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

By Dan Rottenberg | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 11

Utopia Goes Union

When Dr. John S. Wentz died in July of 1918, the national economy was on a war footing, the coal industry was expanding as never before, and Wentz’s son Daniel was forty-six and in the prime of life. On his father’s death he inherited the presidency not only of Stonega Coke & Coal but of all the family’s various coal concerns in eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. He also inherited his father’s private investments, including one of the largest single blocks of stock in Westmoreland Coal Company, the western Pennsylvania concern originally founded by Pennsylvania Railroad investors in 1854 in order to ship coal directly to eastern markets. (This was the legendary firm whose coal traffic provoked Robert E. Lee’s 1863 incursion into Pennsylvania that ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. ) Like John L. Lewis, Daniel Wentz had reached the summit of a booming industry only to find, now that the war was over, that there was little to celebrate.

The war effort had engendered a coal industry capable of producing one billion tons a year for a nation that now consumed barely half that amount. Americans still needed coal—it produced 68 percent of all fuel consumed in 1924—but thanks to their own ingenuity they no longer needed quite as much. The biggest coal consumers—the railroads, the iron and steel companies, and the electric power plants—had learned, while struggling with wartime coal shortages and postwar coal strikes, to use coal more efficiently. Thanks to their newly developed combustion techniques for squeezing energy units out of coal, by 1920 a kilowatt hour of electricity could be produced with only two-thirds of the amount of coal required in 1913.

The postwar coal strikes had also driven coal customers to other fuels that might be available on a less erratic basis. Americans were driving cars

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