Mining: The Industrial Revolution

Table of Contents

The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the 1700s, and later spread to Europe, North America, and Japan, was based on the availability of coal to power steam engines. International trade expanded exponentially when coal-fed steam engines were built for the railways and steamships in the 1810-1840 era. Coal was cheaper and much more efficient than wood in most steam engines. As central and northern England contains an abundance of coal, many mines were situated in these areas. The small-scale techniques were unsuited to the increasing demand, with extraction moving away from surface extraction to deep shaft mining as the Industrial Revolution progressed.

Around 1800 it became the main energy source for the Industrial Revolution, the expanding railway system of countries being a prime user. Britain developed the main techniques of underground mining from the late 18th century onward with further progress being driven by 19th and early 20th century progress.

Early coal extraction was small-scale, the coal lying either on the surface, or very close to it. Typical methods for extraction included drift mining and bell pits. By 1900 coal provided 71% of the nation’s energy; oil, natural gas, and hydro power each provided less than 3%, and wood was down to 21%.

Additionally, by 1902 there was a clear divide between clean anthracite cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston and dirty bituminous ones, like Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Birmingham. During WWI coal production soared to meet demand, coal was used for materials from explosives to medicines and disinfectants. After the war coal fields became bloodier than before.


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