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American LucifersThe Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750-1865$
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Jeremy Zallen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469653327

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469653327.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 26 September 2021

Rock Oil, Civil War, and Industrial Slavery Interrupted

Rock Oil, Civil War, and Industrial Slavery Interrupted

(p.214) Chapter Six Rock Oil, Civil War, and Industrial Slavery Interrupted
American Lucifers

Jeremy Zallen

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines how the contingently timed and combined onslaught of Pennsylvania petroleum and the Civil War radically reoriented the possibilities and geographies of light in North America. On the eve of war, free-labor western Pennsylvania and industrial-slavery western Virginia were both poised to capture and launch fossil fuel revolutions in power and light. This chapter uses business, court, and military records along with newspapers and trade journals to explore how one of these revolutions—that based on free-labor and ownership of a mineral liquid “distilled by nature free of charge”—came to triumph over the other—that based on industrial slavery and capital-intensive coal oil—and how that triumph was understood then and subsequently as an inevitable stage of “progress.” As military clashes interrupted and destroyed turpentine camps, whaleships, and southern coal mining, the reservoirs of American light shifted their center of gravity markedly northward and westward. A period of widely increased access to illuminants, it was also a time of deepening monopoly control over the means of light. This chapter explores the centrality of political economy and organized violence to any true understanding of the histories of labor, energy, and technology.

Keywords:   antebellum coal oil industry, Kanawha Valley, West Virginia, West Virginia petroleum rush, kerosene industry, kerosene lamps, Civil War, industrial slavery, seamstresses, political economy

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