How did new sources of energy, specifically coal, contribute to the industrial revolution that took place in the 1700s?

Expert Answers
thoma2013 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The invention of the steam engine gave rise to the high demand for coal as a source of fuel. This meant that a constant supply of coal could be used the way we are using gas, petrol, and other fuels in our engines today. To this end, coal enabled production to be increased tremendously in ways never experienced before. Machines in the factories could now be powered by coal. This also meant more jobs for the people; cheaper goods flooding the markets and hence the steady rise in the standard of living. Where production had once been tedious and reduced human beings to virtual slaves, coal liberated them so that they could enjoy the fruits of their labour. 

Also, because of coal, ships could be mounted with steam engines that could get them to distant places. This development ensured a constant supply of raw materials. Where people used to rely on the wind to sail to distant places—something that was not reliable at at all—the steam engine could get them there without reference to the changing weather patterns. So international trade was boosted and merchants began to enjoy their work. We see therefore the importance of coal as a new source of energy that triggered the Industrial Revolution in many parts of Europe.

It is necessary to pay attention to the word "revolution" in this context. Indeed, it was a complete change bearing in mind the fact that the lighting and heating of homes could now be made possible by generators moved by steam engines. Darkness within the streets became a thing of the past and hence the safety of people improved. The demand for coal continued to increase and it is not surprising that even today, coal is still playing a significant role in many countries. It is still used as a source of energy to move engines and even to create other, more refined oils for the same purposes, such as ethanol. It could be strongly argued that coal as a source of industrial energy was a major breakthrough. The Industrial Revolution could have suffered major setbacks without it. Other countries soon realized that the huge deposits of coal needed to be mined and marketed, so they commercialized coal production, making it possible for the Industrial Revolution to spread to many parts of the world.

Therefore the contribution made by coal to the Industrial Revolution cannot be underestimated. We could therefore sum up our response to the question as follows:

Coal contributed to the Industrial Revolution by enabling faster and cheaper ways of production and faster and cheaper ways of transportation of both goods and people. It made it easier for workers to have time to relax and not work such long hours, and brought comfort to homes through warmth, lighting, and easy access to manufactured goods. It provided security for the people at night, and job creation as many more mines were needed. It promoted international trade, and therefore brought peoples of the world closer to one another.

Thanks to the discovery of coal as a major source of energy and the boost it gave to the Industrial Revolution, today we find ourselves the beneficiaries of such a development. Industries are continuing to benefit directly or indirectly!

charles-de | Student

I read in the first answer that it allowed "workers to have time to relax and not to work long hours." I have a nightmare!

Can you be precise about how many hours a day poor people coming from the countryside had to work in the mines (14? 15?), and how many days a week (6? 7?)?