For Asa Packer, coal production and canal transportation formed his introduction into industrialization. Coal proved an absolutely essential ingredient as it powered the machines that drove industrialization forward. Without canals, transporting large amounts of coal remained a daunting task in the early nineteenth century. Canals served as vital links that moved raw materials from inland locations to rivers, where those materials would eventually end up in industrial centers.
Asa Packer arrived in the small mining town of Mauch Chunk (now called Jim Thorpe), situated along the Lehigh River, in 1833. Anthracite coal had been discovered in the area in 1791 by Philip Ginter at Sharp Mountain, which is just west of Mauch Chunk. By 1833, Mauch Chunk had already been established as a coal mining town by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company had successfully mined coal from the land near Mauch Chunk and had developed ways of transporting coal from inland areas all the way to Philadelphia. Under the direction of Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, the company made the Lehigh River more navigable for coal traffic to travel from the once inaccessible coal areas around Mauch Chunk to the Delaware River near Easton. White also constructed the Switchback Gravity Railroad that carried coal from the mines at Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk. Most certainly, the work of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company enticed Asa Packer into coming to Mauch Chunk and sparked his future interest in the areas of mining and transporting coal.
Asa Packer first began work in Mauch Chunk by constructing canal boats, using his skills as a carpenter to transport coal. Packer soon expanded his work to help navigate coal boats and he eventually became a boat captain who owned multiple boats. In fact, it is reported that Asa and his brother, Robert, were the first to take an unbroken shipment of coal directly from the Lehigh Valley to New York City, through the use of canals and rivers.
Once Asa established himself in Mauch Chunk, he branched out into many different enterprises with many different business partners along the way. Packer was a postmaster in Rockport and also opened mercantile stores in Rockport, Nesquehoning, Pottsville, Black Creek Junction, and Mauch Chunk. He also helped establish the Mauch Chunk Water Company in 1849, the same year in which he lost two mercantile stores in “The Fire of 1849”. Asa also helped to fix parts of the Lehigh Canal that were either damaged by floods or needed general repair and maintenance. He was the first to open the East Sugar-Loaf Coal Mines in 1850 and later owned mines around Hazleton. Packer was even involved in the lumber industry, as he opened a saw mill near Black Creek Junction. Through all of these enterprises, Packer had many associates that he worked with to accomplish all of these different businesses. During this time period it is safe to say that Packer learned the importance of surrounding himself with good partners, which would be essential to his later success.