The coal company helped the city survive winter

Stuart Davis was a New York artist of the 20th century best known for his playful Modernist paintings filled with bright colors and geometric shapes. But early in his career, he was influenced by the Ashcan School—and he stuck with the social realist style with this 1912 piece, Consumer Coal Company.

It’s a powerful painting that invites viewers to feel the sharp snap of snow whipping around a low-rise block somewhere in New York City. (I’m guessing Lower Manhattan, see the Federal-style houses with the dormer windows.)

Forced to work in the blustery weather, the men from the coal company shovel a load into a sidewalk coal hole, where it can be transferred to the furnace to keep residents from freezing to death.

It probably wasn’t Davis’ intention when he painted this scene to provide insight into how life was lived in New York in 1912. But the painting immortalizes the role the coal companies played in New York winters—when Gotham was still largely dependent on coal-burning furnaces (not to mention horse-pulled wagons).

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7 Responses to “The coal company helped the city survive winter”

  1. The coal company helped the city survive winter - The New York Beacon Says:

    […] Source: The coal company helped the city survive winter […]

  2. Kiwiwriter Says:

    Look very carefully at older brownstones around New York and you will find the covers for the coal slides, still in place.

    I guess now that gas and electric heating has replaced anthracite and bituminous, they’re still in place. Whether the slides in the basement are still there is up to each landlord.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, I love spotting these covers—many of which are covered here at Ephemeral NY because of their decorative beauty.

  3. Bill Wolfe Says:

    Does anyone know exactly how a sidewalk coal hole worked? I’ve never heard of those before now.

    In my house where I grew up in northeast Ohio, there was a coal chute in a side window. The coal would be deposited in the basement, where our cast iron furnace was. By the time I was born, however, the furnace had been converted to natural gas, so I never got to see the coal deliveries in action.

  4. countrypaul Says:

    The apartment house of my youth in New Rochelle had a coal chute. The trucks would pull up and it would place its chute at the mouth of the building’s. I remember the super, Mr. Johnson, manually shoveling coal to heat the building, probably about 30-35 units. (This would be post WWII-to-1950.) The building is probably 100 years old now, in a beautiful setting, and has been converted to condos and, quite obviously, away from coal!

  5. The coal company helped the city survive winter – The Philadelphia Observer Says:

    […] Source: The coal company helped the city survive winter […]

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