Coal Prices Rise: The Price of Heat in 1909

Rising natural gas prices during cold weather are a reminder of an earlier generation’s problems with the rising cost of other fuels. The Omaha Daily News on December 1, 1909, announced a jump in the price of coal, a serious matter for most Omaha families.

“Hard coal was advanced to $11 a ton today by practically all the companies of the city,” the News said. “The coal men deny that there was any concerted action in the matter. All of the dealers were selling at $10.50 Tuesday. There has been no advance in the price at the mines and no increase in freight rates to cause a simultaneous ‘boosting’ of the price by the retailers.

“For many years a summer price of $10.00 a ton and a winter price of $10.50 for hard coal has prevailed in Omaha until this year. This season the summer price was made $10.50 and the winter price is now made $11.

J. A. Sunderland of the Sunderland Brothers company told the News, “‘I don’t know what the other fellows have done, but our price today is $11, . . . If others have raised, it is merely a coincidence. There is no organization among the coal men now and no understanding between them. The reason for the advance is that the coal men have been selling hard coal too low. They can’t make any money.’

“Both Mr. Sunderland and Mr. Havens of the Havens-White Coal company admit that the Chicago cost and the freight on the coal is the same as for the last five years.” Havens listed the wholesale cost of purchasing and moving a ton of coal to Omaha: cost at Chicago, $6.50; freight charges, $2.50; unloading, $.10; cartage, $.70; screening and shortage, $.20.

“At $11 a ton, the dealer, after paying these expenses, has $1 left out of which to pay salaries and get a profit. Salaries and yard expenses run from 40 to 60 cents a ton, says Mr. Havens, which leaves 40 to 60 cents a ton profit to the dealer.

“There is no advance in soft coal, though one of 25 to 50 cents a ton on the grades was made a month ago.”


John Nelson’s photo of a woman and girl with an upright piano, bookcase, and heating stove (right). NSHS RG3542-77

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