Coal Mining

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Pomeroy Coal Mines, Meigs County, Ohio

Coal mining began in Ohio during the 1810s and 1820s. Most of Ohio's coal mines existed in eastern and southern parts of the state. Prior to the 1810s, most Ohioans heated their homes or operated their machinery with firewood. As Ohioans cleared the land to farm it, an abundance of firewood resulted, reducing the need for coal. In 1828, a Portage County man, began to ship coal on the Ohio and Erie Canal to Cleveland. Once the coal arrived there, the man would sell it to steamboats operating on Lake Erie. Prior to 1828, most of these ships produced steam from firewood. Coal proved to be a more efficient source of power. Coal's importance continued to grow during the 1830s until the Civil War, especially as more steamboats appeared on the Ohio River and Lake Erie. The market for coal also increased with the arrival of the railroads and with more and more people moving away from agricultural to industrial work. Coal would drive industrialization following the Civil War. In 1872, Ohio mines produced more than five million tons of coal. Production increased to ten million tons by 1886. During the early to mid twentieth century, coal's value to Ohio's economy began to decline. Much of the coal in Ohio had a high sulfur content. Sulfur made the coal less desirable for two main reasons. First, sulfur increases the amount of pollution given off by the burning of coal. Secondly, sulfur reduces the effectiveness of coal in powering machinery and the heating of homes. By the early 1900s, many businesses began locating new power sources. Oil and natural gas began to replace coal, slowly ending the coal industry in Ohio.

Most of Ohio's coal mines were located in Southern and Eastern portions of the state. Commonly, people migrated from coal regions in other states, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to work in the mines. They settled in towns that were often owned and controlled by the same company operating the mines. Many mining companies paid their employees in script, paper that was only accepted at company-owned stores. This policy made it possible for companies to have a great amount of control over the miners, who often became deeply indebted to the company store. Miners faced unsafe working conditions, low pay, and long hours in the nineteenth century because there was almost no government regulation of industry. Miners occasionally tried to organize and strike against their employers but were unsuccessful in their attempts. As oil and natural gas became more popular sources of energy, economic conditions in the coal mining regions of Ohio deteriorated even further.

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