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. Today, Consol remains 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.
This Article was written by Jeffrey B. Cook
Last Revised on July 16, 2012
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.