The coal-powered economy brought to bear much more energy than existing technologies could easily control.
Many jobs consequently became exceedingly hazardous. By the early 20th century, tens of thousands of workers were dying every year on the railroads, in factories, and especially in coal mines, including many boys and adolescents (see Primary Source Jokerville Coal Mine Explosion  and Primary Source Breaker Boys at Work ).
Food, fuel, shelter, motive power, clothing, and virtually every other necessity of life—Americans obtained all of these from plants, animals, falling rivers, and blowing winds.
The growth potential of organic economies remained sharply constrained by the limited ability of people to tap into the sun's energy through farms, windmills, waterwheels, and the like.
Yet the pipes and wires responsible for transmitting gas and electricity led back to plants and stations that polluted industrial districts and adjoining working-class neighborhoods.
In this and other ways, working-class Americans of all races suffered disproportionate burdens in the new mineral-intensive economy.As of 1860, the United States was an industrial laggard. industrial production exceeded "the combined manufacture of its three main rivals." Why, and with what consequences?Great Britain, France, and Germany each produced more goods than their transatlantic counterpart. Most textbooks provide at least a few glimpses of the transformation of the U. into a fossil-fueled nation: a photo of child laborers outside a Pennsylvania coal mine, a statistic on rising coal production, perhaps a brief mention of the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 (in which Colorado National Guardsmen killed 18 men, women, and children during a miners' strike in southern Colorado).Cities and towns, meanwhile, were becoming notoriously polluted by fossil-fueled railroads, industries, and homes (see Primary Source Cincinnati Account  and Primary Source Pittsburgh Painting ).Coal's impact was particularly dramatic in the industrial sector, but fossil fuels were also changing people's domestic lives in important ways.For each laborer killed directly, several were maimed, and several more found their lives shortened by coal dust, lead, and other poisons.Theoretically, workers should have earned higher wages as they became more productive.Northern railroads and factories took the lead in replacing wood and water power with coal. Railroads and steamships burned vast quantities of coal, but they also hauled it to other consumers.By the 1860s, booming northern coal mines—the Union produced 38 times more coal than the Confederacy—and the war industries they fueled helped to give the Union a decisive material advantage. More than 750,000 coal miners of every race and more than three dozen nationalities were digging and blasting upwards of 550 million tons of coal a year by the 1910s (a volume sufficient to cover the entire island of Manhattan with more than 21 feet of coal) (see Primary Source Coal Consumption ([1850-1900]). Most major American industries—steel mills, textile factories, and so forth—thereafter began to use immense amounts of coal, either directly in steam engines and furnaces, or indirectly via electricity produced in coal-burning generating stations.In 1870, there were only two American cities with a population of more than 500,000; by 1900, there were six, and three of these — New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia — boasted over one million inhabitants.Roughly 40 percent of Americans lived in cities and the number was climbing.