throughout the nineteenth century. Consequently it saw unprecedented levels of intervention by the federal government. The texts for this collection were selected for their accessibility to modern readers as well as their relationship to a series of common themes across the nineteenth century American coal industry — with headnotes and annotations provided to explain their context and the reasons for their inclusion.
In this first volume, covering the period 1790-1835, the selected documents seek to reconcile the optimism surrounding the early American coal industry with the difficulties in actually realising its growth. It presents voices that capture the optimism and frustration of the Rhode Island and Virginia colliers, before focusing on the rise of Pennsylvania’s anthracite region — tracing the false-starts and ideological hostility that accompanied the early coal trade.