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The Birth of Anthracite Coal in America

The first known use of anthracite coal dates back 1750 when a native american brought some to a gunsmith in Nazareth, PA whose supply of charcoal had run out.

Sometime between 1750 and 1755, anthracite coal was being used in the Wyoming Valley and during the Revolutionary War it was sent down the Susquehanna River to be used by the arsenal at Carlisle.

Obadiah Gore of Nazareth used anthracite coal in his blacksmith forge as early as 1769.

There is also record of soldiers stationed at Fort Augusta using it at a source of heat according to the fort’s garrison Ensign Holler. He said in a letter dated the winter of 1758 that a wagon load of stone coal, brought in some six leagues from Fort Augusta, was shipped down river from around Nanticoke.

Three discoverers of anthracite in Pennsylvania were made by Nicho Allen in Pottsville, Philip Ginter near Mauch Chunk and Isaac Tomlinson at Shamokin. What is more remarkable, all these discoveries were made about the same time. and yet it is a fact that coal was mined in the Wyoming Valley nearly a quarter century before these “discoveries.”

The use of anthracite for domestic purposes appears to have been discovered by Judge Jesse Fell, of Wilkes-Barre. Fell wrote on February 11, 1808 that he had “made the experiment of burning the common stone coal of the valley in a grate, in a common fireplace in my house, and found it will answer the purpose of fuel, making a clearer and better fire, at less expense, than burning wood in the common way.”

News of this successful experiment soon spread through the town and country, and people were going to witness the discovery. Grates like the one Judge Fell used were soon in use by his neighbors, and in a short time were in being used throughout the valley.

In the spring of that same year, John and Abijah Smith loaded two arks with anthracite coal at Ransoms Creek, in Plymouth, and took it down the Susquehanna River to Columbia; but on offering it for sale, noone could be persuaded to purchase any. They left the black stones behind them unsold, and returned to their homes.
 
The next year the Smiths, not least bit discouraged, took two arks of coal and a grate back to Columbia. The grate was put up, and the coals were burned in it, thus proving the practicability of using coal as a fuel. They sold their coal, and thus began the initiative of the immense anthracite coal trade of Pennsylvania.
Today, the original grate Judge Jesse Fell used is on display at the Luzerne county Historical Society museum in downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA.
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