Cold Without Coal

On December 2, 1919, the government decided to restrict how much coal could be sold just as New Orleans began to face a cold wave. 

New Orleans weather usually means hot, humid air. The residents of the city grow so used to the heat that the slightest drop in temperature calls for heavy jackets and three layers. In our modern day, families can turn on the heat until the short days of winter pass. However, just a hundred years ago, New Orleanian families did not have that convenient option. Instead, homes and businesses would turn to burning coal to keep warm. But what happens when the coal runs low and the temperature runs lower?

In December 1919, the United States of America began restricting the use of coal nationwide. Reports claimed production in bituminous coal fields began slipping compared to previous years. The noticeable decline was a result of the colder weather forcing the demand of the fuel to increase even more. Government officials set back further steps in an ongoing mining strike until the public’s criticism would force the miners back to work.

The restrictions on coal became a great threat to New Orleans, which had a predicted cold wave to hit in the coming days. At the time, the city’s coal pile was labeled as “sufficient to last only one week under normal conditions.” For New Orleans, a cold wave was far from “normal conditions.” Only four coal retailers were to deliver in the city a day before the cold wave. The city was unable to prepare in advance because the government’s new regulation on coal was both sudden and extremely drastic. 

The government seized many shipments to retailers in New Orleans, causing the supplies to become far too short to meet the requirement of the first five classes on the preference list. Fifth on the list of classes is the retailers who supplied household customers. Households and families were first to feel the shortage of coal on the city.

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