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  Hard Coal ...Hard Lives  

Christian Abraham

Hard Coal ...Hard Lives

Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal mining industry dominated the lives hundereds of thousnads of people, mostly poor immigrants for well over one hundred fifty years. Under only eight counties of north-east Pennsylvania lay fields of densely packed anthracite coal. Found almost nowhere else in the world. Anthracite coal burns the hottest and cleanest of all grades of coal and contains 90 percent carbon. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, anthracite coal supplied the eastern seaboard’s fuel and heating needs. In the late 20th century sharp rises in the costs to mine underground coal gave way to strip mining as a cheaper alternative. Yet anthracite coalmining continued.

Bootleg mining rose out of the Great Depression when workers laid off from the large coal companies poached coal from the mines by digging their own little mine on the company property. Prosecutions were common but finally mine owners worked out leasing arrnagments with many of the so-called “bootleggers”. Thus generations of families sustained themselves and the region with “Mom and Pop” styled operations where the sonswould follow in their father’s footsteps.

Up until the mid-1990’s hundreds of small independently owned mines flourished in the southern coal fields of Schuykill County. Now, only a handful of independent mines still operate. A few hearty families still cling to the only way of life they have ever known. A myriad of reasons are to blame for the demise of so many independent mines. One reason can be attributed to today’s youth who see a brighter future and more lucarative opportunities by furtherng their educations rather than going into the mines.