The importance of coal in the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution changed Britain and the world fundamentally. It began in Britain, and in this sequence Professor Jeremy Black asks why this happened.

Coal was a key factor. Britain was well supplied with coal and this wonder fuel was powerful and much cheaper than traditional fuel, wood. Demand for coal led to expansion of mining, but as they mined deeper they encountered the problem of flooding. The profit motive led to furious activity to solve this problem. Thomas Newcomen helped to resolve this. He invented a pump which harnessed steam power to pump water out of mines. Further developments included James Watt’s engine which improved on Newcomen’s pump. A key factor, along with the profit motive, in all this change was the intellectual climate of the time in which scientists were examining the world around them and trying to explain what they saw and also harness it often for business purposes.

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