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Reports of Commanding Officers of U.S. Navy Ships on Most Desirable Coal

Reports of Commanding Officers Upon Most Desirable Coal.


     In the month of August, 1898, the Bureau1 sent the following circular letter to the Commanders in Chief of the different squadrons on the Atlantic Coast:

Navy Department, Bureau of Equipment,    

Washington, D. C., August 31, 1898.   

     Sir: 1. The Bureau requests that you will direct the commanding officers of each of the naval ships under your command to address an official letter to this Bureau, stating the trade name of the American coal considered the most desirable for use on board of their respective ships for steaming and other purposes, with reasons for the selection made, so far as possible.

     2. No further report is desired from ships which have already made a similar one.

          Very respectfully,

(Signed)      R. B. Bradford,

Chief of Bureau.

     One hundred and twenty-three (123) answers were received as follows:

     One hundred and seventeen (117) preferred Pocahontas coal.2

     One (1) preferred anthracite on account of type of boilers (Almy water tube).3

     One (1) gave no trade name, preferring bituminous or semibituminous coal.

     One (1) preferred Cumberland.4

     One (1) had only tried New River and Georges Creek,5 and preferred the former.

     And the other two classed Pocahontas and New River as equal generally, stating however, that the former made less smoke and of a lighter color.

The principal reasons given for preferring Pocahontas coal were as follows:

1.It gives best results in speed per ton of coal consumed.

2.It contains the smallest percentage of ash.

3.Less smoke is given off in combustion.

4.It requires less working of fires to keep steam pressure uniform.

5.Better suited to forced draft.

6.Requires less sweeping of tubes.

7.Clinkers6 to less extent than some other coals.

Source Note Print: Reports of the Efficiency of Various Coals Used by U.S.Ships, 1896-1898. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 89.

Footnote 1: That is, Bureau of Equipment. RAdm. Royal B. Bradford was chief of the Bureau.

Footnote 2: Pocahontas was a bituminous coal mined in Tazewell County, VA, and McDowell County, WVA.

Footnote 3: According to an engineer’s handbook, an Almy Water-Tube boiler was constructed of “wrought-iron or steel tubes of small diameter, arranged vertically and horizontally over a fire-grate placed near the bottom of the boiler.” A typical Almy had a total heating-surface of 700 square feet; a fire-grate of 30 square feet; contained 200 gallons of water; and weighed 5.5 tons. A separator fixed on the front of the boiler drew off steam for the engine. Walter S. Hutton, Steam-boiler Construction: A Practical Handbook for Engineers, Boiler-makers & Steam-users. (London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1891), 298-99.

Footnote 4: Cumberland was bituminous coal mined in Allegany County, MD.

Footnote 5: New River was bituminous coal mined in Fayette County, WVA; George’s Creek was bituminous coal mined in Allegany County, MD.

Footnote 6: Clinkers are the stony residue from burned coal.

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