Productivity

Turn-of-the-Century Coal Mining Machinery

The average number of tons of coal produced per man employed in 1891 was 573, and the average tonnage per man per day was 2.57. In 1899 713.3 tons of coal were mined for each man employed, and the average tonnage per man per day was 3.05 In arriving at these averages the number of men employed include all those employed in and about the mines. If the miners only were included, a greater difference would be shown between the two years, as the employment of mining machines increases the number of "day" men, particularly for loading cars. In pick mining the miner and his helper load the cars themselves; in machine mining the helper is employed in keeping the cut clear of slack, and the loading is done by other men, two or three being employed for each machine.

    Edward W. Parker, "Coal Cutting Machinery," Cassier's Magazine 22(July 1902): 293

Anyone at all familiar with the extraordinary industrial condition which prevailed throughout the United States in 1899 is aware that the largely augmented coal production in that year was due to the demand made upon the coal mines by the manufacturing and transportation interests of the country. But everyone is not aware how the operators had been prepared by a period of adverse conditions extending over more than ten years to meet this unexpected and unprecedented demand. From 1887 until 1898, and particularly during the business depression from 1893 to 1896, coal operators were contending with a continued overproduction and constantly declining prices. This was especially true in regard to the production of bituminous coal. Anthracite coal, having become almost entirely a domestic fuel, is not so readily affected by changing industrial conditions; and, moreover, its producing area being comparatively small and the industry in the hands of relatively few and powerful interests, the production and prices are more easily controlled.

Such is not the case in bituminous circles. Scattered over vast and widely separated areas and with the various competitive fields (many of them considerably over developed) struggling for markets for their output, the record for the twelve years preceding 1899 was, to say the least, one of a very unsatisfactory nature. In 1887 the average price for all of the bituminous coal mined in the United States was $1.12 per short ton; in 1888 the average price was 80 cents, a decline of 32 cents, or 28.66 per cent. During this period the price of labor had not materially changed, and bituminous operators have practically been forced to the adoption of other methods for cheapening the cost of production.

This has been accomplished, in part by the investment of large sums of money in improved systems of haulage, the combining of large interests under one management, and by other judicious economies; but in no other way has so much been accomplished as in the development of the use of machines for mining the coal. It has happened that when the sudden impetus was given to the American coal mining industry in 1899 by the industrial revival of that year, many of the larger operations were found equipped with mechanical appliances which enabled them to materially expand their output with comparatively little addition to their pay rolls, and the coal mining industry presents no more interesting feature than that shown in the fact that the conditions brought about by the period of industrial depression were made effective in taking care of the enormous trade developed by the active times of 1899.

    Edward W. Parker, "Coal Cutting Machinery," Cassier's Magazine 22(July 1902): 291-92