In the United States, anthracite coal history began in 1790 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, with the discovery of coal made by the hunter Necho Allen in what is now known as the Coal Region. Legend has it that Allen fell asleep at the base of Broad Mountain and woke to the sight of a large fire because his campfire had ignited an outcropping of anthracite coal. By 1795, an anthracite-fired iron furnace had been built on the Schuylkill River.
Anthracite was first experimentally burned as a residential heating fuel in the US on 11 February 1808, by Judge Jesse Fell in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on an open grate in a fireplace. Anthracite differs from wood in that it needs a draft from the bottom, and Judge Fell proved with his grate design that it was a viable heating fuel.
In spring 1808, John and Abijah Smith shipped the first commercially mined load of anthracite down the Susquehanna River from Plymouth, Pennsylvania, marking the birth of commercial anthracite mining in the United States. From that first mine, production rose to an all-time high of over 100 million tons in 1917.
Anthracite usage was inhibited by difficulty in getting it to light. This was a particular concern in smelting iron using a blast furnace. However, with the invention of hot blast in 1828, which used waste heat to preheated combustion air, anthracite became a preferred fuel, accounting for 45% of U. S. pig iron production within 15 years. Anthracite for iron smelting was later displaced by coke.
From the late 19th century until the 1950s, anthracite was the most popular fuel for heating homes and other buildings in the northern United States, until it was supplanted first by oil burning systems and more recently by natural gas systems as well. Many large public buildings, such as schools, were heated with anthracite-burning furnaces through the 1980s.
Anthracite is a "fighting fuel", World War II poster
During the American Civil War, Confederate blockade runners used anthracite as a smokeless fuel for their boilers to avoid giving away their position to the blockaders.
The invention of the Wootten firebox enabled locomotives to directly burn anthracite efficiently, particularly waste culm. In the early 20th century United States, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad started using only the more expensive anthracite coal in its passenger locomotives, dubbed themselves "The Road of Anthracite," and advertised widely that travelers on their line could make railway journeys without getting their clothing stained with soot. The advertisements featured a white-clad woman named Phoebe Snow and poems containing lines like "My gown stays white / From morn till night / Upon the road of Anthracite". Similarly, the Great Western Railway in the UK was able to use its access to anthracite (it dominated the anthracite region) to earn a reputation for efficiency and cleanliness unmatched by other UK companies.
Formerly, anthracite was largely used, both in America and South Wales, as blast-furnace fuel for iron smelting, but for this purpose it has been largely superseded by coke in the former country and entirely in the latter