Early Consolidation Coal Company's History and Pictures
“Coal moves the world. The spirit of progress comes from it. Railroads, steamboats borrow from it their wonderful strength. Every machine that is and works has its existence from coal. It makes the earth habitable. It gives the cities their mighty blaze and splendor. It is a treasure, the last gift presented by earth to extravagant man”— Móre Jókai.
A wonderful twentieth-century dramatist and novelist he was, and, of course, this was true at the time—but Jókai was not a very good prophet. Since then, black diamond has lost its glamour and oil has slipped up to center stage.
Nevertheless, this short history is about coal, a particular type of coal, the coal contained in the famous “George’s Creek Big Vein Cumberland Coal,” and clean-burning low sulfur bituminous coal mined elsewhere by the Consolidation Coal Company, affectionately known as “Consol” and now formally called Consol Energy.
The first mines to extract the black diamond from the 14-foot thick seam of bituminous coal discovered in the Georges Creek Valley of Western Maryland, a comparatively small area for a coal field, covering about one hundred square miles, opened in 1842. During that year, the mines in the area produced only 1708 tons, and production did not rise significantly until the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached Cumberland in 1842.
Thereafter, for nearly 30 local companies, the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland to Washington in 1850 provided another easy route for their millions of tons of coal going east. In 1853, the B & O facilitated their coal shipments going west when it opened its railroad to Wheeling, West Virginia. From 1854 to 1891, the Georges Creek Valley produced over 60 million tons of coal.
A 1903 Consolidation-Coal-Co. Compressed-Air Engine (not an electric motor)
for pulling a trip of George's Creek Coal
The Maryland Legislature had chartered the Consolidation Coal Company in 1860, and the Company formally established itself in 1864, but delayed its organization until after the Civil War. It consisted of several small companies, including the Cumberland Coal & Iron Company, the Frostburg Coal Company, the Ocean Steam Coal Company, Mount Savage Iron Company, and Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad.
In 1903, Consolidation Coal Company merged* with the Fairmont Coal Company and amassed large additional reserves in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky as well as Maryland.
The Fairmont region increased coal production tremendously between 1886 and 1903, as is demonstrated on the chart below.
The Fairmont Coal Company operated forty-five mines in the region, with coal fields possessing 61,800 acres at the time of the merger.
It enjoyed a producing capacity of 8,000,000 tons of coal a year, and produced a substantial amount of coke for the northern steel mills.
Its 1106 coke ovens had a capacity of 600,000 tons per annum, and the merger included those illustrated above and below.
In a 1904, the Consolidation Coal Company, in conjunction with the Fairmont Coal and Somerset Coal Companies, published a sales brochure.
Its title reads: The Coal to Buy and How to Burn it, Being Practical Hints on the Selection of Coal for Present-Day Requirements. The following information and photographs below—as well as some above—are extracted from this interesting 40-page publication:
The Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad, which is owned, controlled, and operated by this Company, was originally built to develop the coal resources of the Georges Creek Big Vein Cumberland Coal Region.
It operates in connection with the Baltimore and Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads and their connections, thus reaching all markets advantageously.
Consumers who are so situated as to have the benefit of the facilities offered by both these systems will find it greatly to their interest to draw their fuel from a region able to ship via either route, reducing to a minimum the possibility of an interrupted supply.
[Consolidation Coal Co. barge loading George's Creek Big Vein Coal on the U. S. S. New York at Newport]
Tide-water shipments can be made over Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York by the Baltimore & Ohio, Philadelphia & Reading, or Pennsylvania Railroads. To consumers taking their supply at tide-water, the advantages offered by this Company must be apparent.
“North German Lloyd Steamer ‘Koeln’ Coaling with Consolidation Coal”
The most glowing tribute that can be paid to this superior fuel will be a brief mention of the scope of its markets, extending as they do from Maine to California.
It is specified by the United States Navy, where it is subjected to the severest test a fuel can be put to, and demanded by the potteries, makers of art ware, where one wheel-barrow of coal not up to the highest standard will ruin an entire kiln worth thousands of dollars. Overtaxed plants, or those without modern economical appliances, can only meet the extensive demands made upon them when using this coal.
This Company has on its books to-day the names of customers who have been buying coal from it forty years, and are known to the trade as “George’s Creek Customers.”
This coal is not a low or medium priced fuel, but the highest priced fuel in the market; notwithstanding this fact, however, it is the most economical. There is no test to which a bituminous coal can be put that it will not fully satisfy.
[Consolidation Coal Company's Ocean No. 7 Mine]
A special feature of the George’s Creek Coal is its smokeless qualities, which render it a very desirable fuel for use in municipalities where anti-smoke ordinances are in effect.
As a smithing coal, the product of this region leads the world. There is no fuel mined capable of doing the same amount of work or producing as satisfactory results in smithing practices, and it is universally conceded to be a perfect smithing coal.
Its high calorific value, furnishing probably as much absolute heat per pound as any known fuel, makes it very economical. In addition to this, it cokes promptly on the application of heat, making a strong, hard coke, rendering possible the formation of a very large arch in forging operations, sufficient to cover pieces of any size which can reasonably be handled on the anvil.
In the far Western States, the orders for this coal for smithing have often been so great as to exceed the capacity of the Company to fill and at the same time supply the demand for it in the Eastern markets. Other coals go out to the Pacific Coast, but George’s Creek smithing supplants them, when available.
[The Largest Schooner in the World (1903)
waiting for shipment at Curtis Bay Wharf, Port of Baltimore]
Smithing coal for the Pacific Coast and Western States is loaded in the good old “clipper” ships at one of three ports mentioned above, and starts on a voyage of fourteen thousand miles—around Cape Horn, crossing the Equator twice, risking typhoons, spontaneous combustion, and other possible accidents. If all goes well, at the end of one hundred and twenty days (four months) the shipment arrives in San Francisco. There the coal is discharged on the docks, loaded into cars, shipped to consuming and reshipping points, where it is sacked, loaded on the backs of burros, and sent in all directions across the Rockies to the mining-camps, where it is used on the tools that are working in the almost impenetrable rocks.
Consider the cost of this coal at such points of consumption; rate transportation to San Francisco as often as high as $9.25 per ton. Other coals are nearer and more available—fifty to seventy-five per cent lower; but George’s Creek smithing, costly as it is, fills every requirement, and is pronounced the most economical coal for this purpose that can be procured. The West will continue, therefore, to draw its smithing coal from Maryland as long as it is obtainable.
By 1906, Consolidation Coal Company operated more than sixty-five mines and employed tens of thousands of miners.
By 1907, the Consolidation Coal Company became the largest bituminous coal company in the eastern United States.
In 1927, Consolidation Coal Company became the largest bituminous coal producer in the United States—a distinction Consol Energy retains today!
*Mergers usually involve one company buying out another in some way. The historical records are a little murky and contradictory, to say the least, in regards to whether Fairmont Coal Company purchased Consolidation Coal Company or it was the other way around. For example, in Extracting Appalachia, Images of the Consolidation Coal Company 1910-1945, Geoffrey L. Buckley wrote: “By the first years of the twentieth century, Consolidation Coal was ready to expand beyond the confines of western Maryland. According to a 1926 company history, Consolidation purchased the Millholland coalfield, near Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1902. Additional acquisitions were made in 1903, including the purchase of the Fairmont Coal Company of West Virginia and the Somerset Coal Company of Pennsylvania. These ‘purchases’ were in no way the simple transactions the term suggests. With respect to the Fairmont Coal Company, for example, historians Richard B. Drake and John Alexander Williams note that Maryland and West Virginia entered into interstate agreement that permitted Consolidation Coal to ‘absorb’ the Fairmont Coal Company, headed by Clarence Watson. After Consolidation absorbed Fairmont Coal, Watson relocated to Baltimore, where he took control of Consolidation Coal. Mergers such as these permitted Consolidation to increase production significantly, from approximately 1.3 million tons in 1900 to 8.4 million tons in 1903.” The 1904 sales brochure cited above seems to tell a little different story. Perhaps, just saying the companies merged is the best way of addressing who purchased whom.
This page was last modified on Tuesday, January 19, 2016