Commercial coal mining in the United States may have began at Midlothian, VA and Pittsburgh, PA in the 1700's (even before America became a nation), but in the 1830's and 40's a business model that would last for over a century - large coal companies, numbered coal mines, company towns, and distribution networks - developed in the Pennsylvania anthracite coalfields and the Georges Creek Coalfield in Maryland.

The Georges Creek Coalfield, which has also been called the Cumberland - Piedmont Coalfield, is the best documented coal district in Maryland from a historical point of view. It has been the most productive field in the state since mining began in the 1820s, focusing on the Pittsburgh Seam (called the "Big Vein," now mined out) and the low-volatile Upper Freeport Seam (locally called the Davis Seam). The Pittsburgh seam here was as much as 14' thick, and much lower in sulfur than its occurance around Northern West Virginia or Eastern Ohio. During the Nineteenth Century the coal was used locally by iron furnaces and blacksmiths. Georges Creek coal was considered a premium grade of coal, and, as its reputation spread, some of the it began to be shipped to distant steel mills like Maryland Steel Company at Sparrows Point, Maryland; or shipped to the East Coast to fuel ocean liners. Coal was shipped on the C&O Canal, and by rail after the B&O reached Cumberland in 1842. In addition to the B&O, the Western Maryland and Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroads provided rail service to this coalfield in the 20th Century. Georges Creek was fortunate to have the National Road pass through it, too, although coal was not shipped in wagons in great volume yet in the 19th Century. So, with the C&O Canal, the B&O Railroad, the National Road, and the 8'-14' thick "Big Vein" coal, how could this coalfield fail? It didn't fail, it thrived, and it was not until the "Big Vein" was exhausted by the 1920's that it declined. But coal mining in this coalfield never completely died, and continues into the 21st Century.

Coal camp life in this coalfield differed from other coal mining areas. Sometimes African-American slaves were employed in the mines before the Civil War. During the great migration from southern and eastern Europe, tens of thousands of Polish, Slavic, Italian, Greek, and Russian families moved to the coalfields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, the miners in Georges Creek continued to be English, Welsh, Scottish, and occasionally German (or their descendents). During a later period, when coal miners in other states had to rent their coal camp house from the company, many coal miners in Maryland owned their homes.

Most of this coalfield lies in Allegany County, but it does extend into Garrett County. However, all of the historic mining towns were in Allegany County. A small portion of the Georges Creek Coalfield extends into Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where it is sometimes called the "Wellersburg Basin."