The LaSalle Coal Basin
Illinois State Chronicle, Decatur, IL July 2 1857
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
On late we have frequently called the attention of our Chicago readers to the importance to this city of the developments now going on in the great Illinois Coal Basin at La Salle. We recur to the subject again, because up it, more than any other one thing, hangs the future growth of Chicago in those industrial arts upon which the population of all large modern cities depend. To that quarter are we to look for our supply of fuel for manufacturing purposes for all time to come; and if, as we firmly believe, the coal there dug will serve the purposes for which the largest supply of fuel is needed, and if it can be laid down at our wharves at a price corresponding to the cost of Pennsylvania coal, at Erie, or Ohio coal at Cleveland, the hereafter of Chicago is no longer a problem - it is fixed. She is as sure to become the great manufacturing centre of the Northwest as she is as she is to retain her present commercial supremacy - sure, within the next century, to be the largest city of the American continent - the largest, without a single exception.
We know the prejudice which attaches to the use of Illinois coal, for any purpose whatever; because we have been as much influenced by it as our neighbors. When we were offered for trial in our own engine-furnace, a few tons from La Salle, free of cost, we begged the gentleman who made the offer not to send it, assuring him that our experience had been so unfavorable, that his gift though kindly intended, was like making us a present of an elephant - we should not know how to dispose of it; but the coal came, and we subjected it to all the tests necessary to establish its fitness for our uses, and the result is that we have since then bought no other variety. We find that it is not a whit inferior for making steam, to the best article that is sent into this market from Ohio, though it is furnished at very much less cost. It took us some little time, it is true, to overcome our prejudices and reverse our preconceived opinions; but the fact are not to be disregarded. We burn Illinois coal and no other. We are acquainted with the particulars of a case where the testimony is yet more emphatic than ours.
A manufacturer in this city, who is doing a large and prosperous business, had a foreman who was "down on" Illinois coal, and would use only Briar Hill. One day, in the foreman's absence, the proprietor got a boat load of La Salle third vein, had it shoveled off on his dock, and when his factotum returned introduced him to the pile as coal from a new Ohio mine that was highly commended and requested him to observe carefully its value as a generator of steam. When the supply furnished was consumed, the foreman, who had never been able to use Illinois coal at all, was very warm in his praise of what he had burned. "Why," said he, "it is not quite as solid and clean as Briar Hill, but it has more bitumen, and I believe makes more steam, ton for ton." "Now," says his employer, "you have been using Illinois coal, and, as you like it so well, I hope to hear no more objections to it, for, hereafter, we burn nothing else!" At a machine shop of one of our western railroads, the Master Mechanic was sure that Illinois coal was good for nothing - that for blacksmithing it was worse than nothing. Last winter, when Ohio coal rose in this market to ten dollars and a half per ton, the Superintendent of this road was determined that Illinois coal should have a trial. He barreled up a few tons and sent it out to the shop, saying that it was better than Blossburg. It was used with the greatest satisfaction, and since then, from that quarter, are heard no more complaints, though the shop has had nothing but Illinois coal since.
Not long ago, a gentleman at La Salle interested in the coal trade, sent to this city a car load of cal from his mine, requesting the consignee to sell it as Briar Hill. As luck would have it, the purchaser of the first ton was a merchant to whom Illinois coal could not be given upon any terms. The gentleman who sent it happened to be here shortly afterwards, called at this man's store, and very naturally fell into conversation with him about the price of fuel. "There," said our mercantile friend, as he poked the fire made of La Salle coal, "there is coal as is coal - none of your Illinois stuff. See how it burns - clear white ash, no smell, no dirt! - When Illinois can furnish such coal as that, it will be time to talk!" Than man don't know to this day that he has had anything in his store for years except Ohio coal of the most costly kind.
We mention these facts in the hope that our readers, having burned Illinois coal, years ago, from the out-cropping veins, full of sulphur, iron, lime and other impurities, and will not now try the better varieties from the deep shafts, will be cured of their folly, and that, by and by, our own home fuel will take the place of that which we now import at a cost of over half a million dollars per annum. And again we hope that in the efforts now making to develop the La Salle mines in such a way that they will be able to supply all the demands made upon them, the capitalists of Chicago who are more interested in this fuel question than in any other single thing pertaining to our city, will not withhold their aid. - Tribune.
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