Harris and my thoughts on Coal Technology

(The Rise of Coal Technology)

Harris’s article covers the idea that coal and the technology developed because the increasing use of coal, served as a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution in England. He does not outright say this but alludes to coal being widely used well before the traditional “start” of the Industrial Revolution. Such technologies that developed and aided the birth of the Industrial Revolution because of coal include iron and steel production methods, glass making, and the eventual Newcomen engine. Coal was enhanced into a more pure form known as coke, which was basically smoked coal that had removed other impurities.

Crucibles were developed to better retain heat in creating coke, and this innovation later moved into the metallurgy and glass making industries that led to a production of higher quality iron and glass. A similar idea was the reverberatory furnaces that first appeared in Bristol in 1702 that led to higher quality brass production. These new industries required more coal which required more mining, and the demand for coal and coke led to the design of the Newcomen engine which used vacuum chambers to cyclically remove water from mineshafts. A man named Darby created pig iron using coke which molded easily but could not be forged. The process was later refined by Henry Cort in the 1780’s where iron was remelted using coal fire and a reverberatory furnace to create more malleable wrought iron.

Harris again alludes to coal being a catalyst for England’s technological leap known as the Industrial Revolution by stating in the 1600’s and 1700’s that England was lagging in competition with other European nations for quality and production but after the development of these coal technologies skyrocketed forward in both realms (quality of metals and production). Many Swedish, German, and French engineers traveled to England to study their innovations. In conclusion, Harris presents that coal led to several innovations across England. English engineers then adapted these technologies for other industries that led to the Industrial Revolution.

I found some amazing articles to add on to this article. I found one documentary from 1920 about the coking industry in the United States. It is a silent film by Bray Pictures studying a plant in New York City. Coke begins as coal that is loaded into a holding yard off of ships and trains. The coal is then loaded onto belts to be pulverized before being carried into a retort inside the factory. Here the coal powder is baked at 1100 C for 13 hours before being quenched like steel. Water towers outside the factory cool the piping hot coke residue. Lastly the coke is rune through layers of iron and wood chip filters like a sand and charcoal water filter. The documentary also covers the uses and recovery of the byproducts of coke production and is fascinating. I found a second article though that highlights the environmental issues with coal mining, production, and usage.


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