The Newberry Library Seminar on
Technology, Politics, and Culture
Co-Sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University
Friday, October 22, 2004
3:30-5:00pm, The Newberry Library
Fuel Consumption and Class in the Early Republic
Sean Patrick Adams, University of Central Florida
A series of firewood shortages in large American cities during the Early Republic triggered a quest for new heating technology. The public displays of suffering during those winters also convinced many upper-class urbanites to create philanthropic organizations to alleviate the working poor's heating needs. Although groups like the Fuel Savings Society and the Union Benevolent Association primarily provided low-cost fuel for the poor in the 1820s and 1830s, these organizations also propagated the belief that the working classes should switch from wood to newly designed coal stoves in order to improve upon "domestic economy." These effots blurred the line between philanthropic instruction and encouraging new forms of fuel consumption in large markets, a trend that suggests the evolution of fuel technology in urban areas owed as much to the politics of class and consumption as it did economic efficiencty.
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