Mauch Chunk Museum Press

Josiah White Quaker Entepreneur
6" x 9", 172 pages, Hard cover
by Norris Hansell


Josiah White lived from 1781 until 1850 in the Delaware River Valley of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. During this time the United States was growing rapidly after the separation from England and starting that Industrial Revoludon which would reconfigure its people into a great commercial nation. White, in his young adult years, stumbled upon two ideas—that commerce and manufacturing were hindered by the lack of convenient transport, and that anthracite or hard coal offered a spectacular advantage over the wood and soft coal then in use for heating homes, for smelting iron, and for fueling all variety of engines.

These ideas led White into several ventures, some successful, some failures. He so attracted others into these enterprises that he and they persisted in them through both advances and reverses. Vision , courage, and generosity shone out of these projects, even in those times when his business fortunes passed within a heartbeat of bankruptcy.

Much of White’s work, particularly that with his lifelong friend and business partner, Erskine Hazard, falls into the scope of activity now termed entrepreneurship. White operated from a vision that anthracite coal would sell briskly in the marketplace if the price of its transport could be brought down by the use of rivers and canals. Other contemporaries shared this view but few approached it with White’s combination of technical skill, hands-on experience , and singleness of purpose. Using the few existing mechanical models and improvising where none existed, White built automatic machinery, locks and dams, canals, steam boats, railroads, iron-works, and whole communities.

Two aspects of White’s lifework lie less clearly within the category of entrepreneurship: his decision to limit his earnings and wealth, and his motivation to develop a mining and transport system arising from a desire to enhance American national strength and independence from England by fostering manufacturing. He was an entrepreneur with a focus and limits set early in life.

Because White kept journals for a portion of his years and wrote many letters, it is possible to witness his personal experiences through a selection of his papers. The majority of these writings were collected by White and were in his Philadelphia office at the time of his death in 1850. The papers were preserved by his daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Richard Richardson, and have been protected by descendants of Josiah’s brother, Joseph White.

A selection of the desk papers of Josiah White are herein edited and abridged, with faithful attention to the meaning intended by White. A majority of the known papers have been used, particularly those discussing matters outside purely domestic concerns. Their particular value may be that they represent what White himself saved and may disclose his own view of his life’s work. He used these materials in writing his 1832 history, “Josiah White’s History given by himself.”