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Free Coal For Needy Families in Grand Forks, 1921


Winter in North Dakota is not for the faint of heart, for blasts of Arctic cold can freeze your nose or your toes. Sub-zero temperatures in January and February have always posed a challenge to homeowners, with the poorest residents of North Dakota facing the greatest challenge in paying to heat their homes. Today’s Datebook story tells how the people of Grand Forks provided assistance to its neediest citizens back in the 1920s, and how a coal-mining company helped out.

It was on this date in 1921 that the Grand Forks Herald reported that city officials had helped 52 families in the month of January with “supplies of various kinds.” The county had a poor-fund that gave assistance by various means, providing groceries, clothing, heating fuel, rent money, hospital care, or medicines, and the city had an Overseer of the Poor, Mrs. Edith M. Pierce, to determine who was eligible for the assistance.

Among the families who needed help were 19 widows with children, 22 cases of sickness, 11 cases for of lack of employment, and three homeless children. Additionally, Mrs. Pierce was able to help 35 families with heating assistance in the form of coal from the western part of the state.

Each of the 35 families got a ton of coal delivered to their home, free of charge, courtesy of the Whittier-Crockett Coal Company from their big coalmine located near the town of Columbus, right next to the Canadian border.

The Whittier-Crockett Coal Company owned the largest strip mine in Northwestern North Dakota, and the company’s president, H.A. Whittier, established a tradition of sending coal to several cities in the state. Whittier called the gift a “thanksgiving offering” to Dakotans because his company had “enjoyed very liberal patronage” throughout North Dakota and he wished to give something back to its poorest citizens.

Grand Forks got a traincar-load, as did Fargo, Devils Lake, and Minot. Each railway-car contained 35 tons of “screened lump lignite” coal. The Great Northern Railway shipped the cargo for free.

Red Cross volunteers delivered the coal to the families, using wagons owned by the city. Those tons of free coal warmed hearts and homes that cold mid-winter of 1921.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Report Social Service Work,” Grand Forks Herald, February 3, 1921, p. 5.

“Coal Donation Of Whittier-Crockett Company Arrives,” Grand Forks Herald, January 11, 1921, p. 5.

“Whittier-Crockett Coal Co. Gives Coal to Minot’s Poor,” Minot Daily News, December 29, 1920, p. 1.

“Columbus Company Sends Car Of Coal To Needy Families,” Grand Forks Herald, December 24, 1920, p. 8.

“Car Of Fuel Has Arrived,” Grand Forks Herald, January 13, 1922, p. 5.