Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Lignite coal, one of North Dakota's natural resources, is at the present time an issue of great concern for North Dakotans. This thesis explores the historical stages in the development of the lignite industry. During the 1804-1873 era, lignite was only an object of curiosity to the frontier element. As the frontier receded, the outlines of the lignite industry began to take form. From 1873 to 1900, large underground coal mining companies and smaller operations grew in number and size. The railroad freight rates on lignite shipments caused problems for the young industry during the 1890's.

The early twentieth century witnessed the rise in the coal towns and an expansion in the size of mining factories. A labor strike and continued controversy over the railroad freight rates characterized the 1900-1920 period. From 1920 to 1930, the steam shovel demonstrated the effectiveness of the strip or surface method of mining, and it revolutionized the industry. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, the lignite industry suffered reverses, yet the depression also caused » the federal government to finance coal research programs. The competitor fuels, oil and natural gas, began to diminish the lignite market during the 1930's. As a result, the lignite industry began to search for a new market. By 1941, the industry had discovered the future use of the soft coal in the production of electrical energy.

From the advent of World War II until the early 1960's, the coal industry made little progress, primarily because of the increased use of oil and natural gas. With the realization that the supplies of oil and natural gas were limited, however, the nation turned to its coal resources; and since the mid-1960's, lignite has become much more important. But the increase in the use of lignite in the production of electrical energy, and its future utilization in the manufacture of natural gas, have also caused great concern among North Dakotans. The amount of lignite necessary to supply the existing and the proposed electrical generation and coal gasification plants will leave an impact upon the socioeconomic structure and upon the environment. This impending development has become a major controversy in the state.