Energy Landscapes: Coal Canals, Oil Pipelines, and Electricity Transmission Wires in the American mid-Atlantic, 1820-1930

My dissertation studies the energy history of the American mid-Atlantic, the nation’s first region to use coal, oil, and electricity intensively. I am particularly interested in the ways energy transport infrastructure networks—coal canals, oil pipelines, and electricity transmission wires—enabled the rise of new energy practices. I demonstrate that these technologies transformed the energy options available to mid-Atlantic residents by delivering cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy to certain parts of the region. Coal, oil, and electricity, in turn, helped create an urban and industrialized society dependent on fossil fuel energy. The remarkable wealth of materials on mid-Atlantic history housed in the collections of the PACHS institutions has been indispensable to my study. In particular, the holdings of the Hagley Museum & Library, Library Company of Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and University of Pennsylvania have supplied much of the necessary documentary basis for my project. At Hagley, supported by a grant-in-aid, I spent several weeks poring through the papers of the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company to research the construction of the Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River and its network of transmission wires. At the Library Company I researched the history of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company through their collection of the company’s annual reports and other publications. At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania I reviewed several years of The Miners’ Journal, a trade journal covering all aspects of the anthracite coal trade. The University of Pennsylvania collections included many government reports that provided statistical information on the flows and consumption of coal, oil, and electricity. In the spring of 2009, I used a PACHS Research Fellowship to continue my research. In particular, I sought to answer two main questions. First, what motivated the boosters who constructed the network of anthracite canals in the antebellum era? While financial motives were obviously important, they were not the only factors. As I discovered through reading published letters, reports of transportation advocates, and government analyses, antebellum transport advocates were also driven by political visions (improved roads and canals could tie a young nation’s people together, according to some) and regional rivalries (Philadelphians did not want to lose trade to New York, for example). These records, mostly accessed at the Library Company and Historical Society, allowed me to place the construction of the anthracite canal network in the broader context of antebellum transport initiatives. Second, once a network of oil pipelines was built, where did the oil flow? Throughout my dissertation, I argue that we must study technologies in use in addition to their construction. By looking at early industry analyses, trade journals, government reports, and court cases at the Library Company, Historical Society, and University of Pennsylvania, I was able to create a picture of where oil was shipped, and as importantly, where it was not. I found that pipelines shaped the flow of oil in critical, but not determinative, ways. Before the construction of the world’s first long-distance pipeline in 1879, Philadelphia only possessed a small fraction of the nation’s oil refining capacity. Once this pipeline was completed in 1879 from western Pennsylvania towards Philadelphia, the Quaker City grew to be one of the nation’s major refining centers over the last two decades of the nineteenth century. However, the presence of a pipeline was no guarantee that oil would flow to a city. Pipelines to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo did not deliver oil to these cities in large quantities. In other words, it was not simply whether a pipeline was built that mattered—how it was operated could be equally important. My thanks to all who made my research trips so productive. Babak Ashrafi and Bonnie Clause at PACHS pointed me in useful directions and made me feel welcome. Connie King and Linda August at Library Company, Chris Baer, Marge McNinch and Lynn Catanese at Hagley, and the various staff members at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania worked patiently and helpfully to locate and suggest various sources for my project. Thanks to all in the PACHS network—as I begin the process of revising my dissertation into a book, I am sure that I will be seeing many of you again soon!