Eckley Brinton Coxe was a forward-thinking engineer, scientist, businessman, and philanthropist. He established both a successful company and a technical school, and poured millions of dollars and countless hours into charities and professional societies.
Eckley Coxe was born in Philadelphia, but spent much of his life in Drifton, PA. His ancestors came to the United States in 1702 and have been prominent figures in the country ever since. Daniel Coxe, Eckley's great-great-grandfather, married Sarah Eckley in 1707. Although his family had owned property in America for many years--his father was the proprietor of the province of Carolina--Daniel was the first to step foot in the New World. In 1727 he published a paper that, for the first time, suggested uniting all of the colonies under a central government. Daniel and Sarah's grandson, Tench Coxe, became a well-known statesman, financier, and author of the Revolutionary times. He was also Commissioner of the Revenue under President Washington's Administration. In his lifetime, Tench purchased over 80,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania and instructed his son, Charles S. Coxe, to hold onto as much land as possible as he knew that they would find coal there in the future. Charles, one of the judges of the District Court of Philadelphia, fulfilled his father's wishes and managed to keep 35,000 valuable acres of land near Drifton. Soon after, coal was discovered in the region, and one of the most profitable veins was on the Coxe land--the property was valued at around ten million dollars in 1895. Charles left the Coxe fortune to his sons, including Eckley.
Coxe entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1854 and graduated with degrees in chemistry and physics in 1858. Over the course of the next year he took advanced courses in the same subject, and participated in a topographical survey of the Pennsylvania coal region. In 1860 Coxe ventured to Paris to study for two years in the "Ecole des Mines" (School of Mining), and another year at the mining school in Freiberg in Saxony where he studied mechanics. Following his years in school, Coxe stayed in Europe to study mining techniques in Great Britain and Continental Europe.
The Coal Mining Business
Upon return to the U.S. Coxe became president of the family business, Coxe Brothers and Company, which he ran with his brother, Alexander. The company, established on January 30, 1865 by Eckley, Alex, their two brothers Henry and Brinton, and their cousin Franklin, employed nearly 4,000 workers by 1888. Alex who was a year older than Eckley, ran the business end of the company, while Eckley, the engineer dealt with the technical aspects. By 1894, the company was producing around two million tons of anthracite each year.
Coxe was revered for his combination of intelligence and capability as an engineer and his genuine compassion for those less fortunate that he. He married Sophia Georgina Fisher in 1869 and together they worked to improve the lives of the miners in their employ. They built a fully-equipped on-site hospital for those injured in the mines. One of Coxe's great achievements was the creation of a technical school where miners could take night classes in science, math, and English. A real education would open doors for laborers who would be able to become certified miners, foremen, superintendents, or even go to college and become engineers. On May 7, 1879, the Industrial School for Miners and Mechanics opened and served eleven students who took nightly two-hour classes.
In 1888, a fire destroyed the school, so Coxe rebuilt it in Luzerne County calling it the Mining and Mechanical Institute of the Anthracite Coal Region of Pennsylvania at Freeland. Its proximity to Lehigh allowed some students to take advanced classes at the university. The school is still in existence, now as the MMI Preparatory School. It went co-ed in the 1970s.
Publications and Inventions
Julius Weisbach, a professor in mathematics and mechanics in Freiberg, was doing important work in mechanics when Coxe had him as a teacher. When he returned to the States in 1864, Coxe began a full translation of his works from his native German tongue to English. In 1872, he published his translation of "Weisbach's Mechanics of Engineering and Construction of Machines." Coxe published many of his own papers over the years, a number of which were completed in support of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.
Also an inventor, Coxe was granted over 100 patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his traveling-grate furnace. Coxe developed a mechanical stoker that allowed tiny pieces of coal previously discarded as waste to be burned as fuel. The furnace had a moving grate traveling a speed that allowed the pieces of coal to ignite and burn without fracturing, and then cool before being thrown away. His invention also removed the need for manual labor in stoking the fire. Many of his patents were related to this apparatus, but he also designed machinery for the mining and processing of coal.
Coxe ran a company and a school, but he also accepted leadership roles in professional societies and the government. In 1871, he helped to found the American Institute of Mining Engineers of which he served as president from 1878-1880 and as vice-president for an additional ten years. He also served as VP of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and as VP of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Also in 1871, Coxe took an interest in Lehigh University's engineering school and joined the Board of Trustees. He remained a faithful member until his death in 1895. As a member of the Board, he allowed Lehigh engineers to use his extensive private library and to conduct their thesis research in the Coxe mines.
Coxe was elected to the State Senate of Pennsylvania in 1880 and 1881, but then decided that his life in Drifton was more important to him than a government position. He did remain very interested in politics and served as Chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Democratic National Convention at Chicago in 1884. Coxe was also involved with the Pennsylvania State Committee in his district.
Eckley and Sophia Coxe cared deeply for their workers and believed that if you had more than your neighbor then you should share some of what you have. They provided scholarships for miners who could not attend school, and tried to treat their workers fairly. Although the couple never had children of their own, they wanted to make Christmas special for the families and children of their workers and would spend hours and money every year shopping for and buying presents for every person in Drifton and providing a Christmas dinner. Sophia was known as the "Angel of the Anthracite Fields."
Although never a student at Lehigh, Coxe was very dedicated to the university. After his death, Sophia stayed equally faithful to the school and donated over 10,000 items from his working engineering library to the Lehigh collections. She also gave money for construction projects and funded the Coxe Mining Engineering Laboratory that opened in 1910. She also created an endowment for its maintenance. Concerned for the education of students, she initiated a scholarship that she continuously increased during her lifetime.
Sophia continued to support numerous charities in Pennsylvania including the State Hospital for Injured Miners of the Middle Coal Fields of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, and a fund to support widows and children of men injured in the mines until her passing in 1926.