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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • VOLUNTEER FOR VICTORY

Coal Weather: 1912

Coal Weather: 1912

Circa 1912. "Coke delivery wagon and workers, Detroit City Gas Company." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

 

Fuel for thought

Our 1820's farm had an enormous octopus coal furnace with an 'iron boiler man' auto coal feeder attached to it. Semi-auto to be honest, you still had to fill the hopper and shake and clear the ash and clinkers. But it would run all night without tending, and that must have seemed like a modern miracle in 1930. We ripped it out at first chance and switched to gas heat.

Carbon copy

We also live in a house that converted from coal at some point. The furnace that came with the house was an ugly black monstrosity, covered with welded-shut grates and hatches. Its heat output was pathetic, and it drank oil like a stevedore knocks back brews. One of the firs things we did was replace it with a much smaller and more energy-efficient furnace.

But the traces of this house's coal-fired past still remain. The basement walls are still dark with coal dust in some obscure locations. The former bin is a storage area. Beautiful lumps of coal emerge when we dig in the spring, ranging in size from marble to baseball.

These photographs give me even more insight into the life of our house. We who own historic building have a responsibility to preserve them for future generations.

re: Telephone Talk

Note the one just posted in the Member Gallery ("Cross Connect Terminal"), along with several other early telephone photos.

Telephone Talk

These distribution rings came in various sizes and facilitated duplex subscriber drops in tight, typically urban areas. The one shown with the "soup can" hides the "dry spot" connection blocks. The other shows a "cabinet" type application. These rings disappeared early and in 45 years of collecting, I never saw one (even abandoned) still in the air.

Music

That horn is a thing of beauty.

Ten Thousand Tons

I was on a merchant ship that brought 10,000 tons of coal to Cork, Ireland, in 1949-50, unloaded by hand 24/7 in canvas baskets. We were there a week.

No fuel like an old fuel

In 1951 we lived for a time in a four family flat in Detroit. It had a coal fired furnace in the basement which provided the steam heat. There was no automatic stoker so each family would take a turn manning the coal shovel and raking out the clinkers.

It was a treat (I speak for myself) to go down with my parents and watch them feed the beast. I still remember the coal bin smell. An even bigger event was watching the coal truck deliver the coal with a gravity fed chute into the coal bin via a steel door just below our kitchen window.

When we moved into a new house Detroit in 1952, we had a forced-air furnace with a 100 gallon fuel oil tank in the basement. However, many of my friends in the area had houses with the old "octopus" coal-fired gravity furnaces in the basement which had been converted to oil burners. The coal bins had been turned into storage areas and many still had the telltale coal odor.

The gents in the picture are probably taking the coke directly into the house or the back porch since many houses in 1915 did not have central heat via a basement furnace but relied instead on parlor stoves. In many areas of old Detroit the houses were so close together you could touch both houses as you walked between them. No room to turn a wheelbarrow around.

Lifting a tub of coke.

Coke weighs only about half as much for same volume as hard or soft coal. It was probably delivered to a basement door or window to slide down a chute into the coal bin near the furnace. I agree, a wheelbarrow or wagon would have made their job easier.

Sure, it's a Packard!

You can just make out the logo below the seat!

What IS that?

It looks kind of like a telephone pole, but with hoops (?) instead of crossbars?

[It's a maypole-style line drop. Seen in many of the Detroit Publishing and National Photo pics. - Dave]

Thanks for the info.
Boy, those would sure put the spice into kite-flying and hang-gliding.

And an imaginary cab

Pretty sure that's a Packard truck. Couldn't have been much fun to drive in the winter. Also, a terribly inefficient method of delivery from truck to basement.

Back breaking work

You'd think they could at least afford to supply the crew with a wheelbarrow!

 
THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG
Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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