Hardcover: 142 pages
Publisher: Tribute Books (June 16, 2010)
American history has an eerie way of repeating itself.
In 1840, America needed coal to fuel its economy. Investors from throughout the country began offering farmers in Northeast Pennsylvania huge amounts of money for their land to gain access to coal hundreds of feet below ground.
In 2010, America needs clean energy to fuel its economy. Investors from around the world have begun offering landowners in Northeast Pennsylvania huge amounts of money for the right to recover the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, almost a mile below ground.
Scranton, Pennsylvania, was the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth century. Driven by overwhelming demand for the coal, iron, steel, and steam technology that the city produced, Scranton grew from 100 to 100,000 people between 1840 and 1900. It was the “Electric City” at a time when electricity was the most exciting innovation in the world, and it was the face of industrialization and immigration in the United States.
By the mid-twentieth century, however, Scranton symbolized a decaying America. Its steel mills and factories were moving to other states. Lax regulations led to catastrophic environmental damage throughout the region and the unintentional flooding of area mines. The large corporations that supported the area’s economy moved away, and Scranton became, as a recent book title puts it, “the face of decline.”
What happened? What changed? What led Scranton to go from boom to bust?
Scranton’s early business leaders cared deeply about Scranton, and had a real stake in seeing the city grow. They made a point of attracting entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, and new technology to Scranton. They chartered the city’s gas and water companies, supported local businesses, and personally got involved in local politics. Perhaps most importantly, early business leaders actually lived in the city. Within this environment, the city flourished.
By the turn of the twentieth century, however, something had changed. When Walter Scranton decided to move his family’s steel business to Buffalo, New York, he simply remarked, “It’s tough on Scranton.” Professional managers appeared in the workplace, and strove to increase efficiency as much as possible. As corporations prioritized profits during this period, the communities in which they operated were often left behind. Scranton was no exception.
The natural gas in the Marcellus Shale represents a second chance for Scranton. Certainly, some residents of the area will sell their mineral rights and become very wealthy while natural gas is quietly pumped elsewhere. The larger question, however, is whether the region can leverage its natural resources to create the type of enduring prosperity that that drives a region’s economy for generations. Will Scranton attract entrepreneurs, inventors, and scholars? Will it create smart industry regulations? Will it become a hub for energy research and new technologies?
Residents of Scranton who know the history of the city have a roadmap for success. Will they use it?
Patrick Brown was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated Magna cum Laude from Georgetown University, where he won the Morris Medal for best senior history honors thesis. He currently teaches high school social studies in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America.
His latest book is Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902, a detailed history account of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Purchase the hardcover from Amazon or Smashwords in E-Book format.
You can visit his website at http://www.industrialpioneers.com .
For USA followers of The Burton Review, Pump Up Yor Book Virtual Tours is offering a book giveaway of Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902. Giveaway ends on Sept 18th, I will email the winner.
Please leave us a comment here with your email address to be entered for one entry.
+2 entries: Blog post linking to this post
+1 entry: Facebook or Tweet this post