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The Consolidation Coal Company, a major mine operator in West Virginia and neighboring areas throughout the 20th century, was a vehicle of wealth and power for an important political family.

Consolidation Coal Company was organized in Maryland in April 1864 and soon took control of a number of mines in Maryland’s George’s Creek coalfield. The company was well-named, building itself by the consolidation of smaller operations. During the 1880s and 1890s, because of the low cost of beginning mining operations and a high protective tariff, coal flooded from America’s mines. As supply exceeded demand, falling prices hurt producers. The consolidation of mines, by those with the capital to do it, was an opportunity to eliminate competition. ‘‘Consol,’’ as it was often called, expanded into West Virginia and Pennsylvania by this method. In early 1903, the company purchased a majority interest in the Fairmont Coal Company, which itself had consolidated most of the mines in the Fairmont field. With financial backing from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Consol also purchased Clarksburg Fuel Company in West Virginia and the Somerset Coal Company in Pennsylvania.

The Fleming-Watson family, principal owners of Fairmont Coal Company, found a solid foothold in the acquiring company. In 1906, the family strengthened its position and paid $5 million for 53 percent of the stock of the Consolidation Coal, Fairmont Coal, and Somerset Coal companies. This way, the influential family took control. In 1909, with the collaboration of their partner, U.S. Sen. Johnson N. Camden, and the blessing of Camden associate John D. Rockefeller, the three companies were combined into Consolidation Coal Company. Former Governor Fleming served as chief counsel and on the board of directors, while his brother-in-law, U.S. Sen. Clarence W. Watson, remained as either chairman of the board or president of the corporation until 1928.

Continued expansion in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky during the first two decades of the 20th century made it increasingly difficult for independent companies to compete with the growing company. When the economy went bad, as it did in 1929, the weaker coal companies collapsed and Consolidation Coal Company itself went into receivership. The company survived and continued to consolidate its holdings, but the Fleming-Watson group lost control at this time. Early in the 21st century, Consol remained the nation’s largest bituminous coal producer, with most of its mines in northern West Virginia and neighboring areas of Pennsylvania. The company, now named CONSOL Energy, is controlled by Rheinbraun, a German firm.

In 2013, CONSOL announced that it was selling most of its West Virginia mining operations to Murray Energy Corporation of St. Clairsville, Ohio, in a major shift alllowing CONSOL to concentrate more fully on natural gas production in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The $3.5 billion deal included the McElroy, Loveridge, Shoemaker, Blacksville and Robinson Run mines, located in Marshall, Marion and Monongalia counties. These are among West Virginia’s very largest underground mines, unionized operations mining coal by the highly mechanized longwall method. They accounted for about half of the annual coal production of CONSOL, which retained its Miller Creek Mining Complex in Mingo County and other mines in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

As part of the transaction Murray Energy, previously mostly nonunion, assumed more than $2 billion in pension liabilities for employees of the former CONSOL operations. A Murray subsidiary operated the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, where six miners died in a 2007 mine disaster.

This Article was written by Jeffrey B. Cook

Last Revised on October 30, 2013

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Sources

Williams, John Alexander. West Virginia and the Captains of Industry. Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1976.

Cook, Jeffery B. "The Ambassador of Development: Aretas Brooks Fleming." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1998.

Massay, Glenn F. "Coal Consolidation: Profile of the Fairmont Field." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1970.

Workman, Michael E. "Political Culture and the Coal Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region: 1774-1933." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1995.

Cite This Article

Cook, Jeffrey B. "Consolidation Coal Company." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 30 October 2013. Web. 17 January 2018.

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