High Altitude Energy: A History of Fossil Fuels in Colorado

By Lee Scamehorn | Go to book overview
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King Coal 1860—1930

At the time the Pikes Peak gold rush attracted fortune seekers to what became the territory of Colorado, most of the energy utilized in the United States in homes, commerce, and industry was derived from wood and coal. By the 1890s, coal had largely supplanted wood, accounting for more than 90 percent of the nation's consumption of energy; most of the remainder was attributed principally to petroleum and natural gas. An abundance of coal, and in some places wood, enabled residents of Colorado to avoid the high cost of importing energy from other parts of the country.

Coal was Colorado's premier fuel. Readily available and accessible in many places, it heated homes and business establishments while serving as boiler fuel to generate steam for industry and transportation. It was the raw material for making coke, an essential fuel for the reduction of precious metal and iron ores. Coal, when distilled in retorts, yielded manufactured gas, which was distributed through underground pipes to urban homes and businesses.

The extraction and consumption of coal in Colorado began on a small scale in about 1860, and grew rapidly to become one of the state's major industries in the 1880s. Coal's preeminence among fuels influenced the Colorado General Assembly, in 1883, to create the Office of State Coal

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