Coal and American History
Paramount in the states’ economic history, the coal industry also has been important in the development of the national industrial economy. West Virginia coal has been widely considered as unsurpassed for quality; some seams are the best in the world. The “smokeless” coals found in the New River, Winding Gulf, and the Flat Top-Pocahontas fields of the southern section of the state, particularly the Pocahontas No. 3 seam, were highly prized for metallurgical purposes.
West Virginia led the nation in coal production from 1927, when it surpassed Pennsylvania, until 1973, when Kentucky took the lead. Despite the fact that West Virginia’s push to national prominence sometimes contributed to an oversupply of coal, consumers in the industrial Northeast and Midwest have benefitted tremendously from the resulting lower prices.
West Virginia coal has fed the boilers of the nation’s trains, factories, fleets, and power plants. As a processed fuel, coke, it has satisfied the enormous appetites of the nation’s iron furnaces. It has been the basis for the tremendous growth of the American economy in the twentieth century and played a critical role in supporting America during wartime.