BY ROSAMOND D. RHONE.
Cutting coal- robbing a pillar. Props on the right.
THREE ink blots on the eastern end of the map of Pennsylvania, between
the Delaware and the Susquehanna rivers, represent all the anthracite
coal in the United States. They cover an area of 488 square miles, and
produced last year 53,500,000 tons,--truly infinite riches in a little
room. They are popularly known as the Wyoming, Lehigh, and Schuylkill
regions. Their limits are so sharply defined that one can pass in five
minutes through one of the notches in the surrounding mountain wall and
find himself as much out of the "coal regions" as if he were
a hundred miles away. The coal measures lie on a floor of conglomerate
rock, which rises about them on all sides like the sides of a basin, and
is exposed on the slopes and summits of the mountains surrounding the
The coal measures which lie in this basin are composed of alternate layers
of rock and coal piled upon each other like the layers of a jellycake,
in which the thick layers of cake represent the rock strata and the thin
layers of jelly the coal beds. The thickness of the coal beds varies from
1 foot to 32 feet, and that of the rock from a few feet to 200. The coal
beds are pretty regularly distributed throughout the coal measures, and
their presence in a certain place can generally be calculated upon, so
that each bed bears its own name. The theory of the vegetable origin of
coal has many advocates, but the last word has not been said. The fossil
plants in the coal measures, upon which so much has been built, are not
found in the coal beds, but in the slate overlying them which is not a
species of coal, nor of vegetable substance in the process of changing
into coal, but rock.
THE INSIDE OF A COAL MINE.
The term colliery includes the coal mine, with its buildings and appurtenances;
the mine proper is underground. The entrance to it is by a drift, a slope,
or a shaft. "Stripping,"which is quarrying, and not mining
at all,is only possible where there is an outcrop of a thick bed
of coal. The strippings are in the Lehigh and Schuylkill regions, where
the coal is in the mountain tops. A drift is a horizontal tunnel in the
face of an outcrop. It is the cheapest and was the earliest method of
opening a mine, but the drifts have long since been worked out. A slope
is a tunnel which follows down the dip of a coal bed from the surface.
It is largely used in the Lehigh and Schuylkill regions, where the pitch
of the beds is steep and outcrops frequent. In the Wyoming region the
upper beds were formerly mined by drift and by slope; but these have been
pretty generally exhausted, and access to the creep-lying beds is only
possible by shaft. A shaft is a well-like excavation, opened vertically
from the surface to the bed of coal which it is desired to work. Its width
is the length of a mine car, from 9 to 10.5 feet, and its length is governed
by the number of compartments and area of airway needed. A shaft 10 feet
wide and 24 feet long is common, while some are 13 feet wide and 53 feet
in length. Its mouth, as far as the soil extends, is lined with cribbing
or masonry, below which the rock forms its walls. Its purpose is to hoist
coal, to let the workmen up and down, and to pump and ventilate the mine.
Over or near its mouth is built the hoisting and pumping apparatus, and
it is divided by timbering into carriage-ways, pumpways, and airways.
A shaft is usually located so that its foot shall be in the bottom of
a synclinal valley, in order that as the mine is opened up the slope it
will drain itself into a sump, and the coal will be sent clown the grade
to the shaft. The lowest place in a mine is the usually near the foot
of the shaft,from which the water is pumped to the surface by powerful
engines. From the foot of the shaft a tunnel called a "gangway"
is opened at the right and left in the coal bed along the bottom of the
synclinal valley, and parallel with this and above it runs another tunnel
called an " airway. " These are connected by short tunnels called
"cross-headings." The gangway is the highway of the mine; it
is permanent, and is heavily timbered on the sides and roof; in it are
the mine car tracks, single or double, over which the coal is hauled to
the shaft; it is the traveling way through which the men reach their working
places, and it is also a part of the ventilation system.
The mining of coal is by the "pillar and breast" system. When
the gangway and airway have been driven two or three hundred feet chambers
are opened at right angles to the airway,these are called "breasts."
A narrow tunnel, just wide enough to admit a mine-car track, is driven
about fifteen feet, beyond which the breast is opened to its full width
of from twenty-four to thirty-six feet, depending upon the safety of the
roof. The inner end, which continually advances as the coal is taken out,
is called the "working face," or simply the "face;"
the side is called the "rib." Several breasts are worked together,
and at intervals are connected by openings called "cross headings."
The walls between the breasts are thus cut into "pillars," whose
thickness depends upon the roof. In a dangerous mine the pillars are as
thick as the width of the breast,that is, only 50 percent of the
coal is taken out. Up the breast, as soon as it is opened sufficiently,
is laid a track called a "buggy road" upon which runs a small
mine car, or "buggy." The track follows the development of the
breast, and when that is worked out it is taken up. The process of mining
is simple, and the tools are of the rudest. They are pick and shovel,
bar, hand and machine drills,the latter an auger, turned by a crank,and
powder and squibs. The coal is loosened or "cut " from the face
by blasting; the pick is only used to knock down loosened pieces from
the roof and sides, to break up the largest pieces, and to separate the
slate from the coal. The general plan of a mine is that of a vast hall
with pillars of coal, and roof and floor of the black slate which lies
next to the coal; but its floor is seldom level, and the gangways are
far from straight. The breasts may pitch so much that the coal is slid
down to the gangway in chutes, instead of being hauled over buggy roads.
We have seen that a mine is usually worked up the side of an anticlinal,
as the surface of a hillside, while preserving in the main a uniform slope,
yet drops into ravines and rises into ridges, so the coal beds bend and
wind, and their course is followed by the gangways and the accompanying
breasts. The distance that a breast can be worked depends on the vein
of coal it follows. It may run to a boundary line; to an outcrop; to an
anticlinal, when the bed begins to pitch down and the breasts to fill
with water; it may thin out until the rock-roof and rock-floor come together;
or it may strike a "fault," which is such a disturbance of the
strata that the coal bed is altogether lost.
The mine described is the simplest form, in which only one bed is worked;
several beds are often worked at one time, with entrance at different
levels to a common shaft, or they may be connected by slopes and shafts
within the mine. The coal region is a vast network of mines, so connected
with each other that one may travel many miles underground; and lying
above each other, like the floors of a Brobdingnagian apartment house.
The last thing done is to "rob the pillars." This, notwithstanding
its sinister sound, is a legitimate process. While a mine is being worked
as much coal is taken out as is considered safe, leaving the pillars,
supplemented by props, to support the roof. When a mine, or a portion
of one, is worked out, the miners are sent in to take yet more coal from
the pillars,that is, to pare them to the last limit of safety. This
work is begun at the farther end, and progresses toward the shaft.
THE VENTILATION OF MINES.
Ground plan of mine- showing breasts, gangway, airway,
buggy roads, etc.
The modern system of mine ventilation is perfect; and while simple in
method, it is extremely complicated in its ramifications. The air is exausted
at the air-shaft by a fan, and fresh air rushes down the main shaft to
take its place. The law requires that not less than two hundred cubic
feet per minute be furnished to each person in a mine. The fan,which
is a huge wheel without a rim, and with broad blades like those of a side-wheel
steamboat,revolves day and night. During a strike, when everything
else comes to a standstill, two things do not cease to move,the
fan and the pumps, for the stoppage of either would work irreparable injury.
(See plan of ventilation.) As the air is drawn out at B and fresh air
rushes in through the gangway, its simplest course would be through the
cross heading A into the airway, as indicated by the arrows. To prevent
this partitions are built at A and C, compelling it to go to the end of
the gangway and enter the airway at F. As long as the breasts 1, 2, and
3 have been worked only a short distance, the strong current of air rushing
past their entrance venrilates them sufficiently, especially as the miners
are in the habit of "brushing" out the powder smoke and gas
by swinging their coats, over their heads; but as they advance, and new
cross-headings are opened at G and H, partitions are built at F and D
to compel the air to pass through G and H. If a breast is very gaseous,
a brattice of boards or "brattice cloth" is built, to force
the air to pass close to the "face." The partitions are built
of "gob," which consists of rock and dirt, the waste of the
mine. When a partition is built across a traveling way it has a door,
which is opened and closed by a boy. It is often necessary for one air
current to cross another, when it is conducted in an air-tight box called
an " air-bridge." Each current of air is called a "split,"
and the law forbids more than seventy-five men working in one air-split.
Ground plan of mine- showing system of ventilation.
In addition to the smoke of blasting powder and the exhalations of the
men and mules which foul the air, there are several dangerous gases. "Fire
damp" is a light, explosive gas, which sometimes burns with a quick
flash; sometimes explodes with terrific force, blowing down walls and
doors, and destroying the elaborate ventilation system in a moment. It
often occurs as a "blower" or "feeder," which is a
jet issuing from a fissure in the coal; it is apt to be ignited by a miner's
lamp, and is usually put out by a blow of his cap, although mines have
been set on tire by a blower. "After damp," "black damp,"
and, "choke damp,"loose names for different compounds
of carbonic acid gas,--and "white damp," which is carbonic oxide,
are all non-inflammable and non-explosive, but deadly to inhale.
It is the duty of the "fire boss " to examine the mine every
morning before the entrance of the men to see that the air currents are
traveling in the proper courses, and that there are no dangerous accumulations
of gases. Dangerous places are barred across and the word "Fire"
written over them.
There are two classes of accidents,those which damage the mine,
and those which injure the workmen. The disasters to the mine are the
great explosions and extended falls, which bury the workings in a mass
of rock and coal, and render them difficult to reopen; for when the roof
is destroyed by the breaking up of the rock strata, it is only possible
to hold it up by timbering. Mines are flooded by an inrush of water from
abandoned workings in upper beds, and, in the Wyoming Valley, they are
often lolled with quicksand and gravel from pot holes; but the most serious
of all disasters is a fire. There is much woodwork within a mine, and
when this is set on fire it ignites the coal. There two ways of extinguishing
a fire, by sealing from the air, and by flooding with water. The former
is a tedious and uncertain process, as the coal may smoulder for months
and burst out afresh on the admission of air. To fill a large mine with
water, pump it out, and repair the damage to gangways takes from ten months
to a year and a half, and the expense incurred is enormous. There are
two classes of fatalities; the great disasters, in which a large number
of men lose their lives; and the minor accidents, which occur day after
day, of which the public takes no notice, but whose aggregate number is
far greater than the former. In the thirty-two years since the anthracite
mine law was passed more than ten thousand persons have lost their lives
in and about the mines; but there have been few great disasters,the
men simply fell out one by one or two and three in a group; and if, as
was frequently the case, the victim was a Slav, with no relatives in America,
the boarding boss refused to receive his body, saying " Dead Hungarian
no good," and the corpse was sent to a medical college for the dissecting
There lies before me a fat volume, of almost a thousand octavo pages,
which might be called the "Book of Accidents." It is the report
of the Bureau of Mines of the State of Pennsylvania for the year 1900,
and is made up of the reports of the inspectors of the eight anthracite
and ten bituminous districts. The inspectors give detailed reports of
each accident, and say that in from 50 to 70 per cent. of the cases the
victims lost their lives by their own carelessness. Last year in the anthracite
mines there were 411 lives lost and 1,057 persons injured. This loss of
life made 230 widows and 525 orphans.
Mine accidents are caused by the explosion or inhalation of gas, by blasting,
by fall of roof, or by miscellaneous causes, such as being crushed between
cars, falling down shafts, and being kicked by mules. During last year
half of the fatal accidents occurred in the "breasts" by the
fall of rock or coal.
Here will arise a natural inquiry,--- Why, since so much damage results
from fire and explosion, are not safety lamps used instead of naked lamps?
There is a wide misapprehension concerning a safety lamp. It is not an
illuminating lamp, but a test lamp. The principle of the
"Davy" is in every school book of physics. It is that a flame
enclosed in wire gauze will not ignite the gas outside of the lamp; but
the gas will burn within the gauze, thus disclosing its presence. The
light furnished by it is dim; and if the flame is strong enough to heat
the wire to a red heat, it will in turn ignite the gas outside, thus becoming
an element of danger.
Electric lighting has been tried, and does well in mines free from gas;
but in gaseous mines there is too much danger, as a mine is such a rude
place that the wire is apt to be broken, letting loose the electric sparks.
The body of mine law in the statute books of Pennsylvania may be said
to be a monument to the Avondale victims. The Avondale disaster, which
occurred in 1869, was the first of those accidents resulting in a large
loss of life with which the country has unfortunately become familiar.
The Avondale mine was, compared with the great operations of to-day, a
small affair. It was ventilated by a furnace at the bottom of the shaft,
the shaft itself, with a tall chimney stack at its mouth, forming the
ventilating flue. Over the mouth of the shaft was the breaker, and the
mine had no other opening. One morning the furnace draught ignited the
timbers which separated the flue from the carriage way, the flames caught
in a load of hay which was descending by the carriage, and leaped to the
top, where they set fire to the breaker, which burned fiercely for several
hours, the mass of ruins covering the top of the shaft. In the mine were
one hundred and eight men. It was two days before the imprisoned miners
could be reached, the first of the rescuing party falling dead as they
plunged into the body of "white damp" which filled the mine.
When they were finally found, behind barriers which they had built in
a vain attempt to keep out the gas, they were all dead, not by fire,
nor yet by explosion, but by suffocation.
The mine laws provide that no breaker shall be built nearer than two
hundred feet from the mouth of the shaft; that every mine shall have a
second opening for the escape of the men in case anything happens to the
main shaft, and that mines shall be ventilated by fan instead of the inadequate
and dangerous furnace. In addition to these radical measures, there are
laws regulating to a minute degree the entire management of the mines
with reference to the health and safety of the workmen,such as rules
limiting the amount of powder which may be stored in a mine; the distance
which a miner's lamp must be kept from the powder, and the kind of oil
used in the lamps; rules regulating the working of the breaker, and all
other machinery; requiring the operators to furnish props, to fit up wash-houses
for the miners' use, to provide stretchers and ambulances, and to use
all possible effort to take out entombed bodies. The enforcement of all
the regulations is under the supervision of State inspectors.
The latest laws are those abolishing company stores, requiring the operators
to pay the men every two weeks on demand, and requiring miners to have
certificates. The last law was aimed at the immigrants from Austria and
THE OUTSIDE OF A COLLIERY.
The external works of a mine are but a fraction of the mine itself. A
colliery externally is a hole in the ground, with an unimpressive building
over it containing the hoisting and pumping machinery, and near by the
breaker, with its attendant culm pile. The breaker is a feature of the
landscape,its size, its uniform black color, softened to gray by
distance; its peculiar shape, unlike any other building in the world,
and the long hill of refuse called the culm pile, make it an object that
challenges attention. A roar of machinery emanates from it; and a cloud
of black dust, pouring from a multitude of broken windows' envelopes it
and blackens everything in its neighborhood. Its shape follows architectural
principles, in that it strictly conforms to its uses. The coal is hoisted
to the top of the breaker tower, where it is crushed between powerful
toothed rollers; after which it falls into screens graded from fine to
coarse; thence it travels through chutes, where the slate is picked out
by boys; and, finally, falls into pockets at the bottom of the breaker,
and thence into cars ready for the trip to the seaboard.
A breaker is often 100 or 150 feet high, has a capacity of from 1,200
to 1,500 tons daily, and costs from $90,000 to $125,000 to build. The
culm pile, which is as high or higher, is composed of the dirt and coal
too fine for use, and is shaped like a prolonged A tent. Upon the top
is a track on which runs a mine -car pulled by a mule, a small locomotive,
or often running by gravity. The culm pile is originally a high trestle
with a track upon its top. Through the trestle the culm is dropped until
it is filled to the top and spreads out in a long slope on either side.
The tracks are extended upon this hill until the culm covers many acres,
sometimes so encroaching upon a mining village that houses must be removed
to make way for it. The culm piles contain much coal which escaped the
scrutiny of the slate pickers, as well as the fine sizes which passed
through the screens. It is the habit of the women and children to pick
coal from those shining black slopes, and in time of a strike the miners
themselves seek the culm piles with bags and baskets. These hills are
frequently on fire, and burn for years. At night a burning culm pile is
a mass of blue, orange, and red embers, which forms a beautiful spectacle
that may be seen for miles. It not infrequently occurs that tramps, seduced
by the pleasant warmth of one of these smouldering hills, lie down to
sleep upon the culm, and are suffocated by carbonic acid gas.
In the early days of mining, ''chestnut " was the smallest marketable
size of coal; everything smaller was dumped upon the culm pile. Now since
what are called the "junior sizes, "pea," buckwheat,"
and even "rice" and "bird's-eye,"are largely
used, it has become the practice to work over the old culm piles by the
"washeries," where the culm is screened and cleaned by water,
so that a large percentage of coal is obtained, although it is of inferior
quality, some of it having been mined twenty or even thirty years ago,
and having suffered from exposure to the air.
Culm is also beginning to be used for flushing back into the mines,that
is, it is mixed with water and poured into the mines, when it immediately
fills the worked-out chambers. After it has become settled, and the water
is pumped out, it forms a solid mass, which supports the roof, so that
the pillars can be taken out.
A coal breaker.
The employees in the 363 collieries of the anthracite coal region in
the year 1900 numbered 143,826. This is according to the latest report
of the Bureau of Mines. The newspaper are somewhat in excess.
A breast is generally worked by four men,---two miners and two laborers;
each miner calls his partner his "butty," the laborers are also
"butties " to each other. The miners have a contract with the
operator to work the breast at a certain price per car, the miners to
furnish tools and powder, and to pay the laborers. It is their business
to cut the coal, to direct the opening and advance of the breast, and
to prop the roof. No miner can be employed who has not a certificate;
in order to obtain which he must have had two years' experience as a laborer
in the mines of the State, and must be able to answer, before the mine
examining board, at least twelve questions in the English language pertaining
to the requirements of a practical miner.
A miner's day's work is done when he has cut enough coal to fill the
cars assigned him by the mine boss. He may do this in three or four hours,
when he goes home to smoke his pipe and talk politics, leaving the laborers
to load the cars and clean up the breast ready for the next day's work.
The miner likes his job,his place is cool in summer and warm in
winter, the hours are short, the labor light, and the element of danger
is never calculated upon. It is upon the mine laborer that the hardest
work falls, and he receives little more than half as much as the miner.
Of the employees about one-fourth are boys. The law forbids the employment
of boys under the age of fourteen inside or under twelve outside a mine.
The boys inside drive and tend the mules which pull the coal cars, and
open and shut the many doors in the dark labyrinths. Outside they work
in the breaker as slate pickers. A person of humane instincts cannot contemplate
with calmness these children kept out of school and forced to such grim
and tedious work. In the great labor parades of 1900 large companies of
these children marched through the streets; it was a holiday for them,
and, with the exuberance of childhood, which even the hard conditions
of their lives could not crush, they were shouting and whistling. They
carried banners on which were inscribed sentiments like these:
"What our fathers were we will be also."
"Give our fathers justice and we can go to school."
"We need schooling but must work."
"Abolishment of the young slaves."
"Our mothers are up at 5 P. M. (sic) to get our scanty' meals."
Those poor little banners, with their badly-spelled legends, were not
ridiculous but touching, for they revealed a state of affairs that even
dwellers in the coal regions are not accustomed to consider. The miner
is the unit of the mine labor question. The wage scale, fixed by the car,
is the basis of payment. The other labor of a mine,the opening and
timbering of gang ways, the laying of tracks, the cutting of tunnels through
rock,is known as "dead work," and is paid for on a different
basis,by the day or by the yard. It is not considered mining at
Culm pile in process of building.
NATIONALITY OF EMPLOYEES.
There has been a great change in the personnel of the anthracite
mine employees within twenty years. Formerly Ireland, England, and Wales
furnished the sinew which produced the coal. Many of the men had worked
in mines in their native land, lying upon their backs as they plied their
picks in the thin seams of the English and Welsh collieries.
After the great strike of 1877 the coal operators, who looked abroad
for relief from the power of the labor unions, found a new race of workmen
in the peasants of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, and the Poles and
Lithuanians of the neighboring Russian provinces. To-day the Irishman,
Welshman, and Englishman, if he is in the mines at all, occupies a clerical
position or that of a boss. Most of them have gone into of other businesses.
Many of the clergymen, judges, lawyers and business men of Pennsylvania
have come from the coal mines. A candidate for governor at the present
time was a slate picker in his boyhood. There is no better chance of promotion
anywhere than in the mining business,from slate picker to laborer,
to miner, to mine boss, to mining engineer or State inspector to superintendent
of collieries, to operator, ail positions are open to intelligence
and industry. The miners and laborers of to-day, brutish and uncouth as
they appear, with their old-world customs and their unpronounceable names,
are already on the upward trend. They have learned English; they have
learned mining; they have become naturalized. The city reporters who swarm
into the mining region during strikes, taking snap-shot pictures and writing
snap-shot opinions utterly fail to comprehend the conditions of these
foreigners. They see rude unpainted shanties, barefooted women with gay
kerchiefs on their heads exchanging greetings with their neighbors in
six languages; they see men and women gleaning their coal from the culm
piles; or they peep into bare rooms, whose one adornment is an Icon or
picture of a Russian saint or martyr, and cry, "Behold the poverty
of the coal miner!" They mistake these mining villages for "slums."
Now, in fact, this apparent destitute condition is a thing of choice,
for these people live scantily in order to put their wages into the savings
banks, and at present hundreds of them are drawing their money from the
banks and going to the old country to live in comfort the balance of their
lives. In the old times "pay day " in a mining town was a synonym
for a rush of business in the stores; today the merchants complain that
it brings them little increase of trade from the Slav miners. But not
only the Slav villages, but the thousands of comfortable houses in the
coal regions, are miners' homes, and the thousands of well-dressed people
who throng the streets are miners' families. The present difficulty about
hours and wages arises from the fact that there are too many men in the
business,---that is, the cost of production is divided among too many
employees, and the same is true of the hours necessary to keep up the
supply of coal demanded by the market.
Miners in carriage descending a shaft.
THE SEPARATION OF THE TITLE OF THE SURFACEFROM THAT OF THE COAL BEDS.
In most of the world a man who buys a piece of land buys from the "top
of the sky to the center of the earth." In the coal regions, as a
rule, he buys the surface only, the coal is "reserved,"that
is, it has long ago been sold or leased. The exceptions are those lands
which have been kept for higher prices. The owner of a small lot has no
object in refusing to sell the coal beneath it, for he knows that the
coal operator will mine around it, leaving it as a pillar. Not long ago
warrants were taken out for the coal beneath the Susquehanna River and
the public roads. The city of Wilkesbarre owns a park the coal beneath
which is unsold, and there is occasional agitation about selling the coal
to improve the surface.
The question will arise, "Is it not unsafe to live above a coal
mine,does not the earth open and swallow up houses and people ?"
We answer, Yes and no. On the outcrop, along the foot of the mountains
which enclose Wyoming Valley, are many "caves" or "cave
holes" 50 or 60 feet in diameter and 20 or 30 feet deep. They have
been caused by the break in the roof of a mine in the upper coal bed,
when the earth rushed down to fill the hole like sand rushing out of an
hourglass. The upper bed has long ago been worked out, the falls have
already taken place, and the surface settled permanently, so that at the
present time there is rarely a fall. It is a well-established belief that
the land is much safer after a cave than before. There are strange and
grewsome tales connected with the time when these caves were made. A boy
was riding a mule on a canter from the mine to the stable when the mule
stumbled and the boy flew over his head. He picked himself up and turned
around to find himself on the brink of a cave which had opened behind
him, and into which the mule had fallen and perished in the crumbling,
sliding earth. People have fallen into these caves and escaped through
mine gangways into which they opened, and not long since a woman going
out in the morning to milk the cow found that a section of the pasture
had fallen and the cow was quietly chewing her cud at the bottom of a
cave hole. Except at the outcrop, the surface is seldom disturbed. The
coal beds lie so deep that entire mines might fall in, and long before
the surface would be affected the rock strata would have become fixed
in new positions.
CONTROLLING THE OUTPUT.
A group of miners.
The mines are so vast and the number of employees so great that the possible
production of coal is far beyond the demand at the ordinary prices. It
is therefore considered necessary to control the output, which is arranged
by the presidents of the coal-carrying companies, who own or sell on commission
72 per cent. of the coal and transport it all. They mutually agree to
furnish a certain percentage each year as their quota. At the meeting
held in January, 1896, whereat an agreement was reached, on the basis
of which the output of anthracite was to be divided as per certain allotments,
the percentage were:
|Philadelphia &; Reading
|Delaware, Lackawanna & Western
|Central Railroad of New Jersey
|Delaware & Hudson Canal Company
|Pennsylvania Coal Company
|Delaware, Susquehanna & Schuylkill
|New York, Susquehanna & Western
|New York, Ontario & Western
The basis of the present combination of operators and carriers is not
made known to the public.
The result of this policy is that the mines, instead of working up to
their fullest capacity, work on half or three-quarter time. It would seem
to be more business-like to increase the production and reduce the price,
especially in view of the competition of the bituminous region, but here
arises another consideration.
The business of mining coal is peculiar, in that every pound sold reduces
the capital of the operator. The coal beds have a limit, which is already
in sight. The coal operator resembles a farmer who should first sell the
grass from his meadows, then the sod, and finally the soil. The coal operator
has already sold the outcrop, which is equivalent to the grass; and has
largely exhausted the upper coal beds, which is equivalent to the sod.
He is now working the lower beds; and when they are gone, all will be
gone. The time at which the coal fields will be exhausted is estimated
at about fifty years. To carry out the agricultural figure, we may call
the utilizing of the culm banks by washeries and the reopening of abandoned
mines as a sort of aftermath. The policy of controlling the output results
in strikes and other disasters, while mining to the fullest capacity would
hasten the exhaustion of the coal. These are the Scylla and Charybdis
of the operators. The foundation of the coal trust was laid in the years
between 1860 and 1871, when nearly all of the three hundred thousand acres
of coal lands were bought or leased by the great companies. Coal land
is now worth from two to three thousand dollars an acre. As the price
rose the companies leased the coal instead of buying the land. Coal leases
are drawn on the basis of a royalty per ton of mined coal, which varies
from ten to fifty cents. There is also in every case a minimum clause,that
is, the operators obligate themselves to pay a stated sum per year whether
any coal is mined or not. It will thus be seen what an enormous investment
the great corporations have in lands, some of which have lain idle for
forty years, and will not be mined for fifty years longer, while the minimum
royalty sticks to the lessees like the "old man of the sea. "
A recent decision of the Supreme Court of the State obliges them to pay
the minimum as long as they occupy the land, although they pay for the
coal many times over. In addition to this great investment is the expense
of opening and keeping in repair the mines, the building of breakers and
other machinery, the expenses of cars, mules, and the wages of the men.
The item of repairs may mean the rebuilding of a burned breaker or the
reopening of a flooded mine, either of which will take the earnings of
several years. The profits of five years were spent by one company in
draining a "drowned mine;" while another spent three years,
at an outlay of one hundred thousand dollars, in over coming a "fault."
The coal monopoly failed in so far as controlling the coal market was
concerned on account of the competition of bituminous coal, whose field
is practically unlimited, which is more cheaply mined, does not need to
be broken, and bears a universal royalty of only ten cents a ton when
The coal-carrying companies look for relief from the burden of their
stupendous investments in the mining business to their tolls as carriers,
notwithstanding which some of them have been for a long time on the verge
To show what the coal-carrying companies earn in their
business I annex the following schedule of dividends paid by them for
the past ten years:
The Pennsylvania Company capital stock is only $5,000,000.
THE COAL BARONS
There are two classes of coal operators,the coal-carrying companies,
which we have just been considering, and the private operators. The latter
are at the disadvantage which a small business always meets in competition
with a great monopoly. The carrying companies charge them extortionate
rates and deny them cars until they are willing to allow them a commission
of 65 per cent. of the price at tide for transporting and selling their
In view of all these difficulties in the coal business, it may be pertinent
to inquire, "Who are the coal barons ?"
The term is one of those mischievous titles which arise nobody knows
how and are carelessly applied. The popular image of a coal baron is a
lord of the manor who lives in splendor while his serfs dig a miserable
living out of the dark and dangerous mines. Such a person does not exist;
he is a creature of the yellow journals. The persons who come nearest
to the popular idea of coal barons are the private operators,whose
workmen, however, have the fewest grievances, and many of whom have paternal
relations with their men in the way of maintaining hospitals, schools,
libraries, and model tenements.
The officials of the coal-carrying companies are so far away, and their
stock is distributed so widely both here and abroad,much of it in
the hands of widows and orphans who do not know what a dividend means,that
they can hardly be termed coal barons. There remain only the landlords
of the coal lands. These are the true barons. They lie behind and beneath
the coal business; their names are scarcely known to the public; they
have no part in the strikes, for whether business is good or bad, the
coal royalties go on. Personally they are of the gentlest; widows, children,
old men; some of them already straitened in purse by the working out of
their coal land; some of them of great fortune, liberal in public enterprises
and in public and private charities. Their benefactions are not limited
to their own town or State, and their investments have helped to develop
tile remote parts of the country.
Acknowledgments are due to A. D. W. Smith, State geologist of the anthracite
region, for maps and sections; to Prof. C. O. Thurston of Wyoming Seminary,
for photographs; and to Saward's Coal Journal for statistics.