Historical Markers
Blossburg Coal Historical Marker
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Blossburg Coal

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
Pa. 287, 3.5 miles N of Morris

Dedication Date:
July 25, 1987

Behind the Marker

"Grimy, and caked with the dust of coal he stands,
Grasping his pick with his mighty hands;
The arbiter of destiny and fate,
Greater by far than the king or potentate.
Shops may not run except at his behest,
At forge and blast his strength is manifest.
The rolls that rumble and the sheer and screams
And all the million miracles of steam.
Depend on him for fuel that will turn
The wheels that urge them and the belts that churn.
Guns that will shatter fortresses of steel,
Ships that will plow the waves on steady keel…."

Light snow covers main street, looking south. Wagons are parked along the street.
Blossburg, main street, looking south, 1907.
When Berton Bailey wrote this poem in 1918, the Pennsylvania bituminous coal industry was at its peak. Coal production had surged from two million tons in 1850 to an apex of 177 million tons in 1918. Pennsylvania miners dug bituminous coal that was essential fuel for iron furnaces, railroad locomotives, steamships, battleships, and many other uses in industrial America. The varying composition of Pennsylvania bituminous made it an excellent fuel for a wide range of purposes. Expanding uses, growing markets and widening transportation networks were instrumental in the phenomenal growth of production.

Bituminous coal underlies 14,200 square miles of western Pennsylvania, an area almost twice the size of New Jersey. It is found in four principal fields: Main Bituminous Field, spread in numerous counties in western Pennsylvania to Centre County in the east; Broad Top Field, located in Bedford, Fulton, and Huntingdon Counties; North-Central Fields, in Bradford, Lycoming, and Tioga Counties, and; Georges Creek Field in Somerset County. Within these fields, the Pittsburgh seam or coal bed in southwestern Pennsylvania was the most economically important coal bed (see the markerFirst Mining of Pittsburgh Coal).

Black and white image of a coal chute, coal filled railroad cars, and several rows of track.
Coal chute at Morris Run 1874.
Before 1918 the geographic center of mining shifted from the southwestern part of the Main Bituminous Field, to the north and east (including the Broad Top Field and North-Central Fields), and then back to southwestern Pennsylvania, especially the Pittsburgh seam. Small mines opened in southwestern Pennsylvania from about 1750 to 1850. In 1792 Robert and Benjamin Patterson made the first markercoal discovery in Tioga County, launching mining in the North-Central Fields.Small mines spread through much of the area before 1850, including one begun by Aaron Bloss soon after 1815. Bloss discovered a coal vein in Tioga County, subsequently called Bloss coal, which later mining companies dug and shipped to market.

After 1880 Pennsylvania's main coal-producing counties were in the Pittsburgh-seam district, including Allegheny, Fayette, Westmoreland, and Washington Counties. Especially with the exploitation of the Pittsburgh seam, bituminous-coal production soared even faster than did anthracite. In 1897 Pennsylvania's bituminous output surpassed anthracite production.

Black and white photograph of a dirt road lined with small, stark houses. In the background sits a large building.
Company Store at Fallbrook, 1874
Much of the enormous growth in production stemmed from expanding uses for bituminous coal. These uses were linked in turn to the varying composition of bituminous coal found in the Commonwealth. Bituminous coal is composed of water, called moisture; mineral impurities, called ash, which are left when coal is completely burned; volatile matter, gases expelled when coal is burned; and fixed carbon, the matter that burns at a higher temperature after the volatile matter has been expelled. Volatile matter and fixed carbon are the main sources of heat in combustion. Moisture and ash hinder combustion of coal. In general, the composition of coal changes from east to west in Pennsylvania.

Coal in the eastern fields is low-volatile and high-carbon, with fixed carbon between seventy-eight and eighty-six percent of total composition. Moving to the west, coal becomes first medium-volatile (fixed carbon between sixty-eight and seventy-eight percent), and then high-volatile (fixed carbon less than sixty-eight percent). Sulfur is present in the volatile matter, fixed carbon, and ash, and when burned produces corrosive fumes of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which are a major source of air pollution. The majority of Pennsylvania's bituminous coal is moderate- to high-sulfur (one to three percent). Low-sulfur coal is preferred for illuminating gas, making coke, smithing iron, and producing pottery.

In the background of this photograph is the east mines. One can see the chute, workers, and stacks of coal refuse. In the foreground is a row of patch houses and yards.
East mines at Morris Run, 1874.
The low volatility of Bloss coal and other coal in the North Central Fields and Broad Top Field made it excellent steam and smithing coal. With the construction of railroads such as the markerCorning and Blossburg Railroad, mines in the North Central Fields transported coal via rail to New York state, where it was used in blacksmithing and rolling mills, and generating steam in steamboats and stationary engines.

Coal production soared to supply these uses and markets. Tioga County output burgeoned from 25,000 tons in 1850 to one million tons in 1880. Similarly, as railroads connected the Broad Top Field to eastern markets, coal production climbed for use in stationary engines, railroad locomotives, homes, and making coke. After the Civil War, railroads became a major consumer of coal, using almost one-quarter of all coal mined as late as the 1930s.

Railroads spurred other uses for coal, most importantly for coking coal. Railroads demanded rails made from iron. markerKarthaus Furnace and other iron furnaces pioneered the use of coke made in markercoke ovens. By the 1840s, coke was fueling large rail-rolling mills and iron furnaces, such as the markerBrady's Bend Works. Beginning in the 1870s, coke became the fuel for iron and steel mills that manufactured steel rails and many other steel products. The high-volatile and especially low-sulfur (less than one percent) composition of Pittsburgh-seam coal was ideally suited to making coke for the iron and steel industry. The Pittsburgh seam became America's principal source of coking coal by the late nineteenth century.
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