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Jesse Fell Historical Marker
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Name:
Jesse Fell

Region:
Poconos / Endless Mountains

County:
Luzerne

Marker Location:
Corner of East Northampton and South Washington Streets, Wilkes-Barre

Dedication Date:
March 11, 1997

Behind the Marker

Nearly all Americans in the early nineteenth century heated their homes and cooked food with wood-burning stoves. There were some small furnaces that used soft or bituminous coal, but they were rare. Anthracite or "stone" coal, the type found in northeastern Pennsylvania, was considered too difficult to burn for use as a household product.
Jesse Fell experimented to find a way to use anthracite for home heating. He created a grate, shown here, and set it up in his tavern. Its success proved that the hard coal could be used for home heating and cooking.
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Jesse Fell


Jesse Fell, a businessman in Wilkes-Barre, refused to accept this conventional wisdom. He had used anthracite in his local nail factory in the late 1780s but finding the nails brittle, began experiments for home heating. "I had for some time entertained the Idea that if a sufficient body of [anthracite] was ignited it would burn," Fell recalled. He became convinced that anthracite could be kept at a continuous state of combustion by utilizing an open grate that allowed a minimum draft or steady flow of air.

Fell subsequently pieced together an L-shaped grate of "Small Iron rods" which he prepared to test in his local tavern. "I set it up in my common room fireplace," he noted, "and on first lighting found it to burn excellently well." Legend has it that Fell started the fire at night to avoid curious questions from his guests and awoke the next morning to discover the coals still burning.marker [original document]

This experiment had momentous consequences. Anthracite was cheaper and more fuel-efficient than wood. The realization that it could be used as home heating and cooking fuel would soon revolutionize American domestic life. Promoters like Jacob Cist and markerAbijah Smith offered demonstrations of Fell's grate and other anthracite-burning devices to potential customers from Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York.

During the 1830s, inventors delivered a flurry of new household stoves that used anthracite as fuel. As the Civil War approached, coal replaced wood as the nation's primary energy source. In 1854, a national business magazine proudly proclaimed, "Commerce is President of the Nation and Coal her Secretary of State."
 
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