In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

By Dan Rottenberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Souls in Darkness

From its birth in the 1830s through the Civil War, the Reading Railroad had been merely one link in a chain of many small rail and barge lines delivering anthracite coal from Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill Valley to Philadelphia. But a shrewd and tenacious operator named Franklin B. Gowen thought he had a better idea.

Gowen was the son of middle-class Irish Episcopalian immigrants to Philadelphia. He attended private schools there and grew into a handsome youth, wiry and strong, with what his contemporaries described as an almost hypnotic charm. His father had made money speculating in anthracite coal, and in 1856, when he was twenty, Gowen spent a year managing his father’s mine in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. Then he moved to nearby Schuylkill County, where he and a partner bought a small mine. That partnership went bankrupt after two years, but Gowen eventually paid off the company’s debts, gave up coal, and turned instead to the practice of law. In November of 1861, at age twenty-five, he was elected district attorney of Schuylkill County. While still in office he began representing the Reading Railroad on the side—a conflict of interest that would be frowned on today but was then accepted as a good way to supplement a public official’s meager salary. When his two-year term was over, Gowen became the Reading Railroad’s general counsel and then, in 1869, its president.

Confronted with competition from other railroads and with the Reading’s dependence on business from unreliable coal mines along its routes, Gowen sought to convert the Reading Railroad into a road that, in his words, “owns its own traffic, is not dependent upon the public and is absolutely free from the danger of the competition of other lines. ” In practice

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In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Leisenring and Givens Family Trees ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Part I 11
  • Chapter 1 - A Rock That Burns 13
  • Chapter 2 - A Passage from the Mines 21
  • Chapter 3 - Holy Trinity 29
  • Chapter 4 - Boy Wonder of the Anthracite 37
  • Chapter 5 - Souls in Darkness 47
  • Chapter 6 - A Road Not Taken 57
  • Part II 65
  • Chapter 7 - The Ambitions of Henry Clay Frick 67
  • Chapter 8 - At War in the Coke Fields 75
  • Part III 99
  • Chapter 9 - Starting Over 101
  • Chapter 10 - The Rise of John L. Lewis 115
  • Chapter 11 - Utopia Goes Union 135
  • Chapter 12 - Be Careful What You Wish For 165
  • Chapter 13 - Prelude to Murder 187
  • Part IV 207
  • Chapter 14 - The Age of Uncertainty 209
  • Chapter 15 - Riding the Roller Coaster 231
  • Chapter 16 - Nowhere to Hide 245
  • Principal Characters 267
  • Notes 273
  • Bibliography 315
  • Acknowledgments 319
  • Index 321
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