Make Coal Great Again

collage Vintage illustration1940s coal miners production and Pittsburgh air pollution

How do we make America great again? Burn, baby, burn!

Yes, it’s time to make coal great again!

Wave a white flag; we are ending the long war on coal. Though of course the next time we wave a flag in surrender it’s bound to be a bit soiled from all the air pollution.

As President Trump rolls back those pesky Obama era policies on global warming, let’s just roll back in time, when coal was king and the phrase climate change innocently meant a welcome change of seasons. An innocent time when  greenhouse gas emissions were the furthest thought from our black lungs and  fossil fuel soaked minds.

Coal Can Help Make a Better Future for America

Vintage coal ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1944

Vintage ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1944. “Experience says…Burn Coal. Every time most people switch on a light, listen to the radio or use a percolator or any electrical appliance they are burning bituminous coal. For most electric power comes from coal- which means of course bituminous coal. It is Americas No 1 public energy- America’s most important source of heat and power. And knowing this, the men who operate the bituminous coal mines have a keen sense of responsibility to the nation their customers and to the men who work for them.”

In Trump’s backwards thinking where the future is viewed through the lens of the past, dismantling the Clean Power Plan and reviving the coal industry will, he assures us, help make America great again and leader of the free world.

But by returning to the past Trump is recklessly running over future generations. Like so many of his pledges he promises a future based on the past.

Sure, coal helped make America great that is if you were living in the last century, that idyllic time period Trump seems to want us to return to.

You Can Count on Coal

Vintage ads 1950-1952 Bitminous Coal Institute

You Can Count on Coal! American’s benefited every day in every way from the coal industry. Vintage ads 1950-1952 Bitminous Coal Institute

By mid-century coal not only gave America light and power it gave us all kinds of consumer abundance that helped make America the gold sooty standard of living in the world.

Once upon a time, coal was king and powered the progress of America. Post war America was the envy of the world because of all the bounty provided by the miracle of coal.

Especially bituminous coal. By far most of America’s heat, light and power came from bituminous coal.

To reinforce the vital role coal played in Americas growing economy, the Bituminous Institute, an arm of the coal industry, ran advertising campaigns including slick full color ads glorifying the coal industry and the contributions it made to modern civilization. These ads were deigned to make coal not only patriotic but essential to the American way.

The consumer way

Bituminous Coal…lights the way…powers the progress of America

Vintage ad 1952 Bituminous Coal Institute

You Can Count on Coal! What they didn’t count on was the air pollution that would cover American cities, the rise in pre-mature deaths, and the prevalence of lung cancer. Vintage ad 1952 Bituminous Coal Institute


It’s difficult to name anything Americans build, buy, or use that doesn’t take coal,” began this 1952 ad from the Bituminous Coal Institute.

The electricity that runs your lights, your TV sets, all your modern appliances depend on coal…for 70% of the fuel used by America’s utilities is coal. And the steel that goes into your auto, and your refrigerator, your son’s bike and your dishwasher takes coal to make – for coal is an essential ingredient of steel on a ton for ton basis.

And thousands upon thousands of the fine products that make our American standard of living the highest in the world are manufactured with power generated from coal.


Coal Fuels the American Dream

“To Make a Dream Homes Come True” painted by artist Rockwell Kent in 1945 from a series commissioned by the Bituminous Coal Institute  to sell America on the benefits of coal. The ‘spirit’ of coal, referred to as the ‘Coal Genie,’ that appeared in the ads, hovered over some aspect of American life that was seen as benefiting from the industry. In this he hovers over a future housing development benefiting from coal heating.

The American Dream home owed so much to coal.

The Bituminous Institute’s many ads demonstrated the promise of coal as the energy source for post war America. By the late 1940’s fossil fuels like gas and oil were beginning to give king coal a run for its money due to their increased availability and lower prices so consumers began to gradually switch to that as a home heating fuel. These ads strengthened the reputation of the coal industry, reinforcing the many advantages of bituminous coal in their daily lives.

It was important too, that to provide all that plenty, there was plenty of coal.

“So it’s important to everyone that Americas coal industry is the world’s most efficient – that America has enough coal in the ground to supply all the heat, light and power we need for centuries to come!” the ads reassured the reader.

Coal Feeds the Furnace of Progress

Vintage ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1945

Vintage ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1946

Behind that white picket fence (lightly covered in coal soot) Mrs. America benefited from coal in countless ways, the reader learns in this 1946 ad. From headaches to housekeeping, coal contributed to ease of modern living.

Yes, Mrs. America, an amazing number of the everyday things you live with, use, depend on – come from Bituminous Coal. Dyes to color your clothing, curtains, rugs, upholstery…wonderful synthetics fabrics such as nylons…paints and varnishes for woodwork and furniture. In most homes electricity generated from coal supplies lights – runs the radio, telephone, vacuum cleaner, sewing machine.

Of course m’ lady might have to dust and vacuum daily from all the coal dust.

Hundreds of medicines including the marvelous lifesaving sulfas come from coal! So do moth balls, perfumes antiseptics, aspirin and many other drugs. Also cosmetics and plastics for toothbrushes, combs, fixtures. Paper as well as long list of chemicals depend on coal. And of course you know 4 out of every 7 homes in America are dependably and economically heated by coal.

Have a headache? Reach for aspirin, made possible by coal-tar. For the source of aspirin and many other pharmaceuticals is phenol, a coal-tar derivative which is a jack of all trades of modern industrial chemistry.

And you’ll need all the medicine you can get if you develop respiratory problems from the coal dust

In the kitchen gas made from coal may fuel your range. Chances are electricity from coal runs your refrigerator toaster mixer and other appliances. Many food flavorings come from coal!

For the outside of your home coal makes roofing material, fertilizers, and weed killers for lawn. In fact over 200,000 useful products depend on coal and thousands of them are used around the home.

Just careful cooking up some mercury laden fish caught fresh from the lakes near that coal-fired power plant.

Countless Benefits Come from Coal

Vintage ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1945

Vintage ad Bituminous Coal Institute 1945

From lipstick to that smartly tailored frock, the well dressed, well accessorized gal owed it all to coal. American women say-“Thanks for Coal!” Get ready for some real wolf whistles, missy!

Fashions from coal are a bright promise for the near future.

Already we have marvelous nylons- made of coal air and water! Even more amazing fabrics are in development…and of course the manufacture of nearly everything you wear depends on machines which mean steel-which means coal. Electricity generated from coal supplies most industrial power and light,

Practically every stitch you wear owes something to coal!

Nearly all textile dyes are derived from coal. Dozens of chemicals and resins obtained from coal are needed to process or finish fabrics- give them gloss, stiffness, or body- or to make them crease proof, waterproof or shrink proof. From coal comes plastics for dress buttons, ornaments, shoes, heels.

Accessories to match also owed much to coal.

Colors for lipsticks nail polish, scents for perfumes. Plastics for costume jewelry, handbag frames, compacts…all together more than 200,000 useful products depend on coal- and many of them are used to glorify America’s women.

Naturally our fashion plate might not want to hang that frock out to dry especial if she lived in the east or an urban area.

The Down to Earth Facts about Coal

Man beong hit with lump of coal and black lung

Yes for dependability you can count on coal….to give you black lung. Across Appalachia, coal miners are suffering from the most serious form of the deadly mining disease-black lung in large numbers.

Yes sir, you could count on coal!

Coal may have been “a faithful servant of civilization” or so the ads told us, but this servant also had a dark, dangerous and sooty side that was glossed over in these ads.

Yup, you could count on coal all right…for health problems. Respiratory problems, reduction of life expectancy, hospital admissions, black lung from coal dust, congestive heart failure, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, global warming, ecosystem loss and degradation.

The bituminous coal featured in these ads is a type of coal known for releasing the largest amounts of firedamp, a dangerous mixture of gases like methane that can cause underground explosions. Extraction of bituminous coal demands the highest safety procedures involving attentive gas monitoring good ventilation and vigilant site management.

The down to earth facts are coal causes cancer and air pollution.

Capt. Air pollution was severe in many urban areas of the US in the first half of the 20th century in part due to burning of bituminous coal for heat.

Fuels Rush In- Magical Thinking

“There’s magic in coal. Now science has learned to rub a lump of coal the right way too produce a myriad of new and better products ranging from synthetic rubber to sulfa drugs and cosmetics. Vintage ad 1945


“There’s magic in coal,” this 1945 ad proclaims. Perhaps that’s where Trump’s magical thinking comes from. That lifting restrictions  will bring back jobs and give us  “clean coal.”

From the notion of “clean coal”  to bringing back jobs, no amount of rubbing Aladdin’s lamp is going to make this magic come true.

illustration coal miners and coal miners protesting

The US coal industry and the jobs that support it have been in decline for decades as a result of environmental concerns, automation in mining, and slowdowns in manufacturing industries that burned coal for power. (L) Vintage illustration coal miners 1948 (R) Coal miners rally for black lung law reform on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1975. Picture courtesy Earl Dotter

It’s a false promise. Even if coal production comes back the jobs probably won’t. Like every industry coal invests heavily in automation so that it can do more with fewer people.

It is also an outdated understanding of the role, image and actual competitive position of coal in today’s marketplace.  It won’t suddenly and magically persuade a range of people to use a dirty and comparatively expensive fuel to create electricity when they have other better options.

Coal Puts So Many Good Things Into Your Life

adverse effects of coal combustion

Coal Puts so Many Good Things in Your Life. Other than putting cash in corporate pockets, demolishing a wide array of Obama era policies on global warming is a disaster for the health of Americans and the environment. Air pollution produced by coal combustion act on the respiratory system contributing to serious effects including asthma, lung disease and cancer and adversely affecting development in children. L) X-ray of black lung, (c)  vintage ad 1948 McNally Pittsburg Coal Plants (R) air pollution NYC 1960s

Trump is prioritizing corporate profits over the well-being of people. Burning coal is the single greatest contributor of human-created, climate-altering, civilization-threatening greenhouse gases.

Dismantling the Clean Power Plan endangers families and our planet.

Like many of Trumps broken promises, that’s one thing you can count on.


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© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Preserving the past to save the future…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderfully worded article in an age when new companies are creating jobs in a solar energy world. Throughout the US a million solar installations took place in 2016. The number of good paying clean energy jobs is sky rocketing as you can see from the projects listed on Solar Power World

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hell, how much longer is HE going to live anyway?

    But seriously, I remember my parents mentioning how sooty downtown St. Louis was even in the late 50s and early 60s. (I also remember how terrible it smelled during the early 80s, but that’s another subject.) It’s not like they weren’t used to coal–it’s what they had to heat their homes, but small town MO didn’t get AS sooty as the big city.

    Trust me, Trump will turn his attention to the next shiny thing and blame Obama, Hillary, and whomever else has come to his attention in the last 5 seconds for how horrible coal is. Then say that he never said coal was good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JUST HOLD ON! WAIT ONE NEW YORK MINUTE Mrs. Edelstein! I thought that 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and Reaganesque-endless-prosperity 80’s thinking and beliefs were dead and gone, along with THAT generation!? 😮 😛 (note sarcasm please)

    Meanwhile, on the pale blue-dot planet called Earth… 😡


  5. ChrisPat

    Unfortunately, your article misses the mark with regard to present day coal use. Modern technology is used to scrub the emissions from coal, rendering it virtually harmless. Coal provides real jobs, is inexpensive and provides over 30% of our power needs, 2nd only to natural gas at 33%, followed by nuclear for just under 20%, and so called renewables are at the bottom of the list providing less than 15% of our power needs. And before anyone jumps on the environment bandwagon regarding how destructive it is, Coal companies return the area being mined into pristine condition.


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