Historical Markers
Abijah Smith and Company Historical Marker
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Abijah Smith and Company

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
US 11 (Main St.) at State Armory, Plymouth

Dedication Date:
June 4, 1989

Behind the Marker

The Smith brothers, originally from Connecticut, came to Pennsylvania to make their fortune in 1806. They spent the next year mining fifty tons of anthracite at a small community near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In November, the brothers acquired a flatbed boat, called an ark, for $24. Their plan was to travel down the Susquehanna River to Columbia in Lancaster County, where they hoped to interest Pennsylvania Dutch farmers and merchants in this new type of fuel. Anthracite, they claimed, burned cheaper and longer than wood. It was a tough sell. People were quite skeptical about using "black stones" in their fireplaces. The Smiths were forced to abandon their coal, unsold, by the river.

Then, in February 1808, Wilkes-Barre resident markerJesse Fell experimented with a successful open-air grate that kept anthracite burning in low-yield household fires. The Smiths seized on Fell's discovery and returned to Columbia with more coal and instructions for local blacksmiths on preparing the grates.

The Smiths demonstrated to potential customers how to ignite the anthracite and in doing so secured some sales. They charged $10 per ton of coal, which was considerably cheaper than wood. Within a few years, Abijah Smith and Co. was selling its Wyoming Valley anthracite to buyers in Baltimore and New York.
An 1822 sketch of a row of mines burrowing into a hillside. In the foreground is a small building.
The Smith Coal mine, as sketched by Jacob Cist in 1822.

John Smith relied on his family's Connecticut connections to find a stone-quarry blaster from New England who helped introduce powder blasting to the anthracite region. The blasting process made the Smith mines the most productive in the Wyoming Valley.

The success of Abijah Smith and Co. attracted other pioneer miners, shippers and marketers of anthracite. Fostering potential markets was a key issue, because these entrepreneurs needed to educate their customers about anthracite's utility. One notable promoter of anthracite was Jacob Cist. He gathered testimonials from manufacturers to advertise successful uses of anthracite, demonstrated anthracite's clean burning qualities in specially-designed stoves that he placed in banks and businesses, and distributed pamphlets that explained the cost-savings of anthracite over wood. The interest in coal increased, and so did the price. By the War of 1812, anthracite sold in New York for nearly $17 per ton.

Although Cist's venture did not immediately pay off, his efforts encouraged others. It took significant money to mine coal, build roads from the mines to rivers, and to purchase or build arks to carry the coal to market. By the 1830s, entrepreneurs had built a marketplace from Baltimore to New York, using inland waterways and schooner traffic along the Atlantic coast.
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